Market Research Online Communities Best Practices Part 3: Taking Your Online Community Further

You may be reading this article because you have been running MROCs for years and are interested in someone else’s perspective to learn new ideas or confirm what you already know. You may be thinking about building your first online community and are curious how others use theirs. Or maybe you came across it while searching for something else and don’t even know what an MROC is. (If you are in that last category, I suggest you check out Part 1 before continuing.)

If you are following along these articles detailing Market Research Online Communities Best Practices, you know that in Part 2 I wrote how you need to have company buy in to maintain a successful community. Here I will detail how you also need member buy in. Afterall, members are the heart and soul of any community, and we all need them to keep coming back to meet our (and our clients’) objectives.

Any Market Research Online Community or Online Insights Community is built on its members, and you want them to feel like valued members of the community. So, when you want to make things better for them, go right to the source. Your members can be a guide to how you can make the community more engaging and enjoyable. The more engaging and enjoyable for them, the more continuous participation and quality insights for you.

Members as a Source of Inspiration

Plain and simple…ask members what they want to talk about in the community. You can keep this question up on the community site as an ongoing conversation or you can ask them on occasion. This opportunity gives your members some authority. It can also produce interesting future research questions you hadn’t thought of before coming directly from your customers. The overarching point of an MROC is to be listening to and learning from your customers.

You can also do this is a more discrete way. One of our service clients likes to occasionally ask members “What keeps you up at night,” which opened their eyes to new ways they could help their customers without asking them directly. When you put it in more personal terms it can be easier to answer than asking, “What more could we do for you?” or “What’s missing from our offerings?”

When you present members with questions like these, that put them front and center, they feel valued, building that member buy in.

How are We Doing?

You should also consider conducting Member Satisfaction check-ins to learn what’s working and what’s not from the members’ perspective, and to extend another opportunity for members to feel valued and heard. Understandably, you won’t be able to implement all their desires (don’t be surprised when they all want more monetary rewards), but there will likely be a few changes you can make to create a better experience for your members. And like I said earlier, a more enjoyable experience for them means better insights for you.

To share some personal experience, we run Member Satisfaction check-ins once a year for several of our clients. We typically hear the same “Wants” each year regardless of the community:

  • More activities, surveys, polls
  • More updates on impact of feedback from community
  • More rewards

We brainstorm ways to address each and bring those ideas to the client for approval.

Some solutions to consider:

If members want more activities, give them quick polls and short non-research activities to keep them engaged between research studies, and especially when research studies don’t go to all members. Or break up activities to create more activities. You also might need to add more variety to your methodologies to make activities stand out more. If they want more updates on how their feedback is used, show them every few months how and where their input was implemented. (If you’d like to read more about this topic, check out my 2020 blog “The Case for Closing the Loop Using Online Communities”).

If they want more rewards, see if you can get more budget. Since that is typically a long shot, see if you can do a few bonus winners throughout the year.

Don’t want to wait for an annual check-in to know what your members think of your community or activities? We’ve been known to include a question at the end of some activities asking members what we could do to improve the experience. This gives members another opportunity to give you some ideas to improve their experience. Don’t forget…a more enjoyable experience for them means better insights for you.

Once you’ve evaluated member feedback and come up with a plan to implement changes based on that feedback, be sure to announce to all members what changes are being made to the community based on their suggestions. This confirms you are listening to them. It is another chance for you to expand member buy in.

Ten Golden Rules about Communities

Throughout Market Research Online Communities Best Practices Parts 1 and 2, and even here in Part 3, I offer several recommendations and suggestions for managing a community. But you don’t have to take just my word for it. In his book, “People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams,” Jono Bacon shares his Ten Golden Rules about Communities. He lays out his rules to keep in mind when managing a community, included below[1]. You may notice that some reflect recommendations I’ve made, and some are new ideas to consider.

  1. Your community members work for the community, not for you.
    • Members are motivated by self interest and serving the community not your business. Add value to the community and your business will benefit.
  2. If you ask them to help, they often will.
    • Invite specific individuals to participate in specific tasks, but tasks should be interesting to them and benefit the community.
  3. Members thrive on personal validation and gratification.
    • They thrive on tasks that garner quick results and recognition for good work.
  4. Members are not free labor for your company.
    • Tasks should always be about work that mutually benefits members and the community, not just your business.
  5. Members are not sales leads.
    • Don’t push sales emails, cold calls, and spam onto your community.
  6. They don’t have the same information and context as you do.
    • You know the staff, customers, dynamics, initiatives, and goals. Your members don’t. Be transparent, open, and clear with your members.
  7. Members may share the same vision, but not the same approach.
    • When collaborating on a project members may have differing opinions, from you and each other, about the best solution. You don’t need their permission, but you should seek their support.
  8. Their commitment and organizational experience will vary.
    • Provide opportunities to accommodate varying levels of participation and priorities.
  9. The quieter ones are often your secret weapon.
    • It is not just the most vocal members that provide value. Engage quieter members one-on-one where they don’t have to speak up in front of the group.
  10. They are your friends, and friends keep you honest.
    • If your members are unhappy, they will be critical. Don’t feel attacked. Constructive criticism shows member’s care. Take it as an opportunity to resolve problems.

