I know I’ve blogged about this before so I apologize if I sound like a broken record, but I find I can’t repeat this advice enough… I highly recommend building “small” online market research communities.
I used to say “small” meant around 150 members, but my experiences of late are making me adjust that number even further down. I now think the ideal MROC size is more like 40-50 members.
In my experience, here are some of the advantages of going with a small MROC:
- Lower cost – Let’s not beat around the bush… With today’s economy and shrinking research budgets, larger is not always feasible or cost effective. Fewer members means lower recruiting and incentive costs, as well as less management time on the part of internal stakeholders and vendors.
- It’s manageable – Try reading through and analyzing 100 responses to a discussion post. It’s not much fun, trust me… Past 30 or 40 responses, you tend to see a lot of “repeats” and you generally have a good sense of how the audience feels about the topic. You also can see and feel the respondent fatigue in a larger community, since they also have to read (more like scroll) through 100 responses. To me, that’s not a true “community.” That’s an open-ended survey question to 100 people, where they happen to get to see each other’s responses…
- Lower attrition – Going along with the last bullet, when members feel like they are part of a true “community,” they are more likely to stick around. Plus, you can pay more attention to each member and their needs, adapt the conversation better as it evolves and actually develop a reasonable incentive plan that more closely matches a focus group. Why pay thousands to get a few hundred members and experience higher attrition rates (thereby paying even more over time), when you can spend in the hundreds to get quality members that stick around?
- Higher individual attention & rapport – Smaller communities allow qualitative researchers to really focus on the members, and build rapport/trust over time. This individual attention leads to lower attrition and better analysis of the data, since you have a much better sense of the background for each member (and therefore the context for their responses).
- Member accountability and connection – In my experience moderating smaller communities, members feel more accountable to each other. They also get to know each other through ongoing discussions, polls, photo exercises, blogs, etc…, and are more likely to connect directly with each other. They feel like individuals and not just “another member,” and their responses reflect this fact.
- It’s qualitative research, right? – I know I’m speaking to the fellow “quallies” out there when I say that bigger is not better with qualitative research. We’re looking for the why and the how. We don’t need the numbers until later (and sometimes before), and we leave that to true survey research. Why try to mix the two? I say leave qualitative to communities and quantitative research to surveys and panels. While it sounds tempting to mix the two, I think it hurts the quality of both research modes.
What would a blog post like this be like without a few caveats, right? I’m assuming you’re working with one or two segments here… For companies that want to include a number of segments in a single online community, you may need to go a bit bigger. However, I still think around 20-30 per segment is sufficient.
I don’t mean to sound overly dogmatic with these posts (I really hope it isn’t coming across that way), but I just hate to see people launch into these large initiatives not knowing quite what they are getting into… Unreasonable expectations leads to unhappy customers, and that’s not good for anyone out there who believes in the value and future of market research online communities.
Bottom line… If you’re thinking big for your next online research community, give me a call first and we’ll chat a bit first