Market Research Online Communities Best Practices Part 1: Building an Online Community That’s Right for You

So, you are interested in learning more about Online Community Management. Maybe you already manage a community and want to expand your knowledge or validate your practices. Maybe you have no idea what Community Management is.

Either way, and anything in between, hopefully this article leaves you with some new ideas or welcome validation.

There are many definitions of a community so to begin, let’s talk about what a community can be.

What is a Community?

Merriam-Webster defines community as “a unified body of individuals” including but not limited to “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.”

Jono Bacon, a consultant who helps companies build communities, is the author of “The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation” and “People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams.” His broad definition of communities is “groups of people united by a common interest… a place where members can get together to engage and collaborate.”[1] His more nuanced definition is “users coming together to share information and guidance for others using a product, champions to actively create and consume content that promotes the success of the product or organization, and even groups of producers and creators who collaborate independently to build real, measurable value via products and services.”[2]

What these definitions share is that they all describe groups of people with a common interest. Mr. Bacon goes a step further and uses a word that we use at KLC often, “collaborate.” That is the key to the type of community I’ll be focused on in this article.

Another key is “online” which narrows us down to online communities. An online community is (again) a group of people connecting online for (again) a common interest or cause. We can take it even a step further and think about Market Research Online Communities or Co-creation Communities which carry the objective of providing feedback to a company that sells a product or offers a service. Market Research Online Communities or MROCs as they are often called use qualitative and quantitative methodologies to gather feedback. They provide on-demand consumer input and foster two-way relationships between companies and consumers. The insights that come out of MROCs provide invaluable direction to better inform business decisions.

MROCs are a resource to learn about consumers and customers. They are the gateway for companies to build lasting, reciprocal relationships with customers who are open and willing to share their experiences. MROCS give voice to the customer.

Types of Online Communities

Now that I’ve described online communities, let’s go over the different types. There are two main types of online communities – traditional and co-creation.

Both traditional online communities and co-creation communities are customer centric. They give consumers a place to voice their opinions which fosters strong relationships with a brand. They both produce insights quickly, at a cost-savings, due to the on-demand access to consumers. Now for the differences.

Traditional online communities are reactive. Research typically occurs late in the development process when internal stakeholders have already created something and want feedback. A one-time study is designed based on the concept’s features. Respondents evaluate the concept and answer a line of questioning about it.

Co-creation communities are proactive. Research occurs very early in the development pipeline, when the problem to solve may be agreed upon, but a solution has not yet been created. An iterative process begins where respondents are engaged initially to discuss the challenge or problem, and then in an ongoing dialogue throughout as a product or service is developed, then refined, and then evaluated. Bringing consumers into the research process early and continuing to ask for their input throughout the process instills in them the feeling of being a trusted advisor and forges a deeper relationship, which results in richer feedback, bringing companies closer to a successful product or service.

Traditional online communities rely on traditional methodologies like surveys and forums. Surveys are useful for collecting quantitative data such as ratings and rankings and forums are great for when you need that open qualitative feedback.

While these methods are widespread and proven, they are for the most part, a linear one-way conversation between the researcher and consumer. Questions are prepared in advance and interaction is typically independent, limited to the respondent and sponsor. The project closes and the sponsor compares the data with what other respondents said and reports on the original objectives.

Co-creation communities employ non-traditional methodologies such as ideation and KLC’s proprietary methodology, CrowdWeaving®. These methodologies take traditional methods further, as they incorporate ideation, collaboration, and evaluation into the product development pipeline.

Companies are working with their customers and their customers are working with each other. This allows customers to be part of the process, creating an even deeper two-way relationship with brands. In addition, the people involved can go beyond the consumer and the researcher to include other stakeholders such as designers, engineers, and marketers. Their knowledge and expertise can be used to offer guidance during ideation and collaboration, and they can have input on which ideas move into refinement and evaluation.

Additionally, co-creation communities facilitate creativity and spark inspiration. They are agile in nature and questions can adapt based on what respondents say allowing for new objectives to emerge. Co-creation can be used for designing new products, services, and technologies, not just for the customer but with the customer.

Deciding What Type of Online Insights Community is Right for You

What type of community you need, and its size, is based on what you want to get out of your community. You want to ask yourself the following:

  • What kind of research objectives and plans do you have?
  • What kind of results are you looking for?
  • What kind of analysis are you planning?
  • Do you need numbers to back up hypotheses, or be able to slice and dice data by a variety of different ways?
  • Do you want members to think creatively and broadly?

Maybe you are looking for open ended feedback and qualitative results to support quantitative findings, or directional findings to initiate further research. Perhaps you want to discover the “whys” to gain a deeper understanding of consumers and forge a strong ongoing relationship with customers.

