In a recent article published in Quirk’s, authors Niels Schillewaert, Steven Debaere, and Tom De Ruyck tackle the topic of how to foster a healthy online community. Given that not all online communities achieve their desired result, what are some things that moderators and market researchers can do to attain a successful outcome? The authors start by analyzing why people participate in online studies: although most join for some sort of monetary incentive, the only way to maintain good participation is if participants feel like they are getting something out of the study beyond money. If participants feel intrinsically motivated, there is a better chance they will continue participating.

What are the factors that contribute to a healthy online community?

However, participation itself is not enough. In order for researchers to get the insights they need from online communities, participants must be active, and give useful information. Known as churn, passive participation is a threat to the health of an online community because it allows participants to be involved without actually contributing anything substantial and thus devalues the quality of information. Factors such as community size; recency, frequency, and monetary value; as well as positive and negative emotions all affect churn, which in turn influences if an online community will fly or flop.

With the increased possibilities mobile and online studies give to market research, being aware of negative factors such as churn is essential for any company hoping to produce and maintain a healthy online community. Participants who do nothing more than check the boxes not only deplete helpful contributions, but if the community is socialized, they can also detract from other respondents’ experiences. Acknowledging this risk is important because it demands that moderators be aware of churn potential and not only structure, but moderate studies in such a way to decrease this possible detriment.

Many market research companies are dipping their toes into the waters of online communities, but not all of them have the experience and knowledge to structure and moderate studies in a way that decreases the potential for churn. At REAL Insight, online and mobile options are something at which we have a lot of experience and expertise. We have seen firsthand the incredible insights that can be gleaned from online communities when moderated competently and appropriately. Theoretically understanding how to avoid churn is important, but even more so is having the practice and track record of doing so. Keeping an online community healthy, merry, and bright is something at which we excel and are constantly improving. As the mobile game in market research heats up, we will keep our skills sharp, our insights actionable, and churn at bay.

-Mary Dolan O’Brien, Project Coordinator

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