To read Part 1 of this series click here “Building an Online Community That’s Right For You”
Whether you manage an online community that practices traditional research or one that uses a more collaborative, co-creation approach. Whether you do all the heavy lifting yourself or rely on partners to share the management responsibilities. Whatever your experience is with online communities, you face the challenge of assembling and maintaining it. And while it can be intimidating, hopefully this article helps ease some of your concerns and makes community management a little less daunting.
In this article I will share with you some Keys to Success for managing market research online communities.
Key to Success #1: Recruit, Remove, Refresh
At KLC we have a 3-phase strategy for assembling and maintaining all our online insights communities:
Recruit: Getting people into your community
Once you’ve determined the type of community and management that best fits your needs, as I detailed in Market Research Online Communities Best Practices Part 1, you need to recruit people to join your community.
Recruiting has two parts, “Screening” and “Inviting.”
Screening encompasses the questions you ask potential community members to determine if they are the right fit for your community. Many clients tend to want to ask everything under the sun in the screener survey. There are valid reasons for doing so, but the risk is that potential members will drop out before they finish or, and maybe even worse, they’ll complete it and qualify as a member, but they will be scared off and never participate in any other activities.
This means you have a completely inactive member taking up a spot of someone who may have been more engaged, and therefore, more useful to you. Your screener survey is the first touchpoint your potential members will have with your community, so you don’t want it to be tedious or overwhelming.
It is better to limit the screener survey to only the questions that are necessary for membership. Other “nice to know” information can be asked later in short surveys or polls.
Use your screener survey to learn relevant information about potential members to determine that they are exactly who you are looking for to fill your community. Typically, this means asking common demographics such as age, gender, income, and region.
This information will help you balance your community if that is important to you. You should also ask for information that will be useful for segmenting your members and targeting future activities. This might include questions around purchasing behavior, brand awareness, personal habits, etc.
In addition to people of certain demographic balances or consumer behaviors, you might want to also look for people who are willing to fully engage and be an active and useful participant. They should fit the type of community you are building and the type of activities you will administer.
For example, you might want members who are adept at answering both qualitative and quantitative projects. For instance, qualitative projects require participants who are open to sharing, through text and maybe even images and video, and working with moderators.
Once you have your screening questions nailed down to collect the right people for your community and your survey is ready to go, you need to invite people to take it.
Inviting potential members to your screener survey can be done a few ways.
- Email invitations – send emails to customer lists that you have accumulated.
- Digital invitations – post announcements to your social media, website, or other customer service surveys.
- Print invitations – include announcements in newsletters, mail inserts, or print media.
- Sample providers – work with partners who specialize in targeted recruiting.
- Member referrals – ask your current members to recommend friends, co-workers, and peers.
All the above should lead to your screener survey so everyone goes through the same qualification process.
Remove: Purging people from your community
While I know it takes a lot of time and effort to recruit members, there comes a time when you need to “break up” with at least a small group for the benefit of the community overall. This gives you an opportunity to clear out space for new members.
Who to remove takes consideration. As a first step, gather members who have not participated within a set time frame, confirming they have been invited to several activities and had several opportunities to participate in that time period. Six months is usually a fair time frame.
Then reach out to them. Be direct and explain that you haven’t heard from them in a while and want to know if they are still interested in being a community member. Give them a chance and a deadline to participate in some activity or express interest in continuing their membership before removing them.
Anyone who responds accordingly within the deadline remains a member and no action is required. Those who do not are eligible for removal.
You can also gather any members who have become complacent or passive in their participation. Let them know that you appreciate their input during their membership, but it is time to retire them to make room for new members.
Be sure to determine if you need to incentivize or reward any of these members before you remove them. Then you can remove these members from your community opening space for new members.
Refresh: Bringing new people into your community
Lastly, we refresh. Inviting new members to the community every year or so keeps it fresh and exciting. New members bring new perspectives and new conversations.
This is a great opportunity to take what you learned from the initial recruiting process and improve on it or fill in where there are gaps. Track engagement from various recruiting sources to see which best convert to active members.
Just because a recruiting method is cheap or easy doesn’t mean it will yield participation. You want to maximize your recruiting efforts not just fill your community with numbers/bodies.
