About the author: Christian Dössel is blogging about market research in German language here and here. After having worked for TNS, TBWA\ and other strategy and market research agencies he now holds the position of Senior Research Director at MM-Eye in Hamburg / Germany with special responsibilities for MM-Eye's new media and online research approaches.
No wonder that confusion sometimes is still quite large.
One approach that became a popular representative of new methods in a short time is the approach of online research communities, also known as Market Research Online Communities (MROCs).
There are different definitions of Online Research Communities, but they all have a common base: "An Online Research Community is a platform that is used exclusively to generate a deep understanding of needs, attitudes and the reality of life of specific target groups."
So we don't talk about access panels with a focus on quantitative research and we don't talk about natural communities full of customers' conversation, like brand communities, Facebook pages or topic related community sites.
But of course these sources can help us finding and recruiting the right participants for an appropriate Online Research Community.
But we have to make sure to keep advantages and disadvantages in mind:
For example people from Online Access Panels are used to the internet, but they are probably not used to community tools and have a lack of willingness to participate over a longer period of time.
On the other hand people from a natural community like a branded site or a Facebook page have rich experience with a specific topic as well as with the community tools but maybe they don't want to participate in market research. And sometimes, especially if you are not the owner of the natural community, it might be difficult to talk to the community members.
We will learn more about research communities at The Market Research Event 2011 in November. If you look at the program you will see that IIR USA has planned a whole track for this topic. It will be interesting to follow the "Social Media & Communities" track on Monday.