What Research Can You Really Get from Market Research Communities?

Imagine if Apple had listened to this feedback from its community 14 years ago?

This is the problem with listening to your community. The community might be wrong. They don’t have the same knowledge as you do. They don’t know your resources, capabilities, or have access to the same data points.

Most of the people, most of the time, want things to remain the same (or to be slightly better in predictable ways e.g. cheaper MP3 player, better PDA). This isn’t going to help you innovate.

We’ve just launched a survey of our audience. I created it in SurveyMonkey and sent the link to 12k community professionals by e-mail. This reaches more people, has a far higher response rate, and gets us exactly the data we need far quicker than posting the same questions as a discussion post in our experts community.

Some organizations may credit community feedback to the success of 90%+ of their products. Yet that’s exactly the line we expect an organization to say if they wanted their community to buy those products.

So how do online communities uniquely drive innovation?

Where can they be better, quicker, or cheaper than surveys and focus groups?

Groups are incredibly irrational

The problem with community-driven innovation here is group members are prone to biases. The biggest bias is consensus.

The wisdom of the crowds only generates better outcomes when 3 factors are met:

  • Each person has a tiny piece of knowledge they can contribute individually of one another.
  • The group is diverse and comprises of those both for and against the topic.
  • There is limited pre-existing information to sway their views.

This is the exact opposite of what happens in most online communities.

Communities are filled with a group of diehards holding relatively homogenous views. Individuals support the view(s) which achieve plurality. They narrow their options to those similar to existing views. This skews the accuracy away from useful outcomes.

[tweet_dis]The best feedback is unsolicited[/tweet_dis]

Communities best drive innovation when members give you unsolicited feedback.

When you know what kind of feedback you want, surveys and focus groups work better. They’re quicker, cheaper, and more effective. When you don’t know the question to ask, communities work best.

The community can highlight problems you didn’t think existed. The community can make suggestions you hadn’t considered.

If you know the question, use a survey/focus group. If you don’t, use a community.

We’re now just 11 days away from our FeverBee SPRINT event. If you want to learn a lot of advanced community skills from 14 world-class experts and ourselves, I hope you will join us at: http://sprint.feverbee.com.


  1. Stephen Cribbett says:

    While I agree with much of what you are saying Richard, there are many different research methods that are better supported using online methods and techniques. In particular short-term (or ad-hoc) research communities that are assembled for the very purpose of research (rather than using a more general customer community or fanbase and then using it for research purposes) are akin to focus groups but conducted online. These give the benefit of wider reach, speed and agility and cost, but also allow members to share moments and experiences as they occur and then reflect on them.

    These behavioural research methods that allow you to understand what people are thinking, feeling and doing, conducted within online research communities, are changing the research landscape whilst still allowing researchers and strategists to carefully select who is invited to take part based on their profile and target behaviours, bearing in mind that these people might not always be present in communities centred on other purposes such as brand fans.

  2. Lucas Borja Peinado says:

    I agree with Stephen on how much methodologies applied to research communities have advanced. Nevertheless, there seems to be a missing step before arriving at defining other available communities as simply customer/fan base. Opening and managing a channel for unsolicited feedback could potentially engage a wider consumer community (customer/non-customers, fan/detractors), delivering valuable insights and new perspectives otherwise missed due to blind spots found on the extreme sides of the community spectrum.

  3. Richard Millington says:

    Is there a distinction @stephen_cribbett between an online focus group and
    an online research community? Curious to get your take on it.

  4. Stephen Cribbett says:

    An online focus group is effectively replicating in-person focus groups whereby people come together online at a specified time (in real time) to share and discuss various topics and ideas. Online research communities are asynchronous mostly, though some platforms offer live engagement tools.

    These research communities enable researchers, strategists, planners and designers to build richer relationships with members over time. Members will be assigned tasks and activities which may require them to go and do something, ie. a shopper journey, or capture and share ‘moments’ as they happen via their mobile phones. Using these techniques, and others, allows the researcher to see what’s happening as it happens, but then gather reflective thought after the event, thus painting a more accurate picture of why they did what they did.

    There’s a whole lot more I could share, but not wanting to rant on too much your audience might prefer to look at out blog which highlights best practice research community design and engagement. I didn’t intend to promote this, but it feels like your audience might want to learn more about this topic and our blog focuses solely on research communities. I trust that’s ok. It’s at www.dubishere.com/blog

  5. Sarah Hawk says:

    I’ve just spent a bit of time reading on your site @Stephen_Cribbett – it’s great. I’m interested in the dynamics of ‘research communities’. How do they differ from more traditional communities of practice? Do people have relationships with each other within the community, or are they product centric like customer support communities tend to be?

  6. Stephen Cribbett says:

    There may exist a requirement for members of the research community to interact with one another, for example if you are conducting group-thinking exercises or crowdsourcing ideas that you then want the community to comment and/or vote on. Essentially there are many different forms of research that you can conduct within these communities, ranging from exploration to concept testing and NPD, and such things as behavioural insight and trends work. The communities often combine qual and quant methods, but where the majority of engagement edge towards being quantitative then you can technically call this a panel rather than a community. We specialise in communities of a qualitative nature, where the moderators engage smaller numbers of members in dialogue and nurture relationships with them, to the point of almost knowing them individually. These type of communities tend to be more short-lived, say weeks to months long rather than years.

    Research communities can be branded (ie carry the sponsor brands identity) or topic or product/service related. If they are branded communities then clearly there exists some bias towards the brand and your more likely to find loyalists and fans within them, hence the type of research you can effectively conduct is limited.

    Research communities are designed to be intensive, immersive and highly engaged over the period. The motivations for members include social and emotional factors (intrinsic) as well as extrinsic (cash, prizes etc), though the best ones focus much more on the former for the simple reason that people only tend to do what they are being paid for and nothing else if you offer them cash incentives alone. Clearly this isn’t the behaviour you want to engender.

    Is that helpful?

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