The latest data from the Greenbook GRIT Report suggests that 60% of research teams are using online insight communities — also known as research communities or MROCs. A further 22% are considering the popular method. Why? Well, in the age of competitive customer-closeness, they offer some distinct benefits.
Communities act as an agile interface between a brand and their customers. Advanced communities may even segment members into different categories — including ordinary customers, loyalists, specific target audiences and more. These groups can usually be accessed quickly and easily. In fact, the hallmark of a successful insight community is the degree to which members are engaged. A high degree of engagement means members are actively logging in to comment, feedback and take part in discussions that are not actively incentivised. They are interested in the brand, the connections that they have made with others and the community spirit.
It’s easy to see how such an asset can have incredible value. But its rare that an insight community forms a full research schedule in itself. While member forums, blogs, message and polls can be mined for useful data — an important aspect of the community experience is that they often act as a hub to which other research methods can be plugged in. Surveys, focus groups, diary studies, creative qual tasks and more can all be advertised to members. Because of this, communities offer a potent blend of research-led and member-led data which can be combined to form more than the sum of its parts.
But it’s important we aren’t carried away. A common pitfall that inexperienced research teams can often run into is failing to adequately explain the value of their insight community to senior decision makers and budget holders. So, how can you define the tangible value that an insight community offers? To do that, it’s best to look across three distinct vectors.
1. Organic, Ongoing Insight
The first point to make is the advantage that comes with access to real-time customer conversations in a context that is both narrow and broader than the brand itself. As members create new forum posts, write blogs and send messages to each other — an experienced Community Manager can quickly pick up new trends and themes that can both reinforce existing organisational knowledge, or add to it.
Consider just the rate of new entrants to a market. Marketers frequently face the challenge of defining which new competitors do and don’t directly compete with their brand. Where else are target, segments turning for the same products and services? And why?
The constant stream of qualitative data that passes through an insight community can help significantly in answering these challenging, strategic questions. But to add real value — the way in which this data is surfaced is what makes the difference. It can be tempting to wait for projects and research tasks from other departments to present to community members. But this means the constant level of organic insight members provide is ignored.
To demonstrate tangible value, it is imperative to consider how other departments can tap into this stream of data. You might want to provide key stakeholders direct access to the community itself. Or, send weekly email summaries that dissect emerging customer topics of conversation. Perhaps running a programme of internal, recurring webinars is the best way to disseminate information. The salient point is that the most successful, valuable insight communities are those with effective mechanisms for distributing regular, organic insight — and can contribute meaningfully to a culture of customer closeness.
2. Qualified Research Participants
The second way to demonstrate tangible community value is in the long-term cost of research recruitment. It’s easy here to portray this as the sole financial benefit of a community. However, it is just one part of the equation. So, what is the value?
It’s relatively simple, all things considered. While there are certainly costs involved in setting up, maintaining and recruiting into an insight community — this can be offset somewhat by the way in which a community reduces annual recruitment and incentive costs. There are not many other research activities that can boast such a strong financial synergy.
In general, engaged research community members act as a panel of pre-qualified, profiled research participants for ad-hoc and scheduled activities. That means less needs to be spent on access to third party panels, social recruitment and other sample costs. And the benefits don’t stop there. Because a community is a directly controllable asset, its much easier to verify participant quality and recruit for multiple types of research — including both qualitative and quantitative tasks.
Lastly, there’s a direct impact on incentive costs. Many communities use a points-based system and prize draws to incentivise members to participate. While its sometimes appropriate to supplement this with direct incentives, especially in the case of qual, overall, it means that a lower incentive budget is required for any given research schedule.
3. Agility in Data Collection and Analysis
Finally, the third most tangible benefit insight communities offer is agility in both data collection and analysis. It is important not to underestimate the value of that direct access to members, and the library of previous research that they have taken part in. Answers to challenging questions can be found by quickly fielding new research at a fraction of the time it would take if the project were undertaken in a more traditional, standalone format.
Some questions may not even need new fieldwork to answer. Just like how ongoing activity can be mined, so too can the data members have previously provided. A well-maintained insight community doesn’t just act as a database of participants, it’s also a library of valuable customer insight. Being able to answer new questions with existing knowledge and without the delay that new fieldwork would bring can be a significant advantage in a fast-paced, competitive market.
So, there you have it. Three ways to demonstrate the tangible value of a research community. The FlexMR InsightHub platform has been built to harness all three of these — and even more. To find out more about the platform, book a demo with a member of our team today. Or, to learn how to run agile surveys and focus groups through an online insight platform, take a look at our article on the subject here.
This article was originally published in the FlexMR Insight Blog and can be accessed here.