On-line virtual communities and social media listening

One mechanism for keeping in touch with your customers and allowing your customers to keep in touch with each other to gain insights such as best practice, or to solve each other's problems is to build virtual communities on-line.

Used increasingly for market research (MROC - market research online communities) they can be an excellent way of building dialogue with customers from a marketing point of view and a source of ideas and feedback. Notanant is an example of a generalised virtual communities or social networking system that we created and is used both for live community groups, but also available for use for market research including integration with our surveying tools.

With everyone connected to some form of social network, it may seem a little odd but this page was talking about 'virtual communities' several years before the arrival of Facebook or LinkedIn or many of the other social networks that are have become available in the last ten years. Now it seems so obvious that market research must work with social media and can build it's own virtual communities and that the business has to interact and work with these new groups. We describe a virtual community as a group of people or customers that come together to exchange ideas and information. We've even built our own social networking platform Notanant which offers a generic framework for organising complex on-line communities and includes facilities for surveys, discussions, but also for sharing information and practical elements such as online social commerce.

Social media monitoring

Generalist social networks offer the ability to connect individuals and to build waves of concensus and action. They also offer the chance to capture discussions and communications about brands, products and companies in real time and they are increasingly being used with sophisticated targeted advertising to reach individuals and then attempt to monitor and convert sales. There are large scale text analytics and social graph packages available to facilitate the analysis and management of the resultant Big Data. Although privacy is a big issue, particularly in Europe with its tougher data protection laws, but many users use social networking sites unconcerned by the privacy implications. For companies, this means that social networks can provide a warts and all view of their market.

With the volume of data available, some now only available from specialist contractors, the Big Data problem is how to analyse and extract information. There is also a sneaking sense that though it is vital for a business to keep a track of what is being said and done in social media - particularly for business areas like television, film and music - in order to be able to manage the medium, as research tools there is not necessarily a direct relationship between what is being said online and sales or activity offline and in some cases is not clear if text-analytic or sentiment analysis are generalist measures that map to the market as a whole, or just relate to online behaviours.

Market Research Online Communities (MROCs) and co-collaboration

A specific implementation of virtual communnities is what have become known as MROCs. These are panels of respondents recruited specifically to a company or a project or product area that are then used as the basis of longtitudinal studies and research often with ongoing discussions or raising issues as they emerge in the marketplace. A specific use of MROCs is for co-collaboration projects where customers become directly involved in the process of creating a new product or service acting as a source of inspiration and a sounding board to internal designers and developers

Building your own communities

Increasingly though companies are looking to build their own communities, particularly for research where individuals are specifically recruited to join company-based projects. Building a community is much more than just recruiting people to join. There has to be something to do when you sign up and some reason to keep coming back. The membership needs to be kept fresh and up-to-date for instance We have built our own online community system using Notanant and have experience in programming in PHP, Java, and Javascript, or can take on and set up third-party community software (eg Joomla or Drupal).

For help and advice on virtual communities and MROCs contact info@dobney.com