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I've been doing quite a bit of thinking recently about what the relationship will be between online communities and market research in the medium term, in two, five, and perhaps ten years. I am beginning to develop a view and I would love to hear other people's thoughts?

In the medium term I think brands and organisations will consider their entire customer base to be their community. If a brand has 10 million customers then it will aim for is Big Data coverage to be as close to 10 million as possible. By Big Data I mean its CRM, its loyalty scheme, its electronic transactions, its web analytics, its social media tracking etc.

The Big Data community will track ever more accurately who does what, how often they do it, where they do it, and to an extent who they do it with. Network Analysis and Predictive Analytics will allow brands and organisations to gain some insights into why and what next (this is an area that companies like IBM are tackling as a priority as we are lucky to have Ad Voogt, from IBM Cognos, speaking at our upcoming panel summits in London and Amsterdam).

However, observing behaviour only takes you so far in terms of understanding the why and the what next, a vital element in understanding these is market research.

So, the next level underneath the Big Data community will be, IMHO, a community panel. The community panels of today typically have 2000 to 50,000 members. But I think the community panels of the near future will have many more members, for example 500,000 to 1 million. Most of the research brands and organisations need can be conducted with customers (some research needs non-customers, but that is a minority). These super community panels will represent perhaps 90% of research spend and become the main platform for insight.

Within these super community panels a wide range of research will be conducted, including:

  • Quant surveys
  • Short-term MROCs
  • Long-term MROCs
  • Online focus groups
  • Face-to-face qual
  • Ethnography
  • Mass and auto-ethnography
  • Ideation and creativity communities
  • Social medial research

The super community will act as a method of rapid recruitment, standardised approaches, integrated and sophisticated reporting, a platform for advanced analytics (statistical and text analytics), and longitudinal studies. The research produced will be faster and cheaper (per project), and has the potential to be better research too.

So, what are your thoughts?

Note at this stage these are 'thoughts in progress', they will evolve and they may well differ from those of other people inside and outside Vision Critical, and they may well differ from my thoughts in six months time.

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