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10 steps to make research communities work for you

10 steps to make research communities work for you

If you want to stay one step ahead of the market and gain more consumer nuance than your competitors, you will need the backing of an online community research. By using this market research tool you will gain valuable insights into the market and in particular the needs, perspective and satisfaction of your target audience.

This article gives you the top 10 key steps towards making online community research work for you.

1. Agency and Client make a Great Team

The number one priority when looking at online community research is to have a great research team and define the roles each one plays. These roles can be fully outsourced to your partner agency, absorbed within client side research teams or balanced through a hybrid model somewhere between the two. The main roles in the team should include:

  • The Strategic Director - this individual heads up the direction of the team. Their role is to make sure that the strategy is right for the type of information you need and that the research meets the wider business objectives.
  • Engagement Manager - this role involves keeping the online research community running efficiently and getting participants on board. Engagement managers build a community infrastructure that keeps all the members involved and encourages engagement.
  • Content Producer - this is the person who will be in charge of producing content on a continuous basis. The best content will inevitably come from the online research community and this individual will take that and make it applicable to the target audience.
  • Project Manager/Operations Lead - this is a liaison role, and this person will engage with everyone involved from the stakeholders right through to the online community research team. They will provide and analyse metrics to assess how well the community is working.

2. You must have efficient technology

It is imperative to use a provider who can offer the type of platform that is just what you need. User experience must be paramount: If someone finds the platform difficult they will stop using it, so be sure to spend time looking at the aesthetics and making sure there is an intuitive user interface. Vitally, look at this from both a researcher and a respondent view, the technology must be seamless for both sides.

3. Proactive engagement is crucial

Although technology is a key factor you also need to understand that even if the platform is great to use and gives an easy aesthetic, if people still don't engage the online community will fail. Your Engagement Manager will run the platform, interact with the participants and encourage them to come forward with thoughts and ideas.

Areas to look at include:

  • What would make people join the community?
  • What will keep them coming back?
  • What sort of communication are they expecting?
  • Do they know how the information they give will be used?
  • Do they feel that their contribution is valuable?

It is the role of the community manager to ensure that all these issues are addressed and that the online community is a success.

4. Inviting the right participants

The type of user you are looking for differs greatly from those that generally participate in other forms of research. Online community research has many interactions, so unlike those people who will fill in questionnaires or take part in a focus group for money, your respondents will be engaged for longer periods of time. You will be speaking with the sort of person who enjoys contributing, being heard and who want to make a difference.

The way to ensure you get the right type of participant is to send specific and targeted invitations. This means that those who sign up really want to be involved. In many private online research communities you tend to get anywhere between 30% to 60% of members being active each project but an important contributor to achieving the higher levels is by effective participant selection.

5. Be open to creative ways of getting data

An online research community is a unique new way of obtaining data and provides dialogue that evolves and offers valuable insights. Yet it needs to have creativity to ensure respondents are co-operating either through engaging surveys and material, or fun activities such as group challenges, brainstorming session and blogging challenges.

Working with an agency that is specialised in this field yet has a wide range of communities across business sectors is key as we know what works and what does not.

6. Keep the members motivated

When people sign up to online research communities they tend to do so because they want to make a contribution that they know is valued. This type on intrinsic motivation diminishes over time so you want to make sure your participation levels stay high by introducing new ways of motivating and engaging the users. A good way to do this is to have access to a variety of research techniques, introducing a mix of creative research and extremely effective group moderation.

A good moderator has a range of tricks and tips to ensure you get the best out of your community. We find that feedback to respondents post research projects is extremely valuable, telling them a summary of the findings and what you will do with the results. This intrinsic motivation is enhanced by knowing they have made an impact.

7. Knowing how often to engage respondents

From the outset set clear goals and timescales and make sure members know what is expected from them and how often you will be talking to them. This means they stay focused on completing research tasks so the end goal can be achieved. As ever there are no standard KPi's on this, some communities can have highly frequent research cycles (sometimes weekly) whereas others can be a monthly engagement. Getting the balance between staying on your audience's radar without over working them is crucial.

8. Using the right dialogue

There are 2 main ways that people interact with each other in online market research communities:

  • Synchronous dialogue - users interact with each other in real time using an online chat. This is a great method when you want to hold a meeting or discuss an idea.
  • Asynchronous dialogue - users interact via posted content and people make their own comments at times convenient to them. This is the most common form when communicating in online research forums.

Of course, both can be used but you need to make sure you pick the right method for the results you need to reach.

9. Keep aware of what is going on

Make sure you keep a close eye on the way the Community is performing both at cohort level and with individual members. Are they still creating content and are others responding to this? What is the percentage of posters vs responders? Can you intervene if people struggle with tasks? A good and efficient community manager is crucial, their experience is often the difference in making communities successful.

10. Community Research Technology is a means to an end

A good research Community needs to keep you in touch with the needs of your target audience and allow you the agility to make changes, to keep talking and listening to your customers. This flexibility allows you to cover a range of research objectives, whether they be quick turnaround tactical questions or pre planned strategic research projects.

The technology should help you connect with your customers, increase your insights and maximise brand understanding. Your research platform must be able to support the key success factors in communities; strong engagement, flexible research, well recruited and balanced sample, and it must be intuitive so your team can seamlessly execute great projects.

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