Using Social Media Inspired Research Forums to Deliver Rich Insights

Several years ago, the phrase “social media” was seen by many as a simple buzzword with limited context and even vaguer implications. But what was once considered a passing fad has stood the test of time and is now a reality that has revolutionized not only the way we share information, but also how we interact and sustain relationships with our friends, family, colleagues, and even customers. It therefore seems only logical that this poignant shift in communication styles should be taken into close consideration when conducting market research.

It is this line of thinking that gave rise to Rockbridge’s OpinionPond™ research forum in 2009. By mimicking a social media interface, OpinionPond™ provides users with an environment that they are used to encountering everyday in both social and business settings. And, what we have found over the past several years is that this makes the research experience more comfortable and familiar to participants, thereby encouraging more candid and involved responses.

Participants provide thoughtful and detailed responses to the discussion topics, often relaying personal stories and experiences that enable a better understanding of the issues at hand compared to what would be gathered in a more structured (and less anonymous) setting, such as a traditional focus group. They can easily interact on the forum and build on each other’s responses to paint a fuller picture for us to analyze. They receive emails when others post responses to their comments – encouraging them to return to the forum to read what their peers are posting and to contribute follow-up thoughts. OpinionPond™ allows us to closely track the conversations and actively probe to clarify participants’ contributions and dig deeper into their thought processes when an opportunity to obtain more relevant details arises.

OpinionPond Case Study-Screenshot

Recently, we conducted a study using OpinionPond™ to explore consumers’ use of digital imaging products and the effect of product convergence for a client in the consumer technology industry. The discussion included 50 consumers who participate in photography, but instead of asking direct questions about their activities with their digital imaging devices and having them post comments, we had consumers upload images that they had taken and describe the situation, choice of digital imaging device, and meaning of the photograph. This format also encouraged more interaction with other OpinionPond™ participants, as they could relate to each other’s personal experiences through the images. Having respondents re-live the photography experience provided rich data on consumer choice and motivations for digital imaging that was used to inform the quantitative phase of the study.

One of the most powerful features of OpinionPond™ is the ability to dynamically link these rich insights to data from a quantitative online survey. Instead of conducting an OpinionPond™ forum prior to a survey, we have found it useful to invite survey takers to participate in an OpinionPond™ session after the survey for some studies. Surveys feel very constricting to some research participants, and it is refreshing for them to be asked to provide additional context to their responses in the survey, or take the topic deeper, especially in a social media format. From a researcher’s standpoint, using OpinionPond™ in this manner enables us to supplement quantitative findings with qualitative insights that add depth to the trends observed in the survey – providing a complete understanding of a market’s attitudes and opinions.

To illustrate, we conduct an ongoing satisfaction and loyalty study for an e-commerce client. The survey is triggered through a pop-up when a customer visits or makes a purchase on the site. As issues were uncovered in the survey about the functionality of the client’s website, the client wanted to dig deeper to understand root causes and customer expectations. We added an invitation to participate in an OpinionPond™ session at the conclusion of the survey to address the need. We had 34 customers with specific characteristics and satisfaction ratings in the survey accept the invitation and participate in the forum. We were able to probe on the functionality issues and identified two improvements that were innovations that the client had not considered. The social media format and timing of the survey (immediately after a visit or purchase) were credited with these insights, particularly since a simultaneous coast-to-coast usability testing research project did not uncover these issues.

Social media research forums like OpinionPond™ provide a comfortable and inspiring venue for customers to share their opinions with us and our clients. We have found the elements of a social media conversation lead to more innovative, thoughtful, and candid comments, providing fresh insights that make a difference in our clients’ organizations.


Written by: Gina Woodall, President