Online communities 

Caretaker: Kayleigh 

What are they?

  • A group of people with a clearly defined common purpose (research) and interest (brand, category or behaviour) in a gated, private space
  • Accessed via phone, tablet or computer, participants complete a series of self directed tasks posted by the project team
  • Tasks can be digital (native to platform) or real world (and then added into the platform e.g. video)
  • A Community Manager is responsible for encouraging participation, following up on answers to probe deeper, fostering a sense of community and being the “human face” of the community. 

Issues to consider



  • Not suitable for every audience (though more audiences than you would think)
  • Generating engagement is hard work, time consuming and requires skill
  • Easy for participants to be lazy / hide
  • Bias possible (without careful thought to task design)
  • You are only getting what people are telling you (rarely get any NVC clues)
  • Imposter possibilities; do you know who your participants really are?
  • Takes time to yield results
  • Not good when “case history” or personal experience is necessary
  • Long term communities subject to bias, sensitivity (need good panel management techniques)
  • Probing is hard / less effective - asynchronous so you miss opportunities to probe relevantly.
  • Can provide aspects of both behavioural ethnography studies, and focus group studies
  • Greater size possible for the cost
  • Allows for coverage across more target segments and the potential for hybrid qualitative/quantitative feedback
  • Breadth
  • Not limited by time as F2F; can last as long as you want it to
  • Fosters loyalty and consumer closeness to brand
  • Easy for clients and participants to engage with the research
  • Anonymity encourages participants to open up
  • A more “real” environment for expression / opinion
  • Can blend longitudinal and ad hoc, declarative and ethnographic in the same narrative and experience.

Best practice tips 

  1. Be clear about objective and content of community
  2. Be realistic about time commitment; expect no more than 30 minutes per session
  3. Set and model community norms of engagement; brief by video if you’re asking participants to make videos, complete a ‘test” task yourself to model depth of answer
  4. Screen appropriately at recruitment stage; not just tech capability, but comfort expressing in writing, sharing thoughts and content online
  5. Keep copy clear, concise but engaging; get a copywriter if you can!
  6. Be single minded; 1 “question” per task only
  7. Think about audience and/or topic & design interaction to meet; content, task type, task mode
  8. Give it a (regular) face
  9. Make it valuable beyond the incentive; build in intrinsic value - feedback, updates, VIP previews, showing that the feedback has lead to action, thank yous from the clients
  10. Be consistent; post tasks regularly and stick to schedule so people can manage their time.