Flicking through Forrester’s latest report on online communities yesterday, it occurred to me that the term ‘market research online community’ (or MROC) has gained some traction in this nascent area.
I still haven’t figured out if I’m supposed to be saying ‘em ar oh see’ or ‘emroc’, or if there’s some transatlantic divide, like with tomato and tomato. But Forrester has warmly embraced the term, billing its report as the ‘Q3 2009 Global MROC Survey’.
One man who won’t be pleased is Mike Hall of online community firm Verve. When I met him a few weeks back he was telling me all about how brand communities work, and kept hammering home the point that they are in the control of their members, not their sponsors. I asked him what he thought of the term ‘market research online community’.
“It’s complete rubbish,” he said. “It’s part of the confusion that’s going on. They are not research communities. You can have a community and only use it for research, that still doesn’t make it a research community. It’s an online brand community which you’ve chosen to use for research.”
Hall makes an important point – people don’t join communities to take part in research, they join communities to pursue a relationship with the brand and with others who wish to do the same thing. Surely that’s what defines what the community is ‘for’?
But others say it isn’t so simple. FreshMinds has recently restructured its communities business to draw an even clearer distinction between online communities used for research, and those used for marketing and other purposes. Sister firm FreshNetworks is carrying on running the non-research communities, while the research ones are moving to become part of FreshMinds’ online division. The change was partly influenced by the MRS’s new rules on the use of client incentives, which affect how research can be conducted in branded environments.
When I put Hall’s argument about MROCs to James Turner of FreshMinds, he replied that he was taking his cues from clients – who generally want to use a community for one thing or another. Anyway, he said, the kinds of clients interested in using communities for research are generally quite different from those interested in using them for brand building or marketing.
So, while there might be no such thing as an MROC in principle, in practice it’s a handy term.
Forrester’s MROC report illustrated just how young this area is – we could have run a headline yesterday saying that one third of companies are using or considering using MROCs in the next 12 months – but we could equally have run one saying that a third of companies don’t even know what they are.
As the market matures and takes shape, the words we use to describe it are bound to shift and change. We’ll be balancing a healthy suspicion of jargon and faddy language with an awareness that having a widely accepted name for something saves everyone a lot of hassle and confusion.
Research is an industry awash with irritating buzzwords, and they live or die not just by their precision or usefulness, but by the vagaries of fashion. ‘Web 2.0’ has, thankfully, pretty much petered out, while the more descriptive ‘social media’ seems to be putting down roots. Maybe in a few years time we won’t hear people talking about MROCs anymore, just as you don’t hear people today talking about surfing the information superhighway or listening to the wireless.
UPDATE 13/10/09: We had Mike’s surname wrong when this was first posted - Page not Hall. Mike Page is someone else entirely. Apologies to all for that. I’ve corrected it (and the comments also) to show the correct name — RB