Would you want to conduct a focus group where nobody speaks?

Anthony Shephard-Williams, head of Online Communities research at Mustard, expresses his concerns about online communities not being used to their full potential.

During 2018 I was lucky enough to get out and about and attend several events related to online communities and online qualitative research.

Each of these events were insightful in their own right. Several honed in on the latest technological developments to ensure we are getting the most out of our communities, whilst others provided an opportunity to network and speak with other likeminded research agencies or clients.

One thing that was consistent across the events I attended was that each had a number of case study presentations during which representatives of various organisations that have longer-term online communities talked about what they do with them. They discussed the challenges they faced, the many successes and their plans for improving their online communities to ensure they get the most “bang for buck”.

One thing that has struck me as a little bit strange from the many presentations, as well as during the ensuing discussion and networking, is that so many of the organisations that run ongoing communities referenced a desire to have more discussions within their communities.

Focus group where no one speaks

So why did this raise a red flag? Why should this be considered odd? Well, for me, the very fact that some of the case studies expressed that the communities were only being used to conduct quantitative surveys (similar to what you or I can do with any online panel) rather than being used for interactive discussions with members (qualitative, open discussions) screams of communities that are not being used to their full potential.

Why would you not want to have open discussions with your community members? To me that is akin to conducting a focus group where everyone sits in silence. For all of the group moderators out there you can only imagine how that would land with your clients sat behind the mirror! The words lead and balloon spring to mind! You wouldn’t want a focus group without discussion and, in my mind, the same goes for online communities.

At Mustard we strongly believe that interactive discussion within communities is one of our key strengths. It’s the bread and butter of our community offer. Yes, we can do all of the usual surveying / polls within our communities (and we do it well) but we love to facilitate peer-to-peer interaction between people (be them customers or prospects, clients or our community facilitators). This provides a much richer conversation, leading to real relationships being forged and, ultimately, deeper insights.

So consider this, what is qualitative research without any discussion?

If you want to know more about our online community experience and how we facilitate meaningful discussion, please call Anthony Shephard-Williams at Mustard on 0161 235 5270 or email anthony.shephard-williams@mustard-research.com