Posted on 01/23/19
Companies and organizations are increasingly focused on customer centricity and consumer co-creation for good reasons: diminishing differentiation among products and services, increasing transparency about prices and others’ experiences, and higher cost of customer acquisition than retention. The good news is that there are more avenues than ever before to gather customer feedback.
In order to gather data, researchers make use of Synchronous and Asynchronous market research methods although more people tend to use the latter. An example of an asynchronous and a relatively new staple for tracking customer feedback is developing an online community platform for market research. Market research online communities (MROCs), also known as insight communities, gather dozens to hundreds of people to participate in an online bulletin board, private community platform, or private social network.
When designing a MROC or using online bulletin boards in market research, be sure you are prepared to track customer ideas and experiences across the full spectrum of the project. This means careful consideration of the purpose and scope of the research, how you will engage community members, and what analysis will be done.
Purpose and Scope
MROCs are not ideal for all types of market research. For instance, longitudinal tracking studies (such as customer satisfaction levels over an extended period of time) and highly quantitative studies do not lend themselves to online bulletin boards or communities. Think carefully about what qualitative information you’re looking for and design the MROC around that. Ask yourself questions such as:
- What is my timeline? Will this be a continuous or multi-phase project?
- How frequently do I want members to participate?
- Is the focus more on ideation, consumer habits/opinions/preferences, assessing potential options, or evaluating experiences? How can I design questions and activities that reflect the MROC’s intended purpose?
- Do I want participants to know our brand or not? Or do I want a hybrid model where they don’t know initially but find out later?
A key advantage of using online bulletin boards in market research is their flexibility, but it’s only an advantage if you remain focused on precisely what type of qualitative information you’re looking for.
The more informal nature of MROCs can have downsides, namely that participants can become disengaged or saturated with repetitive activities. Following are some suggestions for encouraging and maintaining customer engagement:
- Catalyze member discussions with strong starter questions. MROCs can help you uncover some surprising consumer tendencies, opinions, and preferences but only if discussion is active among many members. Make sure there is variability in your questions and carefully avoid leading questions that introduce bias.
- Break members into sub-communities or small teams. It can be helpful to divide your members into smaller sub-groups, particularly when there are hundreds of them, on a temporary or more permanent basis. Members can explore ideas in greater detail, make finer distinctions among options, and more easily participate in co-creation. You might have different teams “compete” against one another in an activity or sub-groups may simply allow a moderator to target niche groups for more specific feedback.
- Incorporate gamification and activity options. Variety is the “spice” of MROCs. If you only use discussion forums and polling on your platform, interest and feedback will falter. Keep participants engaged by varying activities. Have them upload pictures or videos, markup concepts, sort and rank options, fill-in-the blank, test prototypes, record a shopping experience, test advertising recall after watching a show or event, or submit journalist activities. Incorporate gamification options to incentivize participation such as using leader boards, showing completion rates visually, creating challenges, and giving participants individual or team recognition.
- Use more than one site moderator. When you’re using online bulletin boards in market research it can be helpful to separate execution from evaluation. For instance, have one moderator focus on encouraging lively member conversation, addressing disorderly community members or tangential discussions, and maintaining overall platform flow. Have a different moderator focus on assessing responses, considering how to break members into teams, and choosing subsequent activities based on existing posts, shared visual content, and other submissions.
- Troubleshoot overexposure. Varying activities is the best way to ensure that community members are not conditioned to respond a certain way, but sometimes this is not possible because of the nature of the research. Consider replacing all community members after a certain period of time or periodically replace the least active members to boost your response rates.
The flexibility MROCs afford researchers is ultimately only meaningful if analytic tools are effective at uncovering which customer ideas and experiences hold the most promise for improving a company’s bottom line. Be sure the service or software you choose is capable of text-mining and helping you sort findings. The volume of data produced by a MROC can be overwhelming, so sort responses based on key themes or subject matter. Some options for visualizing your findings include the following:
- Word clouds
- Heat maps
- Charts and graphs (by question, respondent, or segment)