Due to natural unsubscribes and purging members, the demographic balance you worked to achieve in your recruit may now be off balance, so you need to refill those targets. In addition, there could be a demographic or segment that wasn’t part of your business plan when you first recruited.
The refresh is the time to refine your screener survey to target people that will be important to your business in the months ahead. Conversely, there could be targets from the previous recruit that aren’t going to be your focus soon.
To make room for new questions or to simplify your screener survey, you can hide those questions. You can always choose to display them again in the next refresh if needed. Remember, you don’t want to bog down your screener with questions that are just “nice to know” and scare away potential members.
Key to Success #2: Easy onboarding
Once you have recruited members, you want to make it easy for them to access the community and its activities. In his book, “People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams,” Jono Bacon writes about the “Community on Ramp Stages.” He describes the steps members go through as they acclimate to a community and explains how to address those steps, as summarized here. You want to make it clear to members how to progress through each step.
- Why members should take the time to participate in your community – Remind them what’s in it for them. This includes the intrinsic value they will receive as well as any rewards or payment.
- What they need to do to get set up as a member – Setup should be quick and easy. At KLC we send them an email upon qualification which includes instructions for how to register their account and where to log in to the community website.
- How and where to participate – Provide them with instructions or details so they know what is available to them and how they can join.
- Where members can go if they have questions or need assistance – The author suggests, and KLC posts, a discussion forum, and FAQs section. Assistance doesn’t always have to come from you, fellow members can also be a helpful resource.
If your members can easily get set up and dive right in, chances are they will be more likely to come back. But another key to success is making sure there is something for them to do when they get there.
Key to Success #3: Company buy in
As mentioned in Market Research Online Communities Best Practices Part 1, you need to have research topics and objectives on hand so that you can create content for members. Content can be research studies to answer business objectives or engagement activities to keep things interesting and fun.
But you can’t just fill your community with activities in the first few weeks or months. You need to continuously create content. It might be easy to line up plenty of content and initiatives early on when excitement is at its peak, but you must keep building that list. The best way to do this is with internal buy in.
Internal buy in was a key factor in getting the community approved, so you need to keep that momentum by sharing the impact of the community with people throughout your entire organization. Remind them of the community’s existence, value, and success at company wide meetings.
Share a snapshot of projects and results through newsletters and posts. You want your community to be proposed as the first approach in solving business challenges. Make sure everyone within your organization knows how to get in touch with the community manager when they have business questions and research needs.
This will ideally lead to a continuous flow of research initiatives and community content that will not only result in successful solutions to business objectives but will also keep your members engaged.
Key to Success #4: Reward (Bonus 4th R in Recruit, Remove, Refresh strategy)
Once your members are participating, you want your community to be something they enjoy coming back to again and again. A common way to do this is to reward them for their time and effort. There are many forms of rewards that online communities can employ. One strategy is to award points for participation in all or some activities within your community. Then you have a few options for how to handle points earned.
- Points earned accumulate to set amounts, then members can redeem points for gift cards of appropriate monetary amounts at a time of their choosing.
- Points earned convert into sweepstakes entries. At set intervals such as each month or each quarter, or for each activity, winners are selected from the entries submitted. Again, prizes can be gift cards of appropriate monetary amounts. Sweepstakes are effective when you need to keep within a tight or strict incentives budget.
- Points earned accumulate to certain amounts, then they convert to achievement levels, which can be displayed to other members. This approach adds competition and gamification.
You can also reward members intangibly by sharing with them research highlights and actions taken whenever possible. This shows them their voice is being heard. At KLC, we have heard from some communities that while gift cards are a nice treat, it is equally and sometimes more rewarding for members to know that a brand they care about wants to work with them, listen to them, and hear what they have to say.
Now that we’ve discussed how to assemble your community through the 3 Rs (recruit, remove, refresh) and onboarding, and we’ve covered keeping your organization and members engaged, hopefully you feel more confident (or at least a little less intimidated) in what it takes to manage market research online communities.
To learn more about Community Management, check out KLC’s Masterclass, Using Co-Creation Communities to Maximize your Product Development Pipeline.
If you’d like to learn more about KLC’s Online Communities fill out the form below:
 Jono Bacon, “People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams” pages 131-135