Traditionally, research respondents have reported that taking part in research can be boring and that their only motivation for participation is the incentive earned at the end. However, the Market Research Online Community (MROC) offers research respondents an exciting, fun and sociable kind of research opportunity.

A Market Research Online Community is a private online site with social network features that is designed specifically for research purposes. Respondents are invited to take part in discussions and mini-polls, whilst moderators interact with them and moderate respondent feedback. Columinate conducted research on the MROC methodology by asking 280 respondents who had participated in such a community about their thoughts, perceptions and behaviours regarding MROCs.

The aim of this research was to paint a picture of how MROCs are perceived in the South African context, as research on this has only been carried out in other countries. At Columinate, we also like to do research on our research methodology in order to improve our offerings on all levels, and to keep our clients and respondents as happy as possible. These are some of the top-level findings from the research:

While MROCs are primarily used to gather market research data, participants appear to enjoy the social component as well. This is a positive finding considering the general problem of retaining and engaging willing respondents for market research. We asked respondents about their social activities both during and after the MROC. In total, 46% of respondents said that they had chatted directly to other respondents on profile pages and in discussions in the MROC. A third of respondents mentioned that post-MROC, they had connected with fellow ‘MROCers’ on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and 24% stated that they had connected offline with fellow respondents after or while the MROC was still active. Being able to engage with fellow respondents and having the opportunity to meet new people contribute to making the MROC methodology appealing and fun for respondents.

Researchers have been debating the best size (in terms of the number of respondents) for an MROC. Columinate decided that perhaps asking our very own respondents what they preferred would yield a more objective response. When asked about the size of the community or number of members they would feel most comfortable with, most respondents (57%) felt that somewhere between 50 and 200 respondents would be best. They reasoned that more respondents than that would be overwhelming, with too much to read and too many respondents to engage with. At Columinate, we have also found that discussions can get saturated easily or too quickly if there are too many respondents. This may result in many respondents feeling that their thoughts have already been expressed in enough detail by the community and they may stop participating. This insight is valuable for clients that are considering using an MROC – a healthy sample size is between 50 and 200 respondents in order to avoid reaching a saturation point in discussions too quickly.

Whilst running an MROC, we strive to keep respondents engaged and participating in activities as much and as regularly as possible in order to bring about the richest data. A third of respondents said that they log in at least once a day, or more often, when participating in an MROC. Most stated that they take part in discussions at least once a week or more, and 38% said that they start discussions one or two times a week. Thus it is evident that respondents are engaged and show high levels of activity in our MROCs.

High levels of engagement are also enhanced by making the MROC easily accessible on smartphones and tablets. A third of respondents said that they have accessed an MROC via their smartphone, and 15% have accessed an MROC using their tablet. This indicates that respondents are accessing the MROC while on-the-go. This is important to note in the research design as MROC activities need to be easy to complete and engage with via smartphones and tablets. The high level of usage of smartphones and tablets to access MROCs may also indicate that respondents are eager to participate and wish to access MROCs as much as possible, wherever they are. However, the most popular device that is used to access the MROC is a laptop or computer, and 74% mentioned that they use their laptop or computer most often to access an MROC.

An MROC needs to promote honesty and openness in its respondents in order to elicit the most credible data for analysis. A total of 86% of respondents said that they think carefully about their answers before reporting them, and 89% said that they are open and honest about all issues that they discuss in communities. This means that the MROC is a hub for self-expression for respondents, ultimately enhancing engagement for them because they know they can be honest and that their opinions are valued. Careful, considered responses lend to quality analysis.

Respondents who had experienced an MROC, a focus group and social networks were asked to compare these across various activities. Respondents felt that MROCs were best suited for hearing from and getting feedback from brands (73%), as well as talking to brands (69%). Two thirds of respondents also reported that it easy to give open and honest opinions in an MROC. This indicates that MROCs are clearly preferred over focus groups and social networks as a mode to honestly voice brand-based opinions and hear directly from brands.

Respondents seem to prefer sharing certain information in an MROC rather than on a social network – this may include complaints about their bank, details of their credit card statements, and details of their Christmas or holiday shopping budgets. In addition, 59% would prefer to share their opinions on a news story, 56% would rather share their opinions on what they had heard on the radio, and 47% would rather share a photo of the contents of their medicine cabinet in an MROC, compared to a social network. This also confirms that respondents feel comfortable discussing personal issues in MROCs.

The research indicates that, overall, respondents are willing to expose their honest opinions and feelings via the online research community methodology. People also value MROCs as a credible and exciting opportunity to engage with brands and hear from brand owners. In addition, the MROC is an exciting and fun way for respondents to take part in research. Having their voices heard and engaging with fellow respondents serve as a valuable intrinsic incentive.

Columinate will conduct this research on an annual basis in a constant effort to improve our research offering and enhance respondent engagement.