What exactly is an online research community?
In the worlds of marketing and market research, anthropology, sociology, and social research, “online community” and “panels” mean different things and have changed in definition over the years. If you look up “online community” on a web search, you are likely to find yourself looking at a list of ideas and options for joining forums, such as the Apple Support Community. These are generally online gathering places where participants can ask questions and get answers either from each other or from online moderators who are experts. That is not an online research community we would like to talk about today.
“Panels,” on the other hand, at least in the world of market research, defines a group of paid respondents. Often, a panel is used by a market research company with a specific set of demographics to gather information via surveys. For example, QuestionPro clients can purchase panel with defined demographics to answer their surveys. This comes in handy when, for example, you have a questionnaire about the perception of pharmaceutical sales that you want only general practice physicians to answer.
Combining the two, though, gets you a group of participants that you either recruit directly or indirectly via marketing promotions who become your own private panel, but also can participate in online forum-type discussions that you moderate. For example, a large retail chain would use an online research community or research panel to field surveys about possible store signage changes, and would use the same panel to allow participants to discuss issues and participate in moderated online focus group discussions. The participants might be rewarded with points for their participation, and the points could be redeemed for rewards such as gift cards or movie tickets because here is an insight community tip -people respond to incentives.
Okay…what are some of the benefits?
In no particular order, here are five of the many benefits from an online community or research panel of your own. Note that these benefits apply regardless the size of your organization.
- Participants who feel invested in your organization. Whether recruited directly or indirectly, those who sign up to be a part of your online research community or research panel actively had to sign up to join. That means they’re already showing they are interested in being active on the panel.
- Your own group of survey respondents. Consider your online research community or research panel as your own group of survey respondents you can turn to any time.
- Shortened total time spent on market research. Because you have a group of respondents ready to answer at any given time, getting a survey launched to this group takes less time than our already-quick purchased panel. Basically, once you are ready to go with the survey, you can send the email invitation to your community participants, and they are ready to start responding.
- Decreased market research budget. By having your own online research community or research panel, and by decreasing the time to field and gather responses, you also decrease the amount of budget spent on market research. That budget can then be allocated to putting the information you gather from your online research community or research panel to use in marketing strategies and organizational strategy development.
- More engaged audience. Because you have your own panel of respondents to work with, you also can have shorter surveys more often. The audience is there, willing to participate, and you get to decide how to reward them for their participation. Due to this feedback loop, you encourage higher levels of engagement.