In launching a market research online community (MROC), it can be tempting to recruit as many people as possible all at once so you can reach your desired community size quickly.  However, this could be a mistake that sacrifices the quality and success of your community in the long-term.  An alternative to consider is starting small (e.g., 25-50 participants at most) and then scaling the size of the community over time (3-6 months after launch).  This offers a number of advantages, including:

  • Cost Savings – It helps keep your initial costs low so you can pilot the approach before determing the appropriate long-term investment.
  • Finding Core Members – It helps you find your early core users and reward them as they help you grow the community. 
  • Testing Your Assumptions – A small-scale launch will help you determine if your initial assumptions were correct and give you time to adjust your strategy accordingly.  For example, you may have assumed that people would take to a certain area of the community, but find early on that they don’t.  Or you may have assumed a certain attrition rate in your recruitment budget, but find that it’s higher or lower in actuality.  
  • Targeting Incentives – Launching with a smaller group helps you develop an incentive plan that is tailored to the audience in your community, rather than taking a guess on what they want to get out of the experience.
  • It’s Easier to Manage – Last but not least is the fact that it’s easier to focus on giving 25-50 people a great experience than it is to give 300-500 people a great experience.  This is especially important if it’s your first time with a MROC and you don’t know exactly what to expect.

Of course, I write this knowing that I’ve made this mistake before.  There can be considerable pressure to launch, scale and deliver insight quickly from a MROC.  However, if you’re willing to be patient and take a long-term view, then starting your community with a handful of people and growing it over time can be a smart move.  Who knows, you might even decide to keep it small forever…