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According to market leaders in the United States, Fuel Cycle, in the age of constant market disruption, business leaders have found that their greatest competitive strategy is to have a direct relationship with their most valuable asset, their customers. A market research online community serves to gather a group of trusted customers who have willingly opted in to engage in research activities including quantitative and qualitative studies on an ongoing basis.

What is an online market research community?

An Online Market Research Community as a closed network of profiled, opted-in research participants who take part in structured and unstructured qualitative research tasks. Usually hosted over a long term basis, a research community is one key way brands stay close to their customers across multiple projects. The set up is ideal for listening to common themes and trends, whilst running a layer of stakeholder led insight projects on topics important to a brand.

What are they used for?

Market research has faced significant challenges over the last decade, with an explosion of consumer uncertainty due to rapidly changing behaviours and trends, combined with transformative technologies that consumers engage with on a daily basis. This has left researchers with outdated methodologies and technologies. As a result, many companies are turning to online research communities for decision-making advantage; harnessing the power of communities but applying them to the research process.

The true ‘end-to-end’ community allows meaningful dialogue between organisation and participant via an engaging member environment (e.g. a mobile app), participant management tool to build up member portraits and multiple dialogue channels (e.g. surveys, discussion forums, video focus groups, live chats and member interaction for idea generation). 

In essence, online communities become the catalyst for consumer-centric decision making at a speed unparalleled to traditional market research methods. By having your customers at your fingertips, a company can move from ‘we think’ to ‘we know’.

What are their advantages?

In order to understand the growing popularity of online market research communities, we’re going to focus on the benefits given to brands, agencies and the respondents themselves:


  • Benefits to Brands: Co-creation and brand advocacy are the leading benefits to brands engaging regularly with their online communities. Benefits include:
    • Striking a balance between outsourcing complex research to agencies and focusing in-house on quick turnaround projects  
    • Facilitating real-time dialogue between marketing and customers:
      • a high level of engagement (more than 50 per cent response rates to surveys or discussions)
      • an extremely high quality of open text responses
    • Reacting rapidly to internal demands for information
    • Sense-checking ideas
    • Raising research’s internal profile – when insight is relevant and timely, it will be used more to drive change
    • Profiling context – enhance discussion threads and survey responses with demographics, attitudinal and purchasing behaviours
  • Benefits to Agencies: Media planning, advertising, PR, digital and MR agencies are embracing research communities – which can be white-labelled rather than branded and built around a general sample of the population or defined segments, such as early adopters or opinion formers. Benefits include:
    • Winning new clients due to an enhanced pitching quality
    • Upselling opportunities by allowing clients engage in follow-up work with those communities
    • Allowing agencies to move beyond the project-by-project cycle
    • Boosting internal creativity and idea generation, by allowing external audiences to quickly evaluate your work.


  • Benefit to Respondents: Over the last decade, technology has empowered every consumer to publicly declare their opinion. Communities enable this empowerment, by giving each community member a seat at the table alongside the brand owner and the researcher. Benefits include:
    • Increased engagement and experience by participating more frequently, and alongside fellow community members
    • Increased impact by sharing results, findings and comparisons with the community
    • Increased recognition via social and monetary incentives for time commitment. From membership areas to loyalty programmes, members can thrive from their interaction with the community.

Growing Popularity

The Q3-Q4 Greenbook GRIT Report on market researchers found that 59% of respondents are already using this form of research methodology and a total of 80% are at the very least interested in them. This makes them the number #1 most adopted emerging research trend. Online communities even beat mobile first surveys in terms of popularity, used by 54% of respondents. 

The future is in communities, and I hope this blog helped you understand what they are, how they can be leveraged and the win-win scenario they create for brands, agencies and consumers!

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