Communities, what’s in a name: natural vs. research communities

Recently we’ve been receiving lots of questions about online communities, mainly about community management and set-up. This proves that the idea of ‘communities’ is currently very hot within organizations.
Many of these organizations are thinking about starting an online community with their key target group to get connected and to join the conversation.
During the recent Meetup of Online Community Managers NL (@Comm_ManagersNL) I realized there are so many different reasons to initiate a community: social interaction (, journalistic content (, customer service (t-mobile community) and of course: market research. In short, all reasons boil down to engaging people around a common interest and creating value together.
At InSites Consulting we grasped the opportunity to ‘use’ communities for conducting market research. We use natural communities to observe online conversations, we like to refer to it as ‘Nethnography’. And we use Research Communities to facilitate and join the conversation with consumers.
But what is exactly the difference between both types?

  1. Open vs. invite only: Research communities are only accessible to certain profiles (i.e. people with brand or topic identification) while natural communities are open to everyone.
  2. Infinite vs. fixed period: Research communities are ‘live’ for a fixed period (i.e. 3-weeks or 3-months) while natural communities are ‘always on’.
  3. Member vs. Moderator questions: In research communities, the moderator determines to a large extent who asks the questions, whereas in most natural communities the members start new conversations.

Though natural communities and research communities differ, I believe the power lies in synergizing them! Observing and analyzing conversations within relevant natural communities can give us first answers to our research questions. It generates hypotheses for further research: it will help us to ask the right questions in a second phase. Setting-up a research community allows us to go beyond the obvious conversations and to start a real dialogue with consumers in order to have a deep dive into certain issues and to co-create solutions to specific problems.
Next to observing the conversations on natural communities, we can use these natural communities as a valid source to recruit community research participants from. These members already know how to behave within communities; so take your advantage!
The synergy between both community types is demonstrated in our recent ESOMAR paper.
More information and community cases are found on our Slideshare page.

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