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FEATURE16 November 2009

Market research catches up with Web 2.0

Features

Forrester analyst Tamara Barber says it’s time for the industry to embrace online communities as a research tool – and defends the increasingly unfashionable term ‘Web 2.0’

I’ve used a buzzword in the title that some readers will chafe at: Web 2.0. But most of us at least have some general notion of what this term means, which is what makes terms like it so useful. If I look it up on Wikipedia – my most trusted source of web information – one phrase in a very long definition crystallises the concept for me: “A Web 2.0 site allows its users to interact with other users or to change website content.”

Over the past month, through gatherings such as the IIR’s Market Research Event, the Esomar Online Research conference and Forrester’s Consumer Forum, researchers have been buzzing about how to incorporate Web 2.0 – or social media – into their research mix, how to use the internet for crowdsourcing ideas, and whether customer insights are the same as market research. Clearly, it’s time for our industry to innovate, and no doubt companies like BrainJuicer, Invoke Solutions, Communispace and others are teaching the rest of us how to think outside the radio button online survey and adopt the next evolution of online market research.

The market research online community (or MROC, as we call them at Forrester) is one innovation that’s already gaining some adoption and proving to be useful to researchers across industries, geographies and company sizes. I’ve been privy to some debates about the acronym and some details about the definition, but by and large market researchers are finding value in having a common term to go with the kind of work that’s going on in private communities built with the explicit purpose of market research.

Consumers are increasingly using social outlets like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and ratings and review sites to share their opinions (both the good and the bad) about experiences with brands and companies. To maximise the insights produced through this trend, market researchers need to leverage formats that incorporate the online social experience, and communities for research are one such tool. MROCs combine social features such as discussion boards, instant messaging and idea voting with classic research skills such as moderation, projective exercise analysis and quasi-ethnographic studies. And their iterative nature allows researchers to probe and tweak over time, more than any traditional focus group would allow.

MROCs offer practically always-on access to the very people you’re trying to understand. I’ve spoken to clients who have used their communities to get qualitative feedback less than 24 hours later, or who have used unprompted conversations among members to further probe on topics that the researchers wouldn’t have even thought of themselves. But with this access comes a responsibility to treat community members with respect for their opinions and their time. This means appreciating the value in both the great and not-so-great feedback that you’ll get, sharing findings with the community when possible, and being thoughtful in the ways you engage community members. Market research agencies will have a strong role in advising clients on how to manage these elements, not to mention how to efficiently manage all the day-to-day upkeep required to keep a community vibrant.

Great community management is only half of the equation when building a truly successful MROC strategy. Clientside market researchers must also plan to evangelise the community internally and demonstrate the value of community output. In fact, an IT vendor we spoke to went on a company road show evangelising their community resource. And while direct business impact has the most tangible ROI (such as the $100 million dollars in revenue generated by Kraft’s South Beach Diet products, which were based on insights from its community) look to show value in other ways, too. Can you quantify how much more research you have been able to do as a result of the community? Or how much money you’ve saved by using an MROC when you would have traditionally done focus groups?  What we’ve heard from clients is that, once an MROC is socialised internally, the requests to use it start to flood in. For example, research communities at one well-known consumer electronics company currently support more than 20 product groups. So, a successful MROC requires care and feeding to both the community itself as well as the internal stakeholders who want to use it.

Market research as an industry must introduce new methodologies, or run the risk of dying out in a landscape where intelligence is readily available from a variety of resources. Marketers are increasingly putting the pressure on market researchers to help make decisions that require faster turnaround than can be supported by traditional research methods like large-scale offline surveys or focus groups. And this on-demand intelligence comes in a variety of forms – such as customer service channels, social media, website metrics, and offline company interactions – which are increasingly being captured by CRM tools and listening platforms. MROCs can add to this by bringing a true customer voice (current or potential) to these sources of intelligence. At the end of the day, it’s likely your customers are already talking about you somewhere in the social sphere. So why not engage with them, in the private format of an MROC, and bring research into the reality that is Web 2.0?

Tamara Barber is the author of Forrester’s report ‘Market research online communities gain visibility and uptake’, published in October.

