Ray Poynter at The Future Place blog, in cheerleading mode:
However, unlike online data collection, online communities are a true category destroyer. Communities compete for quantitative research budgets, but deliver qualitative research benefits. Communities transform the researcher from the ‘hidden observer’ to an active participant, co-creating value with both the brand and the customers.
I’m an enthusiast for this kind of thing too, but I think there’s a hidden gamble behind Ray’s arguments. Not even the gamble that the data from online communities can ultimately be held to the same kinds of rigour as “Old MR” could be (The Future Place has argued before that existing standards are more broken than we think.)
But the gamble that by asking for more of respondents time, we increase their engagement and the quality of the insights we get. Make no mistake, for its participants a community is a lot more demanding than a survey. We hope it’s also far more fun and involving and compelling, but this is still a risk.
The cry in online research for the last five years or so has been “simpler! quicker! easier!”. Most online communities are none of these. In a nutshell, we have to move from believing we’ve overestimated people to believing we’ve underestimated them.This represents - as Ray mentions - a very big conceptual shift in the way the industry has approached “respondents”. It’s also something of a leap of faith.