One of the themes emerging from today’s ARF Conference is the use of “normal people” as researchers. Social media appears to be driving a new look at the role that consumers can play. Previously, consumers were “respondents.” As recently as October, 2010, we talked about the evolving perception of respondents as interactive participants in Are They Respondents or Participants?. Now that research participation is being taken to a whole new level, consumers are being asked to predict, observe and analyze the behavior of their fellow consumers. Essentially, consumers are becoming researchers.
Online research tools such as prediction markets rely on consumers to predict winners and losers among new products and even elections. Essentially, prediction markets rely on individual consumers to “bet” on winners and losers. The ones who “bet” correctly win prizes; others don’t. There are several different executions of this technique but all draw upon the wisdom of crowds theory that many people make better choices than a few.
A very interesting application of consumers as researchers is “Mass Ethnography.” John Kearon of BrainJuicer described this as asking 40 consumers to attend an event with the intent of reporting back on the behavior and motivations they observed. These temporary researchers receive a short document up front that serves as training and are then turned loose to observe and report back. According to Mr. Kearon, consumers provided insights never before understood in the category. Apparently, the volume of observations and the closeness of the consumer/researcher to the behavior more than made up for the lack of training in ethnography.
This “Mass Ethnography” seems extremely interesting for online qualitative research. Why couldn’t a moderator use a bulletin board focus group to manage a group of consumer/researchers? The bulletin board would be a great platform for managing the project, distributing assignments and collecting observations and insights. It’s yet another application for the bulletin board focus group that holds tremendous promise.
Respondents as researchers? Why not.