Marketing Research Online Community (MROC): A Special Kind Of Research Panel

By Kelly Kwon, Data Specialist, Polaris Marketing Research

A Market Research Online Community is a private social media site that consists of an intimate online community with about 300-500 members. Unlike public social communities such as Facebook or Twitter, MROC members are recruited and organized by companies wanting to tap into their consumers' insights.

Before MROCs, online marketing research studies were limited to online panels. Online panels continue to be a great asset to marketing research because the results are immediate and actionable. While both quantitative and qualitative studies can be conducted with an online panel, it is typically a transactional relationship and only focuses around the project-on-hand. However, MROCs are organized around the members to discover unmet needs, conduct surveys, identify trends, or just listen to daily challenges and build a long-term relationship with the members.

MROC Risks & Challenges

MROCs, like every other research methodology, have some risk factors and challenges. A major challenge is that it is not recommended to organize a "blind" or an unbranded MROC. When conducting a sponsored (or "branded") survey online, there is a possibility of introducing acquiescence bias (tendency to rate questions positively). However, unbranded MROCs yield less response activity and fewer engaged members whereas branded communities give a more robust participation, requiring the MROC owner to strike a balance in terms of topics and activities for the community.

In one example, Wendy's MROC called (Wendy's Consumer Corner) allowed members to freely discuss their love of McDonald's fries and what they liked and disliked about Wendy's. Members who are committed to the brand are more critical of the brand and willing to discuss the negatives because they don't want to see the brand fail.

Another challenge of MROCs is the "group think" bias. Focus group moderators often run into this when the group tries to minimize conflict by agreeing with each other. It can be difficult to eliminate "group think" in MROCs because online consumers generally influence one another about a product or a brand. Rather than trying to eliminate "group think", MROC moderators should understand the group's insight and manage the group accordingly.

Here are some tips to successful MROCs:

  • Make it small and intimate: When establishing MROCs, it is important to give members a safe environment to openly share about their likes, dislikes, and thoughts. Ethnographic studies have been successful with MROC members telling intimate stories about their experience with a purchase or brand. Also, successful MROCs have participants who like exclusivity. Wendy's Consumer Corner had a letter from the CMO and President of Wendy's asking for participation that gave it personal touch while emphasizing importance of the community.

  • Post a lot content to keep people active and engaged: MROCs are about keeping a long-term relationship with your consumers and discovering unmet needs. A project manager cannot post one branding idea and leave it to the community to provide amazing insights. If you need feedback on an idea, or want to know how your company can improve and optimize what you already have, you can conduct a web survey with an online panel. However, if you're looking beyond feedback and looking to create new solutions, keep members engaged to give you feedback on what you're already doing, as well as giving you new ideas of doing something new.

  • Acknowledge contributions: Moderators need to spend time acknowledging individual contributions to the group through frequent probes, even if contributions don't directly add to the research project. Building platforms that have point systems can be tangible way to acknowledge member contributions. Successful brands, such as Kraft's 100 calorie packs, come from consumer insight on health and wellness from "The Consumer Channel" - one of Kraft's MROCs. Kraft learned that members wanted portion control and treats, instead of "diet" foods. Through deep dialogues, they learned that consumers preferred to think of portions in calories rather than low-fat or low-carb. Their MROC consumers are often credited for this very successful new packaging.

MROCs are an exciting innovation that stretches the traditional boundaries between researcher and respondent. As social media participation becomes more commonplace, MROCs will also be used more frequently, giving marketers a rich new source for actionable insights.

Kelly Kwon is a Data Analyst in the analytics department at Polaris Marketing Research Inc., where she handles a variety of data manipulation tasks involved in survey research. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley in Molecular and Cell Biology and in Marketing from Georgia State University.

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