How to Turn Online Research Communities into Real-Time Insights

Jeff Meade
Creative Friction
Published in
4 min readSep 26, 2018


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

You’ve probably already experienced the focus group approach to gaining customer insights. Or perhaps the in-store survey or man-on-the-street interview? Today, though, an effective way to gain real-time insights is to turn to online communities. Consider these many advantages of this longer-term, targeted approach.

What are MROCs?

The acronym sounds as if it should be the stage name of the latest young hip hop phenom (with a bejeweled M-Roc around his or her neck). Yet it actually stands for Market Research Online Community. These are password-protected online venues in which a targeted group of people take part in daily, weekly, or monthly activities that can elicit real-time research insights.

Individuals in the community are typically recruited to participate in the research-related activities because they fit a profile for a business or brand’s target audience.

According to the GreenBook Research Industry Trends report, online research communities “have been the most successful and most widely adopted new research methodology” for the last few years.

That may be because so much can be accomplished with access to the online community. Opportunities include:

• Generating and developing ideas with your customers

• Evaluating customer experience

• Exploring website design and usability

• Developing consumer context

• Understanding path to purchase

  • Testing brand extension

Advantages of Online Research Communities

The impact of the market research online community you develop will vary based on your objectives and approach. However, there are some consistent benefits you can expect to enjoy.

Higher Logic

Dig Deeper

With online research communities, customers agree to provide your company long-term access to their thoughts, insights, and feelings. Plus, they are often more invested — whether recruited or volunteering — in having a role in the success of your brand or business. This goes a lot deeper than the profiling information gleaned from analyzing customer clicks or actions, and form and survey responses in the CRM system.

Further, online communities provide a greater breadth of access than a bulletin board forum focus group. Typical Insight Communities might have 150–500 people. Smaller, more focused mini-communities usually tap out around 150, and have a more defined time frame.

Direct Access

Anyone in the enterprise with access to the online research community can join real-time conversations and introduce research exercises. They don’t have to wait for the research team to develop the appropriate report to be able to tap into qualitative or quantitative data.

People throughout the business are empowered to develop creative approaches to engage community participants. This might include:

• Inviting community members to post videos of product use

• Quickly launching a survey with a simple email invitation to the community members

• Asking members to blog or create digital diaries

• Posting prompts in discussion forums

• Challenging participants to submit ideas or concepts around a theme

• Tasking users with uploading a gallery of photos with captions and comments

• Providing early access to images or videos and giving participants the ability to drop emoticons or text-based responses as feedback

Longer Duration

Instead of relying on a frantic two hours with targeted consumers gathered for a focus group, you are able to learn about consumers’ lives and decisions over a longer course of time. This gives you the space and time to really develop ideas with consumers, and follow up with questions, and foster a true sense of community around shared interests.

Reduces Costs

An online research community can decrease the resources needed to do market research and gather responses. But that’s not the only ROI benefit. This approach also reduces costs for:

• Customer service

• Customer acquisition

• Research

• Recruitment

Engaged Customers

The MROC can also alert an enterprise to potential problems and improve speed in addressing issues that could negatively impact customer relationships. Plus, by bringing together an engaged population to engage in discussions about your products and services, including providing feedback and sharing unique ways they’re using your products to solve problems, you’re more likely to win their loyalty. This can help with upselling, cross-selling, and word-of-mouth. Online communities are also a breeding ground for brand ambassadors!

About Jeff

Email me at if you have any questions or would like to learn more about how I help marketing agencies earn status, attract new customers and grow their business.

If you found this article helpful, I bet you’d love the weekly deep-dives I share exclusively in my Substack newsletter. Think of it like having a chat with a friend — only that friend has 20+ years of experience helping agencies just like yours.

Want more straight-talk advice on strategy, attracting new clients, and scaling your business? Hit that subscribe button and let’s keep the conversation going. Your future self will thank you, trust me.

Subscribe to My Substack Newsletter



Jeff Meade
Creative Friction

Trusted advisor to marketing agency leaders