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Market Research: Online Research Community vs. Focus Group


Want to up your market research game? Follow these tips and find out an online research community and online focus groups can work for you.

Market Research Game Changer

Twenty years ago no one could have predicted how much time we spend on the internet. Now, almost everyone has a small device in their pocket that allows them to access the internet anywhere, anytime. In the 2017 Digital Future report researchers from USC Annenberg revealed that since 2000, time spent online every week by an average American has risen from 9.4 hours to 23.6 hours. Furthermore, the proportion of people accessing the internet from mobile devices has risen from 23 percent in 2010 to 84 percent now.

online research community time online graph (Source:

Streaming entertainment is sometimes preferable to going out to see a movie and ordering an item straight to your front door is easier than heading out to buy something from the store. At this point in time, if market research isn’t happening on the internet, it might not be worth much. Instead of panicking about the rapidly changing world of the internet, embrace it.

Market research conducted on the internet can be more effective, timely, and worthwhile than research conducted in more “traditional” manners. Whether you’re just starting out down the market research path or already have an experienced hand in the industry, online research communities and focus groups can help achieve your goals. Let’s explore the difference between both.

Online Research Community & Focus Groups – What Are They?

An online research community is a group of people recruited to participate in research and feedback loops for brands or companies. Members often fill out surveys, talk with one another about potential products, and give vital feedback for new and ongoing product development. Focus groups also provide important feedback on products and marketing but are usually on the backend of things.

Skype, Zoom, Facetime

Most focus groups take place through video or voice chat services, such as Skype, Zoom or Facetime. A moderator presents participants with products or marketing ideas and leads the discussion, while the group responds with their feelings. Both groups involve bringing groups of people together to provide feedback that is essential to marketing and product development, but they operate in different ways.

Research Communities

Online research communities come along for the ride during the creation of new products, while focus groups respond to how a certain marketing campaign makes them feel — particularly if they would feel compelled to make a purchase. In both groups, you’ll need a diverse group of people. While yes, you should make sure that you include target audience, a broader background will make sure that your feedback is valuable and not isolated to a single group. That means mixing things up with age, gender, and ethnic background.

How Long Do They Typically Last?

The timeline for online research communities is much longer than that of focus groups. These communities may spend weeks, months, or even a year with your business. Participants usually feel invested in the organization and eager to help and collecting information and feedback along the way creates a more comprehensive look at necessary marketing information.


However, since this community is an ongoing commitment, you’ll need to budget with that in mind. Online research communities are cheaper than traditional panels and some participants may feel satisfied “working” in exchange for discounts, but that does not mean the cost is zero.

In contrast, most focus groups last a few hours at most. In some cases, you might invite members from a past group to return and re-evaluate a product or ad campaign, but even then the work is a short business. You’ll want to make sure that everyone in your focus group is punctual.

Since these sessions are brief, participants who join the video chat late can throw off the natural progression of the meeting and lead to lackluster results. Some moderators choose to close the chat to new members after a certain period because of this.

Related Post: MROC: What You Need To Know About This Market Research Tool

Ultimately, the running time for any of these groups is up to you. It’s about you and your market research needs, so don’t feel compelled to let things go on longer than necessary just because other groups are still going.

How Will These Change Your Market Research

Designing a useful product is one thing. Designing a useful product that people will actually buy is another. Online research communities can be the difference between a “meh” product and one that consumers are clamoring to buy. Include your community at every step of the way, from initial product development to refinement to advertising approaches. You should also facilitate conversations between your community participants.


Providing a forum in which they can engage will not only reveal further insights but will also help them refine their own views on the matter at hand. Participants may initially speak more openly in these forums than they do in surveys or with your market research time. Once they become more familiar with your business and team, this won’t be as much of an issue.

Related post: Community Engagement Strategies – 4 Effective Ways to Keep Members Engaged and Inspired

The market research industry is no stranger to focus groups. However, these groups largely take place in person with a moderator leading the discussion. Someone also records the session for future review. Sometimes an outside observer watches through a two-way window. While valuable, these groups don’t always produce reliable results.

development flowchart with online research community


In an online setting, people tend to speak more freely. This is largely due to the sense of anonymity provided by the internet. A moderator still leads the discussion and digital tools make it easier than ever before to record sessions. The added assurance of honest feedback makes these groups ideal for collecting marketing insights.

Why You Should Use Both

It’s not about choosing one or the other – why not use both to your advantage? Since these groups take place during different timelines in a product’s development, you should use both to maximize your research capabilities. You might wonder why you can’t simply use your online research community for all your needs, but doing so is shortsighted. By the end of product development, they are already intimately familiar with not only the product but everything that went into making it.

Related Post: Market Research Online


Focus groups are best to use when collecting the final batch of research for marketing purposes. These individuals will view the product for their first time and can give their honest feedback regarding first impressions. When considering the contributions of an online research community during development and a focus group afterward, this combination is a clear winner.

Related Post: MROC: What You Need To Know About This Market Research Community Tool

Don’t Ignore Your Market Research Needs

Having a great product doesn’t mean much if no one feels compelled to purchase it. You cannot overlook the importance of market research, even if it feels more like a distant issue than the ongoing conversation that it is. Combine the ongoing benefits of an online research community with the one-time input of a virtual focus group and you’ll fully realize your market research goals.

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