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Fringes of Society: Reaching Subcultures with Online Communities

Subcultures are groups within a large society that often have beliefs or interests that differ to those of the wider society. Wherever there are constraints on personal expression, spaces form (either real or virtual) where these constraints are nullified and subcultures develop within these spaces. In order for market research to remain unbiased and representative of all people, these sub-cultures must be reached and their opinions taken into account. However, due to the conflicting nature of opinions between the subcultures and their larger societies, they often don’t feel safe or secure enough to be able to express their true opinions or identities.

Online communities allow subcultures to express themselves without fear of judgement or rebuttal. With the anonymity that comes with online communities, subcultures are able to build their desired identity and interact with each other with opinions on topics that would normally be degraded or judged by the larger society. Often, online identities used by members of subcultures resemble their real-life personalities, but they also might be completely different. Created identities within online communities can completely transcend traditional societal ideologies based on labels such as race, religion, gender, disability, sexuality, and age, since the labels attached to one created identity might not be representative of the owner’s true identity. With all of these physical notions overcome, true equality begins to take affect and individuals now of equal standing are able to state their opinions and participate in events secure in themselves and their worth.

Example types of subcultures present within the world today are: Harley Davidson-specific bikers, Harry Potter fans, World of Warcraft and D&D players, and Hipsters. These are only a few, very wide-ranging, examples that are more commonly known throughout western society. World of Warcraft and D&D are examples of subcultures of the gaming community, Hipsters are a subculture of western society, and Harry Potter fans are a subculture of the literature and film communities.

Connecting with subcultures is vital. In order for market research to remain unbiased and representative of all people in society, subcultures must be reached and their opinions taken into account.

How to connect with Subcultures

A good way to connect with these communities is to interact with them and understand them through their own online space before inviting them to yours. Through this, connecting with these communities won’t be hard, especially if you’re offering a chance for them to have their say in the way a game is built or a new piece of merchandise is designed, or activities to be included within a new event. It’s important not to forget members of subcultures are people too, and as such, it should be expected that they, like many others, will want to have their voices heard and their opinions taken into account when developing new products or updates or innovations directed at developing their shared interest.

The geographically diverse nature of subcultures means many use online spaces to communicate, spaces such as those built specifically for research; this means that researchers have very little trouble convincing participants to take part in online research communities and complete research tasks in order to get a better idea of their opinions and unmet needs within their lives and their subculture-based activities.

With their previous experience of online spaces such as forums and blogs, maintaining the connection with subcultures through online research community platforms is easier due to their familiarity. The quant and qual research tasks they take part in provide stimulation and the answers researchers need, but the forums and blog spaces supplied during the breaks in active research tasks allow the participants to make themselves comfortable together within the research environment quicker and easier, allowing more useful information to be provided earlier on in the project timeline.

Benefits of connecting with Subcultures

There are many benefits of connecting with subcultures such as these. One major benefit is that it allows companies to reach an untapped resource of niche audience needs. They are able to widen their consumer base and make subcultures more accessible as a result. The deeper reasoning gained from qual research tasks and the discussions outside of research tasks inevitably provide more information on their opinions and needs which can be used to inform future projects as well as current research objectives.

Lots of online games companies use players from gaming subcultures as beta testers for new games, updates, concepts, etc. in order to filter out bugs and predict how successful they will be when rolled out to the wider community. The use of online research communities in market research with spaces such as forums, live chats, etc. allows beta testers to talk to each other and these conversations provide the deeper reasoning behind the results of the research tasks.

Another advantage to connecting with subcultures is that it creates better brand engagement through providing a space for self-expression. Brand engagement will increase dramatically if participants feel safe enough to express themselves without fear of judgement. This trust is essential to creating a good image of a brand that cares and values its consumer base, no matter who they are; everyone is equal within the online community and the progressive nature of the research project also paints the picture of a progressive, equality-focused, brand.

This in turn sparks another advantage, which is increased brand loyalty. Through bringing like-minded people together and painting the picture of a progressive, all-welcoming brand, this increases the chances of those participants staying loyal to your brand even after the research experience has ended. They will come away with a positive view of the brand and its values and most likely share their experiences to others in their subculture, therefore expanding the positive view of the brand and growing the consumer base through the best marketing tactic of all: word of mouth advertising.

Brand Community vs. Subcultures

How do subcultures differ from brand communities? Brand communities are formed based on an attachment to a brand or product. Subcultures are not brand affiliated, they’re culture affiliated. This makes subcultures perfect objective research participants as they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain from a brand’s research experience. Brand communities will usually be subjective towards the brand and although they provide insight, their views are normally biased towards the brand, and their insight will be specifically for the betterment of the brand or product rather than just objective observation.

Subcultures are not brand affiliated, they’re culture affiliated. This makes subcultures perfect objective research participants as they have no prior personal connection to the brand, allowing brands to gain truthful, accurate insights.


Connecting with subcultures through online communities ensures that they have a safe space for them to voice their views. After discovering which subculture you want to interact with, engaging with them on their platforms make them more likely to engage with researchers in an online research environment.

Participants from subcultures will allow researchers to gain a deeper understanding into their needs and desires than ever before. This in turn allows brands to create new products to meet the previously unmet needs, guaranteeing sales from that specific subculture and gaining the loyalty of a whole new consumer base through increased brand engagement.

The original version of this article appeared on the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.

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We empower brands to inform every decision at the speed of business by delivering on-demand insight and enterprise grade research technology.

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