What are research communities?

3 March 2023 | 5 min read | Written by Kelvin Claveria

Do you need real-time insights on how consumer behaviors are changing? Looking to have ongoing conversations with your customers at scale? Want to reduce research costs and scale your programs up? If you answer yes to any of these, a research community may be for you. 

One of the most enduring and popular tools in the insights industry today, research communities are reliable. And thanks to mobile tech and other innovations, communities are also more powerful than ever before. 

Looking to understand what’s new in the world of research communities? Here’s an overview as well as some best practices to keep in mind. 

What are research communities? 

In the context of market research and insights, research communities are groups of individuals who participate in ongoing research studies related to a specific topic, product, service, or brand. Research communities are also sometimes called "consumer panels,” “customer advisory boards,” “insight communities,” or simply “communities.” 

What makes a research community a community? From our point of view, there are 3 things that are critical:

  1. A shared mission: People understand why they joined the community and how their feedback and insights are being used. 

  2. Permission to re-engage: Community members need to have agreed to be contacted again. Increasingly, this recontact is happening via SMS and mobile notifications instead of email.

  3. Longitudinal learning: A research community platform should be able to remember what you already know about your members and build on that knowledge over time. 

How do I build a research community? 

There are various ways of recruiting for a research community. The right approach depends on your brand, research objectives, and the people that you want to engage with. 

The most popular recruitment sources available for market researchers include:

Rival’s Customer Success team recommends a multi-channel approach to recruitment as this tends to bring more diversity into your research community. Market panels and river sampling are reliable and predictable, but they do come with the risk of recruiting people who are only interested in incentives. To go engage beyond “professional survey takers,” it’s crucial that you tap into other recruitment sources and go where real people are.

For more on the pros and cons of different channels, check out our guide on community recruitment

What are the most common use cases for research communities? 

Basically, for everything and anything. 🙃

Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the reality is if you’re using a robust research community platform, there’s a lot of use cases. 

And contrary to what some may believe, research communities are not just for qualitative research. In fact, the best research communities on the Rival platform take advantage of the full power of mobile tech to capture quant and qual, as well as video feedback. 

Here are some top uses cases for research communities: 

Customer needs and preferences: Get insights into the evolving needs, preferences, and behaviors of your customers. You can then improve product design, marketing strategies, and customer experiences.

Product innovation and pipeline: Test new products and services before they launch. Identify potential issues and make improvements before the product is released to the market.

Content and messaging development: Test and refine marketing messages and content. This helps businesses to create effective communication strategies that resonate with their target audience.

Customer journey mapping: Understand the customer journey, including pain points, challenges, and opportunities for improvement.

Are research communities just for qualitative research?

No, communities today can blend quant and qual seamlessly. In fact, the best research community platforms can also help you capture video feedback as well as facilitate cool methodologies such as emotional elicitation exercises. 

You can use research communities to facilitate a wide variety of research projects, including:

  • In-home user testing (IHUTs)
  • Concept testing
  • Longitudinal research
  • Segmentation
  • Packaging testing
  • Co-creation
  • Mobile diaries
  • Pulse or quick hits
  • In-the-moment research at live events 
  • Watch-alongs 

This is just scratching the surface though because research communities are very flexible and can handle a wide variety of research needs. 

Do I need a research community?

We’re a bit biased, but we think a research community is a must-have for any sophisticated insights program. 

It provides agility because you don't have to find sample anytime you need to launch a new market research study: you have ongoing access to a group of people who've opted in to share their feedback.

As these people get familiar with your brand or your community's mission, they also tend to share deeper insights as they become long-term members. 

How do I choose the right research community platform for my company?

There are many research community vendors in the market research and insights industry; however, the best platforms are the ones that can do the following:

  1. Enable you to engage where people are. Today, a mobile-first approach is key to all insight platforms. You need to be able to notify community members of new activities via SMS. 

  2. Make it easy to recruit via different channels. As we mentioned earlier in this post, a multi-channel approach to recruitment delivers both the diversity and cost-efficiency you need to maximize the value of your research community. 

  3. Offer robust survey-authoring capabilities as well as conversational research functionalities. Access to randomization, piping and masking, and all major survey question types is important, but you should also be able to use Message Cards as well to deliver an experience that feels like a conversation. 

  4. Capture video feedback from community members, as well as embed videos in your conversational surveys. 

  5. Deliver a more personalized experience and build on what you already know about your members using Dynamic Profiles. 

  6. Send the right activities to the right people at the right time using Smart Distributions.

  7. Build efficiency and make it easy to manage and track your projects using a tool like ChatHub. 

Of course, you also need to make sure that your research community company’s approach to security and compliance is on point. For example, if you're in health care, then you need to make sure your research community platform is HIPAA compliant. 

Also, to maximize your market research ROI, work with a vendor that offers a spectrum of services. DIY is not always the right approach for lean market research teams, for example. Assisted service or even a full-service consulting company like Reach 3 Insights might be a better fit.

We recommend picking a market research firm that will treat you like a partner in the management of your community. Check out our webinar on the top features of a modern insight community to learn more.  

Research communities are more important than ever 

At a time when companies need to understand evolving consumer preferences, research communities can play a huge role in capturing first-party data that market research teams can turn into actionable insights. The key to maximizing the value of this tool is recruiting the right people, optimizing the community experience, and using the right platform that facilitates iterative, agile research

If you’d like to learn more or want to see Community 2.0, the next wave of research communities, feel free to reach out to an expert from our team.

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Written by Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria (@kcclaveria) is Director of Demand Generation at Rival Technologies.

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