On the other hand, maybe you are looking for closed ended data and numbers to support hypotheses or other research results, or to run crosstabs and stat test segment comparisons (a.k.a. slice & dice).

An important but potentially neglected part of community management is choosing the right size community for your needs. If you take the time and money to build a community of thousands of members and your intention is qualitative co-creation, you’re going to have a hard time keeping all those members engaged or you’re going to end up with way too much feedback and data that you’ll ever be able to manage.

Conversely if you have a community of a couple hundred members but you want to slice and dice the data into segments, you are going to end up exhausting your members and not having enough data to support statistical analysis.

If your answers to the above include: You are looking to meet objectives with numbers. You want results that are closed ended, where you can dive into statistical analysis that will confirm previous research or answer hypotheses. You need to analyze a variety of segments with statistical confidence, and possibly uncover new segments. You plan to accomplish this through surveys and polls. Then you need to consider a larger traditional online community.

If your answers to the above include: You are looking to meet objectives with creative solutions. You want results that are open ended, where you can dive into members’ feelings that will help shape direction and further research, possibly supporting other findings. You hope to uncover themes that emerge from member feedback. You want to be able to go back to the same respondents for richer insights and follow up. You plan to accomplish this through journals, ethnographies, ideation, and co-creation. Then you should consider a co-creation community. After this evaluation, you should be able to make an informed decision about the type of community that will best suit your needs.

Service Levels: DIY vs. Hybrid/Flex vs. Full Service

Once you’ve determined the type and size of your community, you must decide who is going to manage it. There are a few options:

  • Do It Yourself (DIY) – As with anything DIY, it sounds appealing because it “saves money” in theory.  If that is your main driver then it might be the right option for you. However, the factor we all tend to forget is that it puts all the work on the Y (you), taking up a lot of your time and energy. If you are new to online communities, especially non-traditional co-creation communities, you may lack the community management expertise needed to draft, moderate, and analyze the research. Online research produces a lot more data and feedback than some people anticipate. Going through it all might not be something you have the time for.
  • Hybrid/ Flex – And in the middle in terms of both responsibility and cost you will find a hybrid or flex approach that takes some of the heavy lifting off you and relies partially on a partner to share the workload based on your needs. You might choose to let your partner draft the project, while you take the results and analyze the findings. Or you may prefer to draft the survey or discussion guide and let your partner analyze and report. Depending on your partnership, the responsibilities could vary per initiative.
  • Full Service – The other end of the spectrum is a full-service option where you partner with a company like KLC who has online and co-creation community experience and expertise, a trained staff with the time to devote to your community from project initiation through insights analysis, and even an unbiased view of the results. You provide your research objectives or business challenges, and your partner handles the rest. To accommodate the responsibilities left to the partner, this is the approach with the greatest cost implication, but it gives you the most confidence in your results and the most time back in your day.

To determine whether you should choose DIY, Full Service, or Hybrid, you need to consider your time, needs, skills, and budget.

Keeping Your Community Engaged: Content Creation

Before you roll out your community, you should have a list of research topics and objectives that you and your company are interested in so that you have content to keep your community engaged. Members will lose interest fast if they are recruited and onboarded to a sparse and quiet community. There are a few avenues for producing content:

  • Community Manager – As the person charged with managing the community, you should have a sense of what you want to get out of your community. Through formal meetings and casual interactions, you’ve likely heard rumblings throughout the company of what is on people’s minds and what they want/ need to know about consumers. Make sure your organization is aware of you, your role, the community, and how to get in contact with you whenever a business question comes up.
  • Stakeholders – Of course you didn’t come up with the idea to launch a community on your own. There were multiple meetings attended by various stakeholders at your organization where the idea of a community was born out of a desire to connect with and better understand consumers and customers. The community was greenlit because enough people in influential positions saw the need and had ample unanswered questions to warrant it. Those unanswered questions can now be answered by posting them as content to your community. And don’t limit yourself to R&D and marketing. Engineering, design, public relations, and so on all face business challenges that would benefit from consumer input.
  • Community Members – Don’t forget or ignore the most critical feature of your community, its members. They aren’t there just to answer your questions. They have their own questions, challenges, and ideas. And you should have a place within your community that members can express them, whether its continuously open or something you offer to them on occasion. This will give you numerous topics to consider turning into research initiatives.

Now that we’ve covered what a community in regard to Market Research, the types of communities that exist, how to determine the type of community and management that best fits your needs, and how to create content, hopefully you are walking away with some new ideas or at least validation that you are on the right track to building a community that is right for you.

To learn more about Community Management, check out KLC’s Masterclass “Using Co-Creation Communities to Maximize your Product Development Pipeline.”

Interested in learning more about Online Communities? Let us know!

[1] Jono Bacon, “People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams” page 14

[2] Jono Bacon, “People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams” page 9