Market researchers have many options at their disposal as they research their target customers and try to understand how they think. Each of these methods involves trade-offs, so none of them are definitely better than any other. Forums can be a powerful tool for market researchers, especially entrepreneurs who have limited resources. Because most forums allow members to browse 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 several other benefits. Unlike most surveys, respondents can provide detailed descriptions of how they feel about a particular product, service, or problem. Forum respondents are more patiently involved in forum discussions than in market research because they are usually engaged at will.

Since they are not pressured to respond and do not have to give up a single piece of their time as they would in a survey, they are prepared to respond to multiple thread discussions that have repeatedly answered the topic. Reading all the posts a user posts on a forum can give market researchers a fuller understanding of their preferences and opinions. Respondents to a forum are often likely to be honest if they think they can answer anonymously. The biggest challenge facing market researchers is not in collecting data, but in analyzing them. When people post on forums, it is usually difficult to authenticate what they are saying or why they are saying it.

Forum users could post excessively positive information because they have an interest in promoting a particular type of service or product or post negative feedback because of a grudge. Another problem is that it is difficult to develop a true and accurate assessment of the demographics of the posters, which is obviously the most important element of any marketing research study. Fortunately, there are ways market researchers can address these shortcomings. With experience, researchers can learn to identify when forum users appear to be open and when they appear to have the latest motives for what they are saying. Of course, given the anonymous nature of the Internet, it can never be determined with certainty whether they are completely honest or not. Many forums give users the ability to create pages with profiles that describe themselves.

Market researchers should try to focus on using these forums, as they can read these profile pages to learn more about forum users. If such information is not displayed on the profile page, researchers can scan the posts they have posted on the forum to see what demographic information they have said about themselves. Forums can be a great medium for market research, but they have generally been overlooked by researchers as they find it difficult to verify the credibility of published information. However, there are several approaches by which I can confirm the credibility of this information in order to open up a new channel for conducting marketing research. Social networking sites, on the other hand, may still be better for niche research because demographic information is more easily accessible.

by Kalen Smith


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