Market researchers have many options available to them as they explore their target customers and try to understand how they think. Each of these methods involves tradeoffs, so none of them is necessarily better than any of the others. Forums can be a powerful tool for market researchers, particularly entrepreneurs who have limited resources. Since most forums allow members to view and post for free, they serve as one of the best ways for entrepreneurs to conduct marketing research. In addition to being low cost, forums have a few other advantages. Unlike most surveys, respondents can give detailed descriptions regarding how they feel about a particular product, service or issue. Forum respondents are more patient participating in forum discussions than in market surveys because they typically are participating on their own volition.
Since they are not being pressured into responding and don’t have to give up a single, sizable chunk of their time as they would in a survey, they are willing to reply to more than one threaded discussion or post more than once to a thread. Reading all of the posts that a user places on a forum can give market researchers a more thorough understanding of their preferences and opinions. Forum respondents are also often more likely to be honest if they feel that they can respond with anonymity. The biggest challenge that market researchers face is not in acquiring data, but rather analyzing it. When people post in forums it is typically difficult to authenticate what they are saying or why they are saying it.
Forum users could post overly positive information because they have a vested interest in promoting a specific type of service or product or post negative feedback because of a grudge they hold. Another problem is that it is difficult to develop a true and accurate assessment of the demographic information of the posters, which is obviously a very important element of any marketing research study. Fortunately, there are ways that market researchers can address these shortcomings. With experience, researchers can learn to identify when forum users seem to be straightforward and when they seem to have ulterior motives for what they are saying. Of course, given the anonymous nature of the Internet, it is never possible to determine for certain whether or not they are being completely honest. Many forums give users the opportunity to create profile pages describing themselves.
Market researchers should try to focus on using these forums, because they can read these profile pages to learn more about the forum users. If such information is not displayed on a profile page, researchers can scan the posts they have made in the entire forum to see what demographic information they have said about themselves. Forums can be a tremendous medium for market research but has been largely overlooked by researchers because they feel that it is difficult to authenticate the information being posted. However, there are a few approaches that they can use to authenticate this information to open up a new channel for conducting marketing research. On the other hand, social media sites can still be better for niche research because demographic information is more readily available.