A Practical Alternative to Online Communities: OpinionPond™

opinionpond logoProprietary online communities have become popular in the research community as a potentially cost effective way of conducting timely research with a core group of customers. Does the reality live up to the hype? Maybe not.

Online communities are costly, whether designed and implemented internally or through an outside provider. There are long lead times to get an online community up and running, participants recruited, and the first insights gleaned. Online communities require a great deal of the client’s time to manage them, even if an outside vendor is involved. They also skew toward heavy users of the company’s product or service and can attract professional research participants.

An online research community also requires a lot of resources to keep participants engaged. Most customer relationships with product and service providers are not that involved over long periods of time, making it less interesting for participants to continually contribute to the ongoing discussion.

There are certainly cases of successful online research communities, such as My Starbucks Idea, but our point of view is that when they are used purely for research, they usually require more investment than the associated return in value-added knowledge.

jumpThe OpinionPond™ Solution. Rockbridge has developed a solution that is less time and cost intensive and can provide richer insights than an online community. Our solution, OpinionPond™, dynamically connects online surveys to an interactive application using a social media format. After streaming through an online survey and answering questions individually, survey respondents are invited at the conclusion of the survey to participate in an online forum where they can interact with other respondents.

After creating a unique username, the respondent can immediately “enter the pond” where they can comment on posted questions as well as see and respond to other people’s comments. For the first time, survey participants gain the benefit of sharing and interacting with others who participated in the same study.

One benefit to the researcher is that comments in OpinionPond™ can be directly linked to the survey responses, providing rich insights (e.g., what comments were offered by 18-34 year olds? Satisfied customers?) Participants are encouraged to return to OpinionPond™ and provide additional comments, but it is not critical as new participants are continually entering OpinionPond™ from the ongoing survey, or even multiple surveys, providing fresh insights without having to work to keep the same group of participants engaged.

OpinionPond™ is less expensive than building an online community as there are no continual recruiting and member management costs. All participants can be invited from the client’s current research surveys. Participants also have a better research experience, as they are not required to participate over long periods of time, and have a chance to offer viewpoints not addressed in the closed-end survey. OpinionPond™ insights are less likely to be skewed by heavy product users or professional research respondents given the recruiting method.

OpinionPond™ also provides unique insights. For example, Rockbridge recently implemented OpinionPond™ with a client’s ongoing satisfaction tracking study. As new service issues arise in the survey over time, Rockbridge and the client can quickly ask follow-up questions in OpinionPond™ to ascertain the root cause of the issue so management can take corrective action. OpinionPond™ also redefines the paradigm of distinguishing between surveys versus focus groups. Consumers can shift from the “stream” where they offer unbiased opinions in isolation, to the “pond,” where their ideas are stimulated by interaction with like people. And, the researcher and marketing manager are able to enter the pond and engage consumers directly.

For more on this topic, read our recent article in MRA’s Alert! Magazine, The Results Are In: Social Media Techniques vs. Focus Groups for Qualitative Research