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Online Market Research Communities have become the most widely adopted new research technique of the last 20 years, going from innovative ideas to mainstream research tools in record time. However, still many companies are only learning about them now. In this post, we’ll provide an all-encompassing guide to online market research communities, how to build one, their benefits and what’s in their future.
What is an Online Market Research Community?
An Online Market Research Community is 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 setup is ideal for listening to common themes and trends, whilst running a layer of stakeholder-led insight projects on topics important to a brand.
As the world becomes more connected, customer-centricity must be built into the fabric of the organisation. Communication with your customers should be an everyday exercise, rather than a quarterly research report delivered to employees via email. Online communities provide this link to target customers for any type of research you may need to carry out on a day-to-day basis.
How to build an online community?
When it comes to building an online community, you should ask yourself a series of questions. Some of the core decisions that you need to make relate to the following areas:
Branding – An unbranded community delivers honest market insights, without the risk that members will feel obliged to flatter the brand behind the community. But if the brand stays anonymous, you can’t ask your members brand-specific questions without giving the game away. A branded campaign can give
Open or Closed – An open community makes it easier to grow your member numbers, but member count isn’t the measure of a successful MROC, actionable insights are.
Focus – Communication between members is the glue that holds the community together, so a micro-managed community tends to engage its users less than one with free-flowing chatter. However, there are disadvantages to an open focus, the community can get away from its original purpose.
Incentives & Engagement – If you offer no benefit beyond the opportunity to share feedback with your organization, only the most fervent fans are likely to stick around. But if you give members too many high-value incentives, you’ll find that some people sign up for your “bribe” alone and aren’t genuinely interested in communicating with you or with other members.
Pitfalls to avoid
There are certain pitfalls that must be avoided to achieve long-term success with an Online Market Research Community. Firstly, you can’t under-resource your community; engagement is dependent on incentives. If community members don’t think their opinions are being valued, then they will get frustrated and it reflects poorly on the brand. Finding the right level of engagement is important; don’t overwork your community with complicated research or underwork them with rare surveys and a lack of rewards. It’s also a good habit to be transparent about what the community’s data is contributing to, this has the added benefit that it helps form a community brand. This would also imply that you as the company need to be measuring the impact and accurately tracking the progress of the community. You need tangible metrics to get the most out of your community.
The Technology Behind Online Market Research Communities
As online communities become a mainstream research method, technology is racing to meet its needs. At the moment, many solutions involve make-shift websites, and mobile-optimised browsers that fall short of lofty customer expectations on user experience. The future will demand more of these communities. According to the MRS, the three key challenges in the coming years will be around integration with other forms of customer data, obtaining on-demand/real-time insight and the agility required from new technologies to meet research demand.
An important change in market research is the embrace of agile market research. This is an approach that takes its inspiration from agile software development which values: numerous small experiments over a few large bets, rapid iterations over big-bang campaigns, testing and data over opinions and conventions, and responding to change over following a plan. Technology is adapting to agile market research and enabling rapid decision-making by the company. Read more about the other technology trends that are impacting market research communities on the Bounce Insights Website.
The Benefits of Online Market Research Communities
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).
Dig Deeper – it allows businesses to build a community of people with long-term access to their thoughts, insights, and feelings that are committed to the success of your brand. By continuing to reward and engage these users businesses can add to their brand image while simultaneously keeping top of mind for some of their most loyal customers.
Direct Access – it leads to community-generated ideas, insights, feedback forums and creative concept testing to monitor closely and consistently. Ultimately, it gives you direct access to the minds of your most important customers. It works like a micro-level social media message board and forms a strong link between customer and business.
Longer Duration – unlike focus groups and long quantitative research, you are able to learn from and monitor the decisions of customers over time, allowing iteration and a constant feedback loop to improve decision making. The more effective the survey design, the higher likelihood of consumer retention and better quality insights.
Reduced Cost – by recruiting once and leveraging multiple times, not only does it come at a reduced cost, but it adds a unique customer service, customer acquisition, alternative research and recruitment strategy to the remit of market research. Not to mention allowing for the easy identification of trends and patterns within the consumer base.
Engaged Customers – communities can alert businesses to potential problems and improve speed in addressing issues that could negatively impact customer relationships. Imagine a business having it’s finger directly on the pulse of the customer, that’s what MRC’s act as in this sense.
Customer Retention – by providing customers with direct access and influence to the business, it generates loyalty and commitment far stronger than previously capable, giving you a distinct advantage over competitors.
Improve Business Decision-Making – 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. They remove the guesswork out of their strategic decision and allow themselves to be data-driven.
The Future of Online Market Research Communities
In the 2017 GRIT Report, 60% of the world’s leading brands had an online insight community. There was market penetration of 82% by 2018, meaning online research communities have escaped their ‘niche’ title in favour of being a ‘mainstream’ methodology employed by almost every company around the world. A key reason for the growth of communities is the move to democratise insights. For some, this means granting access to the raw data, for others it means ensuring that the insights are made available in ways that do not require any specialised knowledge of research, in order to interpret and utilise. A common occurrence to resolve this si the publication of “Insight Reports”, these reports give a look into the opinions of different types of communities on topical issues and act as a way to bridge the gap between input of users in a community and output of the business.
At the heart of this is communities. A philosophy of customer-centricity will transcend an organisation if they have the ability to democratise the insights captured in a consistent and digestible manner. Most learning in the future will be iterative, based on approaches such as build-measure-learn, and the best way to democratise that in your organisation is through the centrality of communities.