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Importance of creating and managing virtual communities to better understand the consumer

Online communities are a research tool with the power to offer valuable information about the consumer, their interests, motivations and the attributes that influence their purchasing decisions. Thanks to this information, it is possible to understand different consumer behaviors during online and offline purchases.

For this process, the Market Research Online Communities (MROC) methodology is used, a relatively new market research line that collects online data about groups of people who interact within digital environments, called communities. In these communities, users are grouped by common interests to discuss various topics.

What is an online community for market research?

Market Research Online Communities (MROC) is a relatively new methodology that combines qualitative research with different ways of collecting data through the internet, with the main objective of detecting and analyzing insights and conversations around specific topics.

The first definition of MROC was conceived in 2008 in a report by Forrester Research, which stated that this methodology would transform the way of researching markets. One of its main characteristics is that research participants must become members of the community to obtain real-time data.

According to the report presented by Forrester Research, MROC is a group of people who interact within a private online space, where clients with common interests regularly discuss topics that are important for market research, offering relevant information, in real time.


What are the objectives of an MROC?

This tool is used by marketing professionals and companies that require data and comments from users, without the need to bother them or request them directly. The data obtained is qualitative and can be used to improve products or services, test theories and other marketing objectives.

The objectives of these online market research communities can be quite varied depending on the needs of the company, brand or organization requesting the market study. There are three types of online market research communities, which are:

1. Short-term communities

User communities that are grouped together for short-term projects. In these studies, the research can go from a few days to up to three months; just enough time to collect all the information about the group of people participating, that in these cases, it is usually a small group of 50 people or less.

2. Emerging Communities

Emerging / on-off communities are intermittent communities that are managed within a platform that allows notifications to be sent to participants when their presence is required. Normally, these groups don't exceed 250 people, most of them participating in exchange for some incentive.

3. Continuous Communities

Its purpose is to participate in larger and longer research projects that need continuity over time. Groups of participants range between 200 and 5000 people, which means that building this kind of community requires a large amount of resources and energy, usually needing a higher budget.

The perfect example of online communities are WhatsApp groups, in which clients or groups of friends can meet, sharing information. However, MROC users interact without knowing each other.

How does a Market Research Online Community work?

The MROC requires a moderator and a group of participants who interact and discuss the required topic, just as it happens with other traditional qualitative methodologies. The main difference is that MROC participants interact exclusively within the online environment.

For this, the moderator manages the participants through a specific technological platform and facilitates the performance of different tasks, depending on the project. Qualitative tools such as forums, chats, blogs, and quantitative tools such as surveys can be used simultaneously

It can have a synchronous approach, where all the participants discuss and carry out actions simultaneously, as occurs in Focus Groups; or an asynchronous approach, where the reflections and interactions of the participants don't need to coincide at the same time, as with the Bulletin Boards.

Stages of the implementation of online communities

Successful management of a research community needs to follow a three-stage process:

  • Recruitment. This is carried out at the beginning of the project, but a periodic update may also be required to compensate for dropouts or when the commitment of the participants wanes.

  • Triggering. These elements allow conversations to develop naturally between

  • Moderating. The research community should be instructed, ensuring that participants understand the ground rules, are sincere and honest in their comments so that moderation is minimal and there is no need to get involved in conversations.

Importance of online communities to understand the consumer

Thanks to online communities for market research, it is possible to better understand the consumer and considerably reduce the time spent on the market research process. A committed base audience is available almost permanently, to frequently consult different topics, in exchange for a reward for their participation.

This allows developing a deep understanding of consumer needs, understanding how they think and how they relate to the products or services of a given brand. Those in charge of marketing strategy can test messages, theories, concepts, proposals or develop new solutions.

MROCs are the most efficient way to collect data and information from users from a target market, indirectly and thoroughly investigating the interests of a certain group of customers, based on the needs of the company, without bothering them with surveys or others.

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