Real World Example #1

Now let’s talk about an online community in action.

Last year one of our food and beverage clients came to us looking to better understand consumption of one of their products. They wanted to learn who eats the product, what kind, when, where, why, and how, as well as benefits and barriers, likes and dislikes, and brand associations. Learnings gleaned would inform an Awareness & Usage study, possible product reformulations, possible packaging redesigns and sizes, communications, pricing, and beyond. Initially, this was introduced to us as an exploratory qualitative study.

As my colleague Haley Noble details in her blog, Choosing the Right Research Methodology: Part 2, there are several factors to consider before determining if a qualitative or quantitative approach is better. We took some time to discuss these factors both among the KLC team and with the client. As we discussed the objectives and considered potential questions, we concluded that a multi-phase quantitative, then qualitative study would best fit our needs.

We started with a survey because many of the answers the client was looking for could be uncovered in single choice, multi choice, or matrix questions. Items such as who is eating, overall enjoyment, what brands, as well as what types, frequency, time of day, time of year, all per person.

Then we used survey feedback to craft and select participants for an online in-depth interview to address the remaining unanswered questions. Items such as shopping/ purchasing walk through, including photos and videos, likes and dislikes of shopping experience, purchase decision drivers, important features and product claims, packaging preferences, fill in the blanks regarding likes and dislikes, in-depth description of recent consumption experience, and more. This phase was completed in an asynchronous one-on-one in-depth interview with a moderator.

Through this multi-phase approach, we were able to address all the client’s objectives and give them both solid quantitative data and robust qualitative insights. We were able to accomplish this within a tight timeline and budget because of the on-demand access to consumers that the online community provides.

Real World Example #2

Now if that study seemed a bit overwhelming, there are plenty of other simpler examples of an online community in action. Here’s one.

Recently one of our clients was about to launch a new campaign to engage and educate customers on their services when one of the Vice Presidents had a predicament. Internally there was a bit of a tie between two titles for the campaign, so they wanted to get community input to break the tie.

We were informed of the project request Monday afternoon, and because the objectives were short and direct, by Tuesday afternoon our client had a good sense of which title was better in their customers’ eyes. The client could then share the results with their VP roughly 24 hours after the request was made. The VP, and therefore our client, were pleased with how quickly the online community afforded them the opportunity to tap into their customers.

Real World Example #3

Due to the abrupt pause on in-person focus groups in 2020, we had several clients coming to us to replicate in-person website usability testing. This trend towards digital experiences is still going on as our clients have experienced the benefits of taking in-person research online. All these projects typically have similar impetus and objectives – web designers have made changes to an online experience and the client wants to gain a deeper understanding of how easy or difficult it is to use the website to accomplish a task. Specifically, and across industries, they want to know:

  • Are the menus and labels clear?
  • What, if anything, is confusing?
  • Was the task completed successfully?
  • How can the experience be improved?
  • Will the user be likely to return to the site?

With the influx of new software and platforms in the last few years, answering these questions online has become possible, and is done so usually in less time and with less budget than in-person testing. There are few methods we use to accomplish website usability testing online.

  1. Live one-on-one interviews with a moderator
  2. Asynchronous one-on-one interviews with a moderator
  3. User recorded web experiences

1. Live one-on-one interviews with a moderator

This is probably the most self-explanatory methodology. First, we screen community members to make sure we have a pool of qualified and interested members that fit the criteria for the testing experience. Then we reach out to selected members to schedule their interview date and time. Once members confirm, we provide them with any additional information necessary for the interview. During the previous steps, we are also working closely with our client to craft a guide that will accomplish all tasks and answer all objectives. Then when the schedule date and time arrives, we have one of our in-house moderators conduct the interview, which can be recorded if the client desires. The client can also observe the interview just as they would in-person.

2. Asynchronous one-on-one interviews with a moderator

If a client wants a slightly larger sample, and the tasks and site aren’t overly complex, they could opt for this methodology where participants complete the interview on their own time, understanding that a moderator will follow up and they will be required to answer additional questions. We still screen to get the appropriate members for the testing experience. Once selected, we invite members to our platform where they can work through the carefully crafted guide when it best fits their schedule. Then our in-house moderators go in and ask any probes or follow up questions. Members come back on their own time and answer them. The client can follow along and communicate to us any specific follow ups they have for the members.

3. User recorded web experiences

If a client wants to be able to see and hear the user experience but wants a slightly larger sample or can’t fit in live interviews, we also could run what is a bit of a hybrid of a live interview and an asynchronous interview. Members complete the experience on their own time, but they record their screen as they do and narrate step-by-step what they are doing and why. It lacks moderation but it offers an in-the-moment perspective of the user experience.

By now we’ve covered how to tap into your members as a source of inspiration and improvement, ten rules to remember to keep your community flourishing, and real-world examples of MROCs in action. It is my hope that this has opened your mind to ways an online insights community can benefit you and your research needs. 

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

Want to learn more? Let’s Chat.

[1] Jono Bacon, “People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Teams” pages 119-123