We live in a world drowning in choices. From what to order for dinner to which approach to take regarding market research, one thing remains clear – we have more than ample options. Today, businesses wholly understand the value and criticality of market research, but they are typically overwhelmed by the number of methods to choose from. Here, we’ll dig into why your business should use online communities for market research.

There are so many ways to conduct market research. Some of these methods include surveys, focus groups, co-creation communities , field trials, ethnography, journaling, digital bulletin boards and other online community formats. Given the ubiquity of mobile phones today in an era of always-on, online communities have emerged as the leading vehicle for consumer insights. We’re here to help you navigate how to manage online communities to get the most out of your market research.

What is an online community?

Loosely defined, it’s any group of at least three or more people united in a place on the internet. The earliest origin of a definition dates back to 2003. However, online communities first made their appearance nearly 50 years ago, in 1971. By the early 1980s, online communities morphed from internal government groups to publicly available chat forums. These were enabled via technology developed by CompuServe and a programming language, Java, developed by Sun Microsystems. From the 1990s through 2012, AOL’s chat rooms dominated the world wide web.

While certain chat rooms, like AOL’s, disappeared from our ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and email platforms, chat rooms as online communities for market researchers were recognized for their potential value. Agencies soon resurrected them in new formats. In fact, multiple new formats which now necessitates making additional choices, like which market research vendor to select.

Ultimately, chat rooms evolved into MROCs (Market Research Online Communities). The category has since been further granularized into short-term, pop-in/out and continuous participation sub-categories. Distilling the definition and purpose of a market research online community down to simple terms, MROCs are essentially modern chat rooms designed to quickly and cost-effectively yield qualitative customer insights. Cost-effectiveness may seem counterintuitive given the upfront investment required to establish an online community, but the ROI is well worth it.

What are the benefits of using an online community?

We’ve already highlighted the benefits of speed and cost-savings, but flexibility and access may be even more important. Specifically, traditional market research efforts, like in-person focus groups, require extensive preparation, scripted interactions, practice, recruiting and schedule coordination. Your business should use online communities for market research if you’re at an early stage with a concept, unsure who your real target audience is and which set of product or service features matter most.

By working with an agency who has established the infrastructure necessary to enable a broad outreach, your business can rapidly connect with multiple user bases and test out feature sets like A versus B versus C in quick succession or in parallel. An essential component of this infrastructure is a built-in community, screened and vetted to ensure fit. And the support needed to facilitate 24/7 engagement as we no longer live in a 9-5 world.

The need for agility

Agile engagement with customers is all the rage. Being able to open a window into your customers’ lives and invite them to join the inner circle of your marketing, R&D or innovation teams is extremely powerful. On-demand access can go well beyond your customer base to include your employees, shareholders, opinion leaders, journalists and other stakeholders.

They let you see behind the curtain into their everyday lives, and you can understand not only what they purchase, but how they live, what they do and why. Videos, photos and 24/7 mobility give researchers an insider’s perspective that’s unbiased, unfiltered and doesn’t require interpretation of subtext. Through online communities, you are building a reciprocal relationship with your customers; they know and trust you, and you get to know them.

New Call-to-action