Market Research Online Communities: 3 Key Questions

Market Research Online Communities (MROCs) are recruited groups of customers (current and/or prospective), who participate in ongoing or frequent research processes. MROC programs require active moderation, research event facilitation, and management programs (to recruit and maintain qualified membership). The investment is not trivial.

In a recent blog post, the folks at PluggedIn pose the question, “Can your company’s culture support a continuous MROC?”  The authors wisely suggest that before investing in such a program, you carefully consider A) Do your really need it, and B) will your colleagues use it?

I’d like to expand this list of questions, by adding one more:

Is it a rational investment given the participant profile? Let me give you an example. I am working with a client in the B2B software space who was intrigued by the idea of an MROC. After all, the idea of a pool of engaged customers available for fast turn-around feedback is appealing. But upon consideration of their target market (job titles, job responsibilities, current brand engagement), we realized that the cost to maintain the community properly year-round would be prohibitive. For the target market, it would simply be unrealistic to expect any regular engagement on a long-term basis.

Instead, we ended up putting together a plan for expanding their customer advisory board program by adding several new sub-committees. This way, they still have an opted-in list of customers for feedback, but without the expenses of platform maintenance, moderation, retention management, and so on.  Is it the same as an MROC? Of course not. But since in this case an MROC didn’t make sense, it is a fine alterative.

As the PluggedIn team advises, an alternative to an ongoing MROC is a short-term one (which may be scheduled to be active for as little as a few weeks). There are also options such as:

  • An expanded customer advisory board (as described above)
  • Custom research panels (having customers opt-in for future research events)
  • One-off research events (such as online focus groups, scheduled chats, online surveys), which may be scheduled on a monthly or quarterly basis for more frequent customer input (with participants provided by either a custom research panel or 3rd party source)
  • Third party communities (accessing existing communities managed by third parties).

The bottom-line? Yes, MROCs are a great fit for some companies’ research needs. But before assuming an MROC is the best choice, be sure to consider your internal audience and target market profiles.

[What do you think about MROCs? Do you have any MROC-related questions? Please post them here!]

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