What is an online research community?

Known also as insight communities or MROCS, online research communities are a digital space in which invited members can take part in both structured and unstructured activities that provide valuable data to an insight team.

Online research communities are arguably one of the most versatile methods in an insight professional's toolkit. They can be large or small, ranging from a handful of members to thousands. They can take place over a short project timeframe, or contribute to an ongoing research schedule. And they can involve a huge variety of activities. From question boards and forums to surveys, diaries and creative qual tasks. There's no end to the creative project designs that communities can support. But one common thread runs through the best - a strong sense of social cohesion.

Community activities

Engage members with diverse, creative tasks that facilitate group interaction.

Unlike many research methodologies, online communities are not strictly project based. That means that they can be used to listen to organic member conversations, spot trends and serve as an early warning system for potential market issues whilst also contributing to individual projects.

To encourage member engagement over the long term, it is important to provide a variety of ongoing mechanisms for contribution. Communities built on the InsightHub platform support member-led forums, blogs, diaries, polls, peer-to-peer communication and competitive leaderboards in addition to directed research activities.

Social engagement

The most successful online communities maintain an active and engaged membership.

In order to stimulate community engagement, it's important to regularly communicate with members and engage in a two-way dialogue. The InsightHub platform has facilities for admins and moderators to respond publicly or privately to forum comments, share news with members (such as the actions taken based on recent feedback or winners of recent prize draws) and send regular email communications.

Two types of email can be sent through the platform. Each time a new research activity is published, such as a survey or question board, invites can be sent to selected segments. In addition, we encourage admins and moderators to also share regular roundups of the latest news and activity in newsletters every 2 - 6 weeks to keep members coming back and regularly logging in.

Common types of research community

Online research communities can contribute to a wide variety of research projects. But to realise their full potential, it is important to consider the structure of your community and match the format to your insight needs. These are the three most common forms of online community and their use cases.

Long term communities

These communities will typically last a year or longer, often running as part of an indefinite research schedule. The core advantage to a long-term community is instant, on-demand access to a pre-profiled group of respondents ready and willing to take part in qualitative activities and eager to make a real difference.

Ad-hoc or pop-up communities

A community of this nature is temporary, usually set up as part of a specific research project. Pop-up communities take place over a period that can last between two weeks and six months, offering the same social cohesion and group benefits of their long-term counterparts but in a condensed, directed format.

Listening communities

A listening community flips the script entirely. Rather than being led directly by topics important to the brand or insight team, a listening community takes a back seat approach and mines member content for relevant insights. This is the ideal way to engage organically with members and find out what is most important to them.

Online community software plus service

We don’t believe in maintaining the status quo. We thrive on making insight more relevant, more accessible and more impactful, while overcoming the core challenges that research, product and marketing teams face.

Frequently asked community questions

There are a lot of factors to consider when setting up an online research community. From what structure yours will take and how it will contribute to your research schedule, to the practical aspects of database maintenance. These are a few of the most common questions about online research communities with advice from our team of experts.

What are the advantages to an online research community?

The main benefit that online research communities provide is instant and on-demand access to data. By holding a database of pre-profiled, engaged members and structured research tools (such as online survey and focus group data collection options) in one place, you can significantly cut down the time from brief to results. Online communities offer efficiencies in sampling, research design, fieldwork and reporting.

In addition, most insight communities are capable of holding multiple customer and consumer segments in a single platform but tailoring the experience depending on group membership. This can be used to build simultaneous communities of the general population plus customers, or communities that span multiple countries and languages. Finally, the social cohesion and competitive elements of the community structure often lead to more detailed and insightful responses to research questions when compared to non-community members.

How can I keep a clean community database?

Maintaining a clean database of members is an important factor in the success of your community. A community of un-engaged or unreachable members leads to low levels of activity, harms the social elements of the methodology and can often be found at the root of disapointing response rates.

In order to maintain a robust database, it is first important to consider what will be stored in it. That is to say what user fields do you wish to record and how will these be used to segment members for future activities. Once you have settled on a structure, we recommend running a minimum of two initial recruitment waves with a further wave to top-up (or ideally grow) the community size every six months. During these waves, it's also important to manage and remove unresponsive participants. This can be done by sending a re-engagement email asking if they would like to remain a part of the community.

How can I keep community members engaged?

Long-term community engagement remains one of the biggest challenges that insight teams face. That's simply because of the number of factors that can impact it. Here are some of the best and easiest ways to boost your community engagement:

Communicate and Feedback Often - the most successful research communities act as a two-way dialogue between brands and members. In recognition of their contributions, it's important to keep community members up to date with the latest brand developments and the impact that their feedback is having. This can be delivered through regular newsletters, updates to the homepage or dedicated news items.

Lead By Example - the more community admins and moderators use the social tools available to them, the more members will too. Try leading by example and publishing blogs or forum posts that demonstrate the type of content you're looking for. And don't forget to engage with community members when they do start to follow.

Incentivise Engagement - a staple of the market research industry, incentivising participants to take part in non-research related activities can provide a massive boost to engagement. This can be achieved by introducing community point systems that provide either regular payouts or entries into prize draws. Consider weighting the activities want to encourage more of with the greatest rewards to really drive and direct behaviours.

How much time does it take to manage an online community?

The answer to this question depends on a whole range of factors, the most important of which is what you hope to get out of the community. In low-touch communities, a few hours per week to design new activities, analyse existing content and manage database administration will be sufficient. In other cases where the community forms the core of a research schedule, it may be more appropriate to hire a dedicated Community Manager to lead such activities.

As a flexible research partner, the FlexMR team can advise on the time required to manage your community and can provide a number of services to reduce the pressure on your team - including database, communication and engagement management.

Empower better decisions

We have developed a game-changing insights empowerment framework that addresses the three major pressures placed on modern insight teams. We use the framework to construct bespoke partnership programmes - delivering measurable business value through agile research technology and a flexible approach to supporting services. Is your brand ready to take the first step towards insights empowerment? Find out what we can do for you on the pages below, or get in touch today.

Get in touch

Got questions for us or simply want to know more? Schedule a call with our team of research experts to see how we can help you streamline, scale and supercharge insights.

InsightHub platform

The InsightHub platform powers exceptional online research. Conduct surveys, focus groups, diaries and creative qual all from within a single, integrated space.

Expert services

Our services span a full and diverse spectrum. We offer everything from dedicated platform support and research education to in-depth consulting, project implementation and insight delivery.

Get email updates

Your details

By signing up you agree that we can process your information in accordance with our privacy policy.