Online Communities 1200

Why online communities are a key path to growth

Hugh Carling

Hugh Carling


Co-founder of Liveminds. I love to bring like-minded people together. Whether that's growing businesses, running online communities, staging events or captaining my village cricket team, nothing makes me happier than seeing people with a shared passion, coming together and making the most of it.

Online communities are identified as a ‘key path to growth in market research’ in the Green Book Report 2014, for very good reason. They combine the best of ad-hoc qualitative research with unparalleled speed and agility, and reduced recruitment costs. They are good for the brands who need fast access to insight and good for the agencies who provide regular consultation through them.

In this four-part feature we’ll explore the benefits, the problems, the options available and also look at the huge elephant in the room…

Firstly, let’s look at the benefits – why is it that 82% of researchers are either using or are considering using online communities?

Online research communities offer all of the benefits of doing qualitative research online. But although that is a huge leap forward from relying solely on face-to-face methods, and works brilliantly in many contexts, ad-hoc online qualitative research doesn’t solve all the modern research buyer’s needs. You still have to wait for days (if not weeks) to find the right people to talk to and spend hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds finding them.
This is where continuous research communities come in. They promise to provide you with on-demand access to an engaged community of people, ready to give you the insights you need.

Save (a lot of) time

The speed of modern business demands that key marketing decisions are made faster than ever. So if you want to help make the best decisions you can, you need access to insights faster than ever. Increasingly speed and agility are considered critical to the modern marketer. The ability to have private conversations with your audience, available on-demand, helps you get the most from your research and enables you to do research when previously you couldn’t.

Save on costs

This increased research capability becomes even greater when you consider the reduced costs of each project. Maintaining a continuous research community means paying once to find the right people, with occasional top-ups. No longer do you need to send people out into the street with a clipboard or tap into costly databases, every time you want to talk to your audience. Yes, you will need to provide alternative, soft incentives to maintain their engagement (sharing advance content, occasional prize draws, exclusive offers etc) but the ‘per-project’ recruitment fee disappears. Furthermore, because these are people who already have an affinity with your brand, you won’t need to offer such a large cash incentive for in-depth projects, as you would if they were simply invited cold off the street.

While these may be the benefits that most easily attract decision makers, there are many other benefits to running your own research community that go far beyond speed and cost.

Get deeper insights

Developing an environment for collaboration, between people that share an interest in your brand, or a topic close to your brand, can deliver results that you wouldn’t get from any other form of ad-hoc research. One of the main advantages of doing your qualitative research online, as opposed to in a focus group, is that you get the time and opportunity to understand the people you are talking to and the topics you are discussing in greater depth.
This benefit magnifies over time, so as you build relationships with the members of online research communities, you get a much richer understanding of their own unique context and viewpoints. This deeper understanding makes for much deeper insights.

Build brand advocacy

It is critical that the true purpose of a research community is very clearly communicated to, and experienced by, it’s members from the outset. However there is a powerful marketing benefit to building these deep relationships with an exclusive group of people who are loyal to your brand. Showing that you are an organisation that invests its time and money in staying in tune with its audience is a great message to share with them. Acting on the insights you’ve gained is even better.

Co-create ideas

So you’ve got hundreds of truly engaged people, representing the key segments of your audience, wanting to help you and your business create better products and services. What better resource could you have to generate fresh new ideas that will really work for your audience? Online research communities enable you to work with your audience to brainstorm ideas, choose the best ones, and to iterate them all the way through to launch. You can now involve the people who are going to buy these products and services, in their very creation, in privacy and on-demand.

Do more research in-house

There will always be times when the complexity of the subject, the need for a fully independent perspective or lack of internal resources means you need to call on your agency. But – having an online research community gives you the freedom to do more yourself too. For starters, moderating conversations online when you’ve got time to think through every comment is much easier than running a face-to-face focus group, so bright junior researchers will be fine. Plus of course you don’t have to rely on external resources becoming available – you can get started right now. Finally, the people needing the insight can get directly involved. Sometimes the only way to get the answers you need quickly, is to do it yourself.

Put insight at the heart of your business

UK business leaders still put their own intuition and experience ahead of data when making major decisions. Is it any surprise therefore, that up to 90% of new products fail? Who wouldn’t like to have instant access to customer insights before they make important business decisions? The fact is, that in the past that wasn’t always possible. Now it is. Having this hugely empowering new capability can have dramatic effect on your company. Colleagues can start to value the voice of the customer in a way that they never did before. That can only be good for you, your team, your customers and ultimately your business.

So as you can see, there’s a lot to love. But sadly it’s not all roses. In fact, right now, there are quite a few thorns. In part 2 of this research community series, we’ll be looking at the problems researchers face setting up and running research communities. If you’d like to talk more in the meantime, please do get in touch.

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