The idea of ‘community’ used to be about physical location – a group of people living in close proximity. Then there’s the definitions concerning affinity through interaction; or shared characteristics; or shared interests. But what does community mean when we’re talking about the digital world? Communities obviously exist without members having ever seen or audibly spoken to each other. Web strategist, Jeremiah Owyang boiled the definition down to “Online communities are bodies of people joined together by common interests”. Naturally, but does the same definition apply to online research communities?
Firstly, in many instances the ‘common interest’ has been constructed by the researchers and clients. Our communities exist as such because we have identitied the individuals as sharing similar attributes, whether these are behavioural, demographic, psychographic, etc. Secondly, let’s consider the idea of being ‘joined together’. When a community numbers thousands, or tens of thousands, with some members inactive or barely there, are they actually functioning as a community?
So, this raises the issue of when is an online research community not a community but in fact an online panel. At Latitude Insights, we’d argue that smaller online communities are more engaged than those whose numbers exceed 300. Even then, communities of less than 200 demonstrate greater levels of individual engagement because members see that they are part of a private, finite group being actively listened to, versus being one of countless. Wouldn’t you be more likely to share your opinion if you knew it would be heard? And ultimately, as qualitative researchers, we’re about depth and richness of insights, not head counts.
That being the case, we like to think of our research communities as places where “you’re always glad you came”. Cheers.