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Insight Blog

Read the latest thinking from the crossroads of marketing, insight and technology.

Best Practices for Online Forums

An online forum is a research activity unique to the online environment and significantly different to a non-research focused forum. Specifically, market research forums are collaborative discussions between participants around pre-defined topics. A forum is a less structured environment than a focus group and much more longitudinal. Discussions will also form more naturally, as participants generate their own threads around topics most important to them.

While an online forum is easy to set up, it can be tricky to master. Therefore, it is important to follow some basic tips to ensure that participants remain interested and engaged in your discussion topics, even after time has passed. For that reason, we have written a basic guide to making the most of your online market research forums.

Natural Conversations

The strength of the market research forum comes from their use in research communities. These are communities in which participants can develop opinions and interactions naturally. Nowhere is this more apparent than the research community forum. While moderators can set specific topics and outline guidance for threads, the most effective insight comes from participant generated discussions.

In our powerful ForumMR tool, research can define topics but give space for participants to make observations, ask questions and generate ideas. Moderators have the ability to dip in and out when necessary. Participants can subscribe to threads and receive email notifications as new replies are posted to particular threads. Engaging participants in this way ensures that discussions remain fresh, relevant and up to date.

Organise Topics

In addition to using consumer groups to segment the discussion, we would also recommend organising the forum by topic. It is inadvisable to have a single, general thread. Instead, try to divide the discussion as much as possible. For example, one such structure (for a FMCG company) could involve the following topics:

  • General Discussion – used for introductions and non-analysed discussion
  • What do you like to cook? – generate insight into popular dishes
  • What do your children enjoy eating? – generate insight about secondary consumers
  • What do you think about brand X? – compare your brand with others
  • What stores do you visit? – discover consumer behaviour trends

Use Stimuli to Generate Discussion

Use Photos, Videos, Smartboards, Polls & More as Stimuli

Use Photos, Videos, Smartboards, Polls & More as Stimuli

A great feature of our ForumMR tool is that stimuli created during previous tasks can be used to generate further discussion. It is possible to easily insert smartboards or results from polls into forums to be expanded upon. In general, these two tools are used individually. Therefore, by inserting them into forums it is possible to ask participants to explain their opinions in a group setting.

While it is of course possible that some participants will not want to share their opinions, we have discovered using stimulus from complete tasks gives participants an opportunity to clarify their opinions that were previously expressed. This gives participants a chance to further develop their opinions to which other participants may agree or not. Such disagreements often lead to more detailed descriptions and in turn richer insights that can be used to improve the brand or product in question.

Moderate ForumMR Threads

ForumMR research projects should not simply be set up and left to run their course. Effective use of the tool involves regular moderation. There are a couple reasons for this. The most obvious is to ensure that the basic rules are enforced and participants remain respectful to one another. However, it is also possible for forums to generate little discussion. In this case, moderators are required to directly take action and respond to participants, in an attempt to draw out more information, or encourage discussion to grow.

Striking a balance between monitoring and taking direct action in a thread can be difficult. There are no hard and fast rules of when to do so. However, we would recommend intervening immediately if you feel that discussions are breaking the ground rules that were set. On the other hand, if there is little response, be patient and then interject when necessary. But instead of replying simply to a single participant, ask if others have any thoughts or opinions on the matter.

Encouraging Community Features

Online forums are a community based tool so the more that can be done to foster a sense of community between participants, the more effective the forum will be. Encourage usage of the ‘Like’ feature to enhance cohesion between participants. Gauge reactions from other participants who use this feature and use the positive feedback to ensure all participants feel welcomed in the community environment.

Of course, all forums are different. ForumMR is one of the most dynamic tools that we offer, and can be adapted to suit your needs. Everything from the consumer groups involved, to the structure of the forum is flexible. That means that online forums are never comparable, and the results from each can differ drastically.

However, by following these basic steps it is possible to ensure that you get the most value from your forums and keep the discussion alive as long as possible. Involve as many or as few participants as you want and watch as the forum takes on a life of its own.

Discover FlexMR online communities

Click here to read more about our online forums. Or, to book a free trial of the FlexMR research platform and make use of our wide range of quant & qual tools, click here.

Christopher Martin

Written by Christopher Martin

Chris is experienced in marketing strategy and brand development, which he uses to skilfully guide the FlexMR brand to its full potential. Chris works hard maximising opportunities and ensuring the brand’s offering is relevant and appealing to insights professionals. You can follow Chris on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Topics: Community Tools