We’ve been hearing some rumblings lately about how the term “community” is starting to lose a bit of luster in the market research industry. Specifically, communities are associated with expensive, long-term initiatives that yield a ton of information which organizations have little ability to digest effectively.
While we know this is the minority of opinions out there, it naturally has us concerned with how they are perceived. We’d like to use this post to dispel some of the myths of online communities for market research…
Myth #1 – Online research communities are expensive
The key to this is to compare the cost relative to other methodologies. The communities we run at PluggedIN generally cost about the same each month as two small focus groups (without travel costs). However, a community can offer many more benefits than two focus groups. For example, you can spend much more time (on average) with participants, dive deeper into a variety of research topics, get feedback much faster and learn more about participants than in a focus group setting.
It’s also useful to think about what these benefits mean to your organization on a larger scale. For example, let’s imagine a community cuts your product development cycle down by just 1-2 months. Or imagine that it yields 2-3 highly promising new product concepts. How much potential revenue does that represent?
Finally, consider what it would cost to obtain feedback through other research methodologies. How much can a community save over time by reducing the reliance on other methodologies to address a variety of research objectives? In short, communities may seem expensive as a lump sum but once you dissect the cost a bit you’ll realize how much value they can provide.
Myth #2 – Online research communities include hundreds of members (typically between 300-500 people)
While research communities can ultimately be any size, they don’t have to include hundreds of people. In fact, we’ve had success with as few as 50 participants. Larger communities can end up driving the price up without corresponding value to the overall study (given that communities are primarily a qualitative methodology). We’ve found great results at around 150 participants, since it allows you to get enough meaningful feedback on each activity while still getting to know participants on a one-to-one basis.
Myth #3 – Online research communities are designed to last for the long-term
Communities don’t always need to be an ongoing affair. In fact, they can be very useful when they are targeted around a set of objectives and shut down once those objectives have been satisfied. While some companies can get a tremendous amount of value through an ongoing community, other companies simply don’t have the need for a continuous research venue.
Myth #4 – Online research communities are hard to manage
While there is indeed a lot of information that emerges from an online research community (particularly in a longer-term community), there are techniques for effectively managing the output. For example, having a separate project management site for clients and researchers ensures everyone is on the same page throughout the study. In addition, frequent summaries of activities help to distill the findings into manageable pieces for quick dissemination across the organization.
As with any new technique or technology, there tends to be quite a bit of hype followed by some backlash. Some companies may have been burned in early community experiences where the community was larger and longer than it needed to be, and this may be where the current backlash is stemming from.
However, we encourage everyone to think carefully about what is possible from a flexible methodology like an online research community, and how the investment can lead to many new opportunities for your organization.
What do you think?
What’s your take on the buzz about communities? Comments are welcome!