6 Comments

10 years ago

Quite a few of the session from The Market Research Event were covered live using Web 2.0 tools. The event was live tweeted, all tweets can be found at #TMRE. Read about the sessions were blogged about here:: http://themarketresearchevent.blogspot.com/search/label/TMRE%20Live%202009

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10 years ago

One of the hindrances with MROCs reaching a Utopian state is the fact that they either have insufficient participants responding or if they do, it is generally because they are heavily subsidized. Having run MROCs for sometime I have realised the importance of having non-researchers looking after the community management (such as marketers or advertisers) - researchers have a tendency to be so focused on getting what the client asks for that they forget that members do not necessarily join communities to do research. The problem is that by using extrinsic incentives is that it does not encourage the same type of response from someone who is participating because they are engaged. Researchers should be used to extract meaning from the information that is being generated from the community and assist in the writing of questions, but generally not given sole responsibility for the community management.

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10 years ago

Do you think we're perhaps missing the point as qualitative researchers when thinking about how we use social media and user generate content on soical media? Instead of looking at defined, controlled communities such as MROCs, perhaps we should concentrate on using technology to pull together insights through our analysis frameworks from an infinite range of resources? We could then combine this insight with other, more tried and tested methods. Thoughts?

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10 years ago

My take in response to the last two commentss (and thank you for those comments). Daniel, you raise a great point about one of the fundamental challenges of running a successful MROC -- they require a lot of care and feeding in order to keep members engaged. And running a community in-house as a client is a very big job that entails not only the straight research responsibilities, but day to day community management (i.e moderation, health tracking, etc), as well as efforts to market and socialize the community within the organization. It's not an impossible task to manage in house, but this is also why working with a great vendor to help manage the community is key. As for the comment on using broader social media outlets for market research, I couldn't agree more that market researchers need to utilize all the sources we have at our fingers tips to glean consumer insights. And social media is no doubt one of those sources. But think of MROCs as a way to more intimately engage with consumers and actually talk about trends that might be coming up in the public social sphere. MROCs are one tool -- and a very powerful one at that -- that can actually enrich the insights that come from other research sources.

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10 years ago

I’m getting increasingly fed up with this assumption that the research industry has yet to wake up to the possibilities presented by “web 2.0”, or that we are somehow failing to grasp its significance. Why does our industry seem to get singled out for this kind of misguided appraisal? Are there people telling the newspaper business that it’s time to consider desktop publishing rather than all that fiddly typesetting, or suggesting to retailers that they might want to throw away those ancient tills and invest in a decent EPOS system? I’m sure I’m not the only one who is slightly perplexed by the idea that agencies such as BrainJuicer (who are undoubtedly pioneering and dynamic) are “teaching the rest of us how to think outside the radio button online survey.” I’m afraid this betrays a very limited appreciation of the creativity, innovation and dynamism that exists in many research agencies. As to the desire to coin a generic term for these new techniques, who cares? At Essential we’ve been designing and developing online communities pretty much since our inception. We don’t really care what the collective noun is, nor do we see this as a trade-off between ‘traditional’ and ‘new’ research. But we do know that our online communities, when appropriate, add an important new dimension to our existing conversations with audiences as well as presenting entirely new ways for audiences to come together to build ideas, debate, design, reflect and feed back. No doubt there are some agencies who feel that they need to catch up. But so much of this tedious hand-wringing seems to be borne out of a desire to be “innovative” or to follow the herd, rather than a real appreciation of the fundamentally new ways that audiences are using technology to shape and taking ownership of brands. None of us is driving this revolution. Some of us, it would seem, are trying to hang onto its coat tails. The rest of us are just happy taking part. And that, as they say, is what counts.

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10 years ago

Great discussion and set of thoughts here guys... Daniel: Great set of thoughts, a conversation in my mind, should be as organic, natural and real as possible. From what I've seen with MROC's is that the focus has been "incentive" heavy which turns the model back to the traditional "online panel" model where "respondents" get "paid" (points, prize draws or whatever) heavily to take part in disucssion. This in my view defeats the purpose of a Community to a large degree as the PRIMARY reason people will be on the Community isn't out of passion, but for incentive (a generalization I know). Also great point on having someone "non" research look after the Community. The few MROC's i've seen i've noticed that Researchers when they've been the Community Manager aren't the best fit (another generalization I know) for the part. You're better off with someone who is either a brand/product advocate or someone who is well versed with the medium (or both). The art of conversation isn't something that can be forced, it has to be natural. On a side rant, with incentives, it's quite different of a community has helped shaped a brand or product and are given a demo or early release of the product as a "Thank you" however dishing out "$50 on pay pal" etc is the wrong way to go. Stuart: great set of thoughts, Social Media is changing EVERY industry, not just research

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