Magazine article Marketing

Market Research: Age of the 2.0 Focus Group

Magazine article Marketing

Market Research: Age of the 2.0 Focus Group

Article excerpt

Web 2.0 is making its impact felt on research methods, boosting consumer engagement and reducing costs, writes Robert Gray.

Consumers are sharing their opinions online as never before, and the popularity of community sites such as MySpace is starting to have a clear influence on research too. With blogs and web forums becoming an everyday part of life, researchers are starting to harness the power of web 2.0 in what some are calling 'research 2.0'.

Qualitative agencies are making ever greater use of online forums as an alternative, or in addition, to traditional focus groups. There is an obvious benefit: contacting people using this method is far cheaper than physically getting them all in a room. But there is more to it than that.

According to Caroline Vogt, Microsoft head of international research for EMEA & Americas, social media are characterised by conversation, collaboration and community - a marked contrast to the imposition of frameworks and questions that are traditionally adopted by researchers. Used properly, these media can deliver greater insights, as respondents have more control and thus involve themselves more in the project. 'They will raise issues that are more poignant to them that might have been overlooked via a traditional research process,' says Vogt.

Last summer, Microsoft worked on a project with Essential Research to gain a better understanding of the users of Windows Live Spaces, a blogging site. There are more than 50m users of the service, with numbers growing at 145,000 a day. The research was conducted among 183 respondents in the UK, France, Brazil, the US, Canada and China, who were recruited via a survey on the Live Spaces site. The activity combined face-to-face interviews, media diaries and home visits. This was followed by direct dialogue via MSN Messenger to extend the research 'conversation' and enable respondents to send photos and documents and 'chat' to the research team - activities intended to boost engagement.

The findings, which Vogt will be discussing at the forthcoming Market Research Society conference (see panel, page 34), revealed a range of behaviours. In China, for example, a sense of etiquette has built up around personal spaces, with friends caught in a continuous cycle of reciprocal comments posted on one another's sites. In the UK, personal space addresses are becoming a social currency, handed out like business cards in pubs and bars, while in Brazil, personal spaces have become a playground for fantasy and flirtation.

HPI Research has developed its own online chatroom/bulletin board, known as the Global Meeting Space (GMS), to allow clients such as Visit London, Epson, T-Mobile and British Airways to discover what consumers in different regions think about their executions.

GMS allows for flexible contact with target consumers, according to HPI senior partner David Iddiols. It has been used for live online groups, diaries, post-research follow-up sessions - where respondents have access to GMS a week or so after the fieldwork has ended - and as a site to display stimulus material.

'We built a panel via GMS when exploring ethical marketing to kids,' says Iddiols. 'It is a good vehicle for accessing relatively hard-to-reach audiences, such as low-penetration or geographically-diverse groups. There are still some consumers less easy to reach - namely, the less internet-savvy - but generally, as internet penetration grows, so will the acceptance of such online vehicles.'

Iddiols believes that activities arranging for consumers to vote on issues such as packaging designs and variants via online channels will become more widespread. But he warns that care is needed when using corporate blogs, as it is debatable how representative the people likely to respond are of the target audience.

Research 2.0 is also particularly useful to get a broader range of views than would traditionally be possible. …

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