Market research online communities vs. online research panels

published on June 30, 2021

It’s an age-old question: What is the consumer thinking?

It seems like there are more avenues than ever to answer that question. From social media listening to analyzing comments and survey responses, there are many valuable methods out there. But what if you are looking for a central hub where you can connect with consumers to discuss topics, issues, and ideas that could help improve your brand?

What are market research online communities?

Illustration of an online research panelist commenting on a focus forumWhen it comes to market research online communities (MROC), the idea is to hear how consumers organically talk about brands, services, or challenges they face every day.

MROC structure

An MROC allows for more organic, free-flowing conversations where participants can interact with each other. Community members can start discussions about new ideas and collaborate around issues that are important to them.  Are you part of a Facebook or LinkedIn group centered around a particular topic or meant for a specific group of people? That could be considered a community.

Typical MROC size

An MROC is smaller and allows for more intimate engagement. Posts, and in turn, customer voices, are less likely to feel lost. Community members may begin to recognize each other on the board and feel like they “know” each other, creating a sense of belonging and trust, leading to more honest responses. The focus in a community is only the quality of the response, not the quantity.

When to use an MROC

If you’re interested in more explorative, qualitative work, an online community may be right for you. Online communities allow researchers to see “what’s out there” and what information members offer up and want others to know. With this more casual style, there is potential to gain more insight than what you initially set out for, as community members raise questions and ideas that researchers might not have previously considered.

What about online research panels?

An online research panel is a group of people interested in taking part in research activities for your company or brand. Panels allow for open conversation without compromising control, but the discussions are generally more structured in a research panel.

Structure of online research panels

In online research panels, respondents only participate when prompted by moderators who push out surveys, discussion threads, polls, etc. Participants may or may not be able to see and/or respond to other participants.

Online research panel size

Because online research panels are larger than communities, they provide adequate base sizes for quantitative research. A larger sample means more responses on engagements, which translates to higher accuracy of results.

A community aims for quality over quantity when it comes to responses, but that doesn’t mean responses on a research panel will lack quality. There are times when it makes sense to have a large sample, like fielding a poll, and times when it makes sense to request a thoughtful verbatim, like asking consumers to detail a recent experience with your service.

When to use an online research panel

Typically, panels are used for more quantitative research, answering specific questions rather than discussing broad topics. Panel members could answer these questions via fielded surveys, polls, discussion forums, or focus forums. Researchers can also use panels to recruit for more qualitative work by identifying subgroups within the panel.

Need help deciding?

Not sure if it’s a market research online community or an online research panel that’s the right fit for your needs? Bellomy's research teams have extensive experience managing, mining, and analyzing consumer-generated qualitative content through online panels and communities. Reach out to discuss your research goals.

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