6 Steps To Building A Successful Research Community in the Covid era

Published 07 Nov 2016 | Updated 24 feb 2021 4 minute read

Online qual
Research communities

Has the pandemic affected the world of online qual research?

Yes, it has! If you’re thinking of running an online research community and are looking for helpful online qualitative research tools and advice, we’ve written this blog for you. Read on to discover:

  • what you’ll gain from your well-designed (and well-run) community
  • the two biggest Covid-driven changes you need to consider when planning your community.
  • six key strategic elements to think about before beginning your journey.

Ready? Here goes.

What you can gain from a well-designed and well-run research community.

In previous blog posts we’ve taken a look at tactical aspects of running a community such as Moderation and Community Management, and how to garner structured collaboration. With a well-designed-and-run research community you can:

  • quickly, easily and personally connect with consumers and audience on their terms
  • uncover key insights through creative activities, and easily share them with your client
  • wow your clients (they can join you online too!) and win repeat win

How COVID has changed the game.

There are two critical ways in which COVID is playing a big role in online qual research:

1. Since the pandemic struck, people have become more tech-savvy.

Here’s one example of that:

In 2019, the data company Statista.com found that only 70% of the over-55s in the UK were online*.

In 2020, Statista.com found that 72% of the over-65s were online and using email, while 64% of this age group were going online to get information about goods and services. (In the 55–64 age group the equivalent figure – in both cases - is 79%)**.

As more people become tech-savvy:

  • the pool of potential participants in your research community gets even wider.
  • the issue of tech literacy and access diminishes even further.
  • people get even better at sharing their thoughts, feelings and expression online…as if they weren’t already (ahem TikTok/Instagram/Twitter)

Simply... The benefits of online qual increase.

2. It’s become ever more important to be considerate of your community participants.

Quick note. It’s always important to be considerate of participants. Whether pre or post-Covid, it’s key to:

  • Be mindful of the other responsibilities your participants are juggling.
  • Ensure that your research tasks provide engaging activities at manageable intervals.

One of the great things, as we alluded to above, is that online qual puts you in the pocket or place of your participant. If you brief and prep them right, they will take you along for the ride and you will truly feel like a fly on the wall.

The challenge is that when people are carrying out research tasks in their own homes, you’re also essentially competing for their attention with everything else in their homes - their families; household chores; sleep; having a bath; playing video games (hence the need to prep and prime your group).

The demands of the pandemic have added a whole new layer to that.

Right now, your participants may have added home-working and home-schooling to their day – additional constraints on their time. They may be dealing with the emotional repercussions of the pandemic: boredom; grief; fear.

That means they have a heightened need for clarity and consistency from you. So, to keep them engaged, you have to be upfront about what you need and build trust by sticking to what you’ve promised. Don’t switch deadlines. Don’t make endless additional demands. Be clear, be consistent and be as creative and engaging as you can.

And before you start any research, make sure you think through these...

Six key strategic elements to think about before beginning your journey.

1. Define the community’s goals

This is what the organisation or brand that have commissioned the research community want to achieve from it. Example goals might include behavioural insight, concept co-creation, crowdsourcing new ideas or simply gathering feedback on existing products and services.

The goal of your online qualitative research community will propel you in a clear direction and enable you to start thinking about the online qualitative research tools, methods, strategy and tactics you need to employ to achieve the engagement you need.

2. Identify the behaviour you want from your participants

These are the research community’s objectives and are what you need participants to do in order to achieve its goals. For example, if your goal is to identify an opportunity space for a new product, then the objective might be to have your participants share their latent needs or frustrations with current products they use. This can be done by creating daily diaries and show-arounds.

3. Design motivations

By this point you’ve identified the behaviours you want from participants. Now you need to think carefully about how you will motivate these behaviours. Always balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: the former being things like cash and prize drawers, whilst the latter could include the ability to hang out with like-minded people, learning from others, learning about yourself etc.

A previous article we released also talks more about the balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors.

The motivational factors employed will create the emotional bond within the community, which is essential in driving ongoing participation and good engagement.

4. Think tactics

Your tactics are the steps you’ll take to heighten the emotions that are driving engagement. As the moderator or community manager, this requires you to define