Follow this link to a good blog post from Econsultancy on how Mercedes has set up two online communities to get closer to existing and prospective owners. An increasing number of companies are doing this, recognizing that engaging with consumers in an informal, social online setting encourages spontaneous and open discussion, yielding a truer picture of people’s thoughts, feelings, opinions and ideas than more “lab-like” techniques like focus groups and surveys.
You can find other examples of marketer-created communities in Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s outstanding book Groundswell, Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies and in Bob Gilbreath’s book, Marketing with Meaning. I like how Bob describes them, which I think is at the heart of why they allow for richer insights than more traditional research …
“… these communities are inhabited by anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand members; the topics are free-flowing and the discussions self-generated, allowing members to feel as if they own and run the community.”
The result is that you obtain perspectives and insights based on what consumers feel is important rather than merely what the marketer is trying to find out. Community members also feel recognized and appreciate the fact that the company is really listening, which helps to drive brand advocacy.