An online research community is an Internet-based group that is devoted to conducting ongoing research into a specific area or topic. A community of this type may be public, allowing people from all walks of life to participate, or be a private group that includes only handpicked participants. In most cases, an online research community is focused on market research that relates to a specific product, group of products, or the manufacturer of a group of products.
With an online research community, the goal is usually to assess the demand for a given product or group of products with a specific segment of consumers. Using a format that is much like a social network service, individuals who wish to participate in the community create profiles and participate in an Internet forum. The forum serves two purposes, in that it allows participants to interact with one another, and also allows online community managers or moderators to interact freely with the community at large, an aspect that promotes open online deliberation. At the same time, participants may also receive private messages or emails, asking them for their opinions of everything from uses for a given product to suggestions on packaging or ways to enhance the market visibility of a product.
The creation of an online research community helps to expand time-honored means of conducting market research. Since information can be obtained from community members much more quickly than older methods of mailing out surveys or gathering consumers together in one physical location, the online approach provides businesses with feedback quickly, allowing them to begin working with that data sooner rather than later. This quicker access to consumer opinions and ideas helps to make the marketing effort more focused and effective, ultimately saving the business a great deal of money as well as time.
Depending on the reasons behind the creation of the online research community, the group may be structured as a public or private community. A public community can be found by anyone searching the Internet, and can usually be joined by creating a simple member profile. A private community is usually composed of people who are specifically invited to participate in the community, and is less likely to show up in Internet searches. It is not unusual for some businesses to operate both types of communities, with the public community containing a wider mix of consumers, and the private community containing a more targeted group based on such factors as age, educational background, or income.