Small Business people are a notoriously difficult group to involve in market research. They’re time poor and naturally committed first and foremost to running their businesses, not participating in focus groups or completing surveys. So, running an online research community amongst small business owners is not without its challenges. Unlike consumer communities where everyone seems eager to talk any time, small businesses need to find spare time, and more often than not it’s rare.
With this in mind, it’s probably worthwhile understanding a couple of the key differences when it comes to managing a small business online research community.
1. Recruitment will always be a challenge irrespective of methodology. However, significantly more time is required to populate a small business community compared with a consumer community. The main obstacle to overcome is converting screened small business respondents into active community members. They need to have a clear understanding of what is required of them in terms of time and contribution, to maximize the value of each member of the community.
2. Response times and participation rates in discussions are relatively lower than in consumer communities. Typically, the majority of responses to a discussion in a consumer community come within a day of posting the topic. In comparison, small business communities may take up to a week for most members to respond. They’re less likely to login everyday and there can be distinct patterns in when people login – for instance early morning or after business hours.
3. With less time on their hands, small business people may be more selective about the types of discussions they participate in. The discussions topics need to have a high degree of relevance to them individually and be quick and easy to respond to.
4. Individual ‘storytelling’ is a good way to engage small business people in conversations. Their backgrounds and businesses might be unique, but there are often similarities in experiences and the challenges of running a small business – the sharing of which creates affinity amongst members.
5. Some small business people may be less familiar with online research and/or participating in social media, if they’ve always been busy running their businesses. More time may be required for individuals to get into the swing of the process and feel comfortable with engaging with unknown others online.
On that last point, there’s a great blog series from Matt Rhodes at FreshNetworks on Social Media for Small Business, as well as some practical tips from Craig Reardon on how to participate in Social Media.
In the meantime, we’re going to keep talking to small business people online, in their time.