Over the past few months I’ve been listening to presentations and talking with various clients and vendors about the world of market research communitities. As the individual responsible for managing the consumer MROC we have here at Forrester, I’m always interested to hear what other people are thinking in this space.

This is a hot topic in the world of market research, and rightfully so! My colleague Tamara has written some great research on MROCs, including her WAVE report on vendors. What I’ve found most interesting is the chatter about incentives. I find it interesting on two levels. The first is around what works for incentives right now. The second is, what will work for incentives in the near future? Most of the people I’ve talked to use one of three main methods for incenting community members:

  1. Points (where high point scorers get an incentive such as a gift card after an allotted period of time such as a month) or
  2. An automatic incentive such as a $10 gift card for participation in a minimum number of activities.
  3. There is also a third camp of people who don’t use incentives. These folks generally assert that the experience that consumers have in the community (connecting with similar individuals, providing feedback on a brand they are passionate about, etc) is reward enough. The argument is sometimes made that if people are only in the community to gain a monetary reward their contributions are diluted and less authentic than those offered by someone who is simply passionate about the topic.

My question to all of you is this, “What should community incentives look like?” Right now the community aspect of research is still enticing for some consumers since it’s new and fresh. However, as more and more communities emerge will consumer expectations for community rewards mirror those of online panels? Will the static point system of online panels hold up to the dynamic nature of online communities?

These questions becomes increasingly important when you consider working with niche groups like younger consumers. Younger consumers are notorious for expecting something in return for their contributions to companies’ market research efforts. While they may be huge brand advocates who would be great community members, they’re highly unlikely to devote their “precious” time to helping your research efforts without gaining something in return.

So, as we look to what lies ahead for 2010 in both the area of MROCs and in market research in general, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what MROC incentives version 2.0 should look like…