The COVID-19 crisis has forced companies to innovate rapidly. One of the things they have been forced to rethink is the way they do research, especially qualitative research, given that in-person focus groups are not currently possible due to social distancing measures.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, taking advantage of technological tools that allow you to conduct research and stay connected with your customers (and your employees) is becoming more important than ever. The solution? An online research community.
In this article, we’ll share what online research communities are, where they came from, and how they can help your business.
The evolution of online research communities
In the early 2000s, market research gradually began moving online. The tides were shifting from telephone surveys to online surveys. Leger was one of the first Canadian companies to build an online panel in 2004, and today, our LEO panel is the largest Canadian-owned proprietary panel.
The 2000s also saw the emergence of email communities that used a question and answer format, as well as VOC (Voice of the Customer) tools that allowed organizations to communicate with their target audiences.
Now, we’ve reached the next step in the evolution of market research: online communities. But given that they’re fairly new, are people really using them to conduct research? Yes! The 2019 GreenBook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) Insight Practice Report revealed that close to three-quarters of insights buyers are using online communities to conduct quantitative (72%) and qualitative (73%) research.1
What is an online research community?
Depending on who you speak with, what an online community is (or isn’t) varies widely.
From Leger’s perspective, an online research community is a technological platform that allows you to engage in an ongoing conversation with your customers. It is an agile technological tool that enables you to conduct qualitative and quantitative research using one platform, all while strengthening the relationship that customers have with your brand.
Note: This article focuses on online research communities made up of customers, however, your online research community can be completely customized for any target audience, from the broad (employees, citizens) to the very specific (people with a certain rare health condition, users of a specific product), and anything in between. Please contact us to learn how we can customize a solution for the audience you are interested in.
You can leverage the features of an online research community to put your customers at the centre of your decision-making. Within your community, you can provide and exchange information with members and build brand loyalty. Unlike social media and other free online platforms, you can make your online research community as private from the outside world as you want it to be, enabling you to dig deeper on sensitive topics, test products and innovative ideas, and more.
Use an online research community to do market research in a new, innovative, way, on a completely customizable platform.
What are the 6 key benefits of online research communities?
Based on our experience designing, building, and maintaining online research communities over the past four years, we’ve learned that they offer six key benefits.
1. Bringing people and ideas together in one place
An online research community is the ideal place for you to collaborate with your customers. You can ask them direct questions, or simply watch them interact with each other as they share their ideas. As they share their opinions on your products and services, they can contribute to your brand development. We know that sometimes, the best solutions don’t come from marketing teams or high-level executives, they come from the people who are using your products and services: your customers.
2. Creating brand ambassadors
By engaging with your customers on a regular basis and allowing them to be part of your VIP online research community, you can share information that helps them stay engaged with your organization. We all know that positive word of mouth from customers who know the value of your brand goes a long way!
3. Increasing your reach
Engaging with your customers can assist you with improving your brand recognition and customer loyalty. Loyalty doesn’t need to come in the form of programs and points: it can be in the form of sharing exclusive information with customers. What’s more, building a great relationship with customers can also help drive repeat business!
4. Combining qualitative and quantitative research within one platform
The online research community platform allows you to use various quantitative and qualitative research tools seamlessly, in the same platform, including quantitative surveys, online focus groups, discussion boards, journals, and more.
5. The ability to dig deeper to understand customers’ behaviours, feelings, motivations and desires
An online research community offers you many opportunities to dig deeper to understand how your customer is really feeling. One of the key advantages is the ability to ask for more detail, and even to come back to the same people to ask additional questions and get further feedback. Furthermore, a community can be an especially valuable tool for handling sensitive information, as the journal tool allows members to share information privately, without sharing it with the rest of the community (or across social media and the internet at large).
6. Reducing support and research costs
Often, organizations are unable to conduct all the research they want to due to budget constraints. An online research community allows your customers to interact with you, and with each other. When members assist each other, you can save money in terms of internal support resources. As well, since members are willing and eager to participate in the community and in the growth of your brand, they are available for additional research at any time. We can help you understand which types of research are better suited for more traditional methods, and which types would be ideal for an online research community.
After you’ve set up your community, it’s important to ensure that you maintain it well so that members stay engaged. Read our article about 5 Strategies for Maintaining the Health of Your Online Research Community.
Are you interested in learning how an online research community can work for you?
Contact us for a customized solution! We would be happy to answer your questions and design a program that meets your unique needs.
12019 Grit Insights Practice Report. Insights buyers who participated were located in North America, Asia, Central/South America, Australia/NZ/Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Middle East.