Taking stock: Reflecting on Market Research Online Communities (MROCs) as a Qualitative Research Tool

20th January 2015

These days, it’s rare for a research project to comprise a single element or methodology, and online communities (MROCs) are increasingly a tool we turn to, to supplement or complement traditional face to face tools. We have found that clients like trying new things too, and value the ability to watch the proceedings unfold –learning from their audiences as projects develop.

But is this something we’re just embracing because it’s new and different, or do MROCs really add value over and above other methodologies?

There’s no doubt that with the ability for participants of all ages to upload footage from smart phones, MROCs mean we can be ‘in the moment’ – watching people cook, shave or walk their dogs. And this can spark a powerful thought or aid brand owners to think outside the box.  This is one way in which MROCs can really add richness: in the building and creating of ideas rather than in evaluating and interrogating them.

We all know that some brands, categories and products are more ‘interesting’ than others – while consumers can chat for hours about their favourite FMCG brands, (cupboard staples with which they often have long held rational, and emotional, associations), it can be harder to engage with financial services, white goods and the like. MROCs come into their own here – engaging audiences on less ‘sexy’ topics, and using a range of tools and techniques to ensure participants are in the right frame of mind before they come to groups and reacquaint them with a category they might only engage with on an occasional basis.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – whilst agencies and clients alike are benefiting from the richness gained through MROCs, we should also consider the potential pitfalls.

Left to their own devices, participants often tend to default to rational responses and with more of a one-way dialogue; it can be difficult to explore emerging insights in more depth.  It is hard to fully interpret the consumer voice through an online portal, and the nuances of tone, intonation and body language can be missed – all of which are crucial to uncovering the human truth.

With dedicated moderating  to probe, question and cajole participants for fuller, richer answers, using MROCs is just one way in which we are using research to take our clients further – contact one of the team to find out how we can make them work for you!