Online Research Communities by Type
Traditionally when people have discussed different types of MROCs (market research online communities), they've focused on the size of the community, whether or not membership was open or closed, and whether or not it was fully managed or self-service.
When Brad Bortner, a Forrester analyst, defined the term as "dedicated online communities for qualitative market research purposes", he clearly had in mind standing communities, and he saw MROCs as counterpoints to standing online communities built for marketing.
But the temporal dimension - is this a temporary or permanent community? - has become more important to consider. General Mills has shifted from a permanent MROC to temporary online communities for specific projects, finding that they are less expensive and don't require ongoing maintenance (in the terms of qualitative exercises that keep the community engaged, a problem that has been reported by Wendy's, ABC Studios and others).
As research hubs for online qualitative techniques, MROCs take many different forms, as this chart illustrates. (The size of each bubble reflects the relative size of the typical community of that type.)
Here are six prominent types of online research communities:
- Insight Community - Closed, standing communities of 300-500 members, with a high degree of community, as members build relationships with one another. Excellent source for deep, qualitative insights that aren't easily available in larger, less intimate groups.
- Community Panel - An adjunct to an online panel, where only some panelists engage in discussions with one another. The community may be either public or private. Typical sizes range from 10,000 to 100,000 members, who have weak relationships with one another. Qualitative insights raised within the community site can be tested for representativeness using surveys of the panel (assuming, of course, the panel itself is representative of a target audience).
- Idea Voting - Adjuncts to web sites where visitors may submit ideas and vote and comment on one another's ideas. Participating visitors have almost no relationship to one another. Idea voting generates a tremendous volume of new ideas, which then require extensive vetting and prioritization.
- Idea Jam - Three-day long community built specifically for ideation, leveraging offline relationships of an existing community (employees, business partners, resellers, customers). Some innovation jams have had hundreds of thousands of participants. Jams are the equivalent of a brainstorming session, serving as the kickoff for planning exercises.
- BBFG - Private groups with typically 30-50 participants discussing focused topic areas. Bulletin Board Focus Groups run by iTracks typically last for three to seven days, though some are managed for two to twelve months. Members can build a sense of community over that time period.
- OLFG - Online group chats that last for a few hours. Arguably the small size and short duration of Online Focus Groups should exclude them from even being included in a discussion of MROCs, but they are shown here for completeness.
Is this a useful segmentation? Are there important types of online research communities that I'm omitting? Would you compare and contrast communities differently?