So you’ve decided that you want to run a research community. Given all the advantages of this method of research, ranging from the agility and rich insight offered through to the way it enables people to interact using multimedia and mobile platforms, it’s a great choice. But the next question becomes: How long do you want to run your research community for?
There are both short-term communities and long-term research communities, and each has something valuable to offer. The main difference between the two is obviously length, with short-term communities usually defined as anything up to three months, and long-term communities lasting as much as 12-months and beyond. But length isn’t the only differentiator – it’s also about the methods and amount of research and engagement you’re conducting, and it’s about what you are hoping to get out of the research community - your objectives.
Factors To Consider
As you make your decision whether to go short-term or long-term, there are several key factors you should take into serious consideration. The first is related to your research objectives. Do you have one main research objective, or many? The answer to that question will really drive whether you go for a single objective focused short-term community, or a longer-term community where you can really dig into a number of questions that you need answered.
You also must consider your budget, as you need to be honest with yourself about what you can realistically do with the budget you’re working with. And it’s not just about the money either, because a long-term community also requires a major investment of time and energy. So you need to be certain that you have those resources in place if you want to go long-term. On the flip side of that, though, bear in mind that the time constraints of a short-term community can create added pressure to accomplish more in less time. This could potentially be just as much of a drain on your resources, just in a more concentrated period of time.
You also have to consider whether it’s actually possible to compress the research into a shorter period of time, and then whether your participants can be incentivized accordingly. Three months or less might not seem as strenuous to them at the outset, but if they are expected to commit large chunks of their time on a regular basis to tasks, there is the risk of burn-out. Long-term research communities might seem more daunting to them at the beginning, but could allow you to space out tasks to avoid overwhelming participants. In that case, though, you need to be careful about maintaining interest so that participants remain engaged over time and don’t drop off.
What Do You Really Want?
Naturally, your research needs are the most crucial determining factor in whether you decide the length of your online community. It will be up to you to ensure that you are realistic about what your research team actually want from the community to help figure out which type will best serve the needs of the research. If you have many different objectives and areas of investigation that need to be explored, it is most likely that you want a long-term community, but even then, you have to make sure you understand what kind of commitment and budget that would entail.
We frequently hear that clients want a long-term research community, but when questioned further, what they really want is a panel. The difference being, research communities are a place where participants gather for discussion and to respond to qualitative research questions for a designated period of time, a panel is a large group of individual ‘respondents' who make themselves available on an on-going basis to answer surveys. There’s no two-way dialogue in a panel and respondents receive cash or prizes for their time. Each is valuable in its own way, and they can in fact both be used to good effect, but it is important that both you and the research team understand which of these methods that need to be used.
Readying for Your Research Community
Once you and the research team have decided whether a short-term or long-term research community is the better fit given the objectives and budget available, you will need to get started on the recruitment and planning process. Ensure validation resources are firmly in place. Decide what kind of software you’re going to use, as that will have a big impact on its success. Carefully plan the tasks and activities for the participants. And, when briefing partners, always be clear about exactly what the needs and objectives are. With good preparation and a clear vision in place – short or long-term – can provide a wealth of valuable qualitative research.
Research communities have become an incredibly useful tool in market research bringing participants together and building relationships to generate deeper insight. If you are new to communities or just can’t decide which approach would be best for your objectives, read our blog Research Communities 101 to find out more: