Market Research Online Communities (MROCs) are a relatively new technique for gathering real-time, qualitative market research insights. It typically consists of a closed network of like-minded respondents taking part in a series of conversations and structured exercises around a given topic.
How does an MROC work?
Taking inspiration from the success of social networking websites and topic portals, MROCs are founded upon an online community platform that has been custom-designed for research purposes. The community is centred on a series of discussion topics that follow much the same format as any other discussion thread that takes place online.
Online research communities such as MROCs are, however, different from bulletin board or online focus group discussions in that they:
- Tend to take place over a much longer period of time (usually measured in months and years, rather than days and weeks)
- Allow respondents to spontaneously contribute their own content on the community topic, whether in the form of discussions, blog entries, video journals or other multimedia. In fact, community members are actively encouraged to interact with other participants as much as possible through sharing custom profiles, status updates and commenting on the submissions of others
- Are well-suited to gathering ad-hoc ‘quick dip’ insights from the market at relatively short notice. Straw polls and discussion topics can be swiftly asked of the community. This approach is particularly important for clients in fast-moving and technical industry sectors or for any initiative where rapid prototyping and feedback is necessary.
- Gather more in-depth and reflective insight compared to shorter-term qualitative research techniques. Since conversations take place over the course of many weeks or months, cohorts of business respondents can be gradually guided through complex topics or decision-making dynamics.
MROCs in B2B research
Although used predominantly in consumer markets, MROCs are increasingly used for on-going b2b research purposes as well. Online communities in business-to-business research are well suited to any study that involves:
- Gaining complex, in-depth insights into business decision-maker attitudes and behaviours
- Researching regulatory or legislative changes that have affected a market
- Understanding, in greater detail, the sources of information and advice that b2b decision-makers refer to throughout the purchase decision journey
- Developing communications campaigns: Prompt and timely feedback is often required at various points throughout the development of an advertising campaign. Given the relative expense and time taken to design custom research – particularly for difficult-to-reach business to business audiences – having an easily accessible group of relevant respondents is a key advantage of maintaining a research community
- Idea generation: When community members think about a topic for an extended period, the likelihood of eliciting considered and genuinely novel responses from them increases. Encouraging respondents to respond to a range of stimuli, including multimedia, also significantly aids the effectiveness of projective research techniques, such as analogies/metaphors and word association exercises
- Developing new products, services or customer value propositions: Forming a new offering is often a multi-faceted and time-consuming process. Market research online communities (MROCs) are highly appropriate for these initiatives because they can be run side-by-side with the product development process, with feedback sought from the market at various points.
Rather than being a replacement for more established research techniques, online research communities are a complementary methodology that bridges the gap between highly focussed qualitative research studies, and larger, more structured longitudinal market tracking exercises:
Important factors to consider
1. The best online b2b communities tend to have modest membership numbers. In our experience communities of between 25 and 75 highly-engaged members work better than larger communities with more disparate interests and diffuse interaction;
2. Incentives for taking part in the community must be thoroughly considered. Offering high monetary incentives often does not result in better or more feedback. Instead, members must be genuinely interested in the topic and “buy-into” the research process.
3. Expectations about what can be discussed within a shared environment must be managed. In some business-to-business markets, participants may be reluctant to discuss certain topics with others because the subject matter is commercially sensitive. One-to-one depth interviewing techniques may need to be combined with an online community methodology where this is the case.
4. Re-recruitment and replenishment of community members is both necessary and healthy. In b2b research, we cannot expect that all business decision-makers will be able to commit fully to long-term research exercises. Under these circumstances, we will plan for periodic replacement and top-up of new community members.
5. A good b2b market research online community should be based upon listening and asking in equal measure. For business respondents to feel that the MROC technique is genuinely different, they must be given the latitude to contribute their own discussions. These often lead to new avenues of thought that may not have previously been considered by researchers.
Our online research community solution
For projects involving online research communities, B2B International makes use of our own online research platform called B2B International Live. Our software has been specifically designed to accommodate the requirements of business-to-business research, learned from many years of pioneering online b2b research methodologies.
A successful online research community is as much about dutiful planning as it is about good software. As b2b research specialists, we know what works when it comes to building sustainable, successful and insightful online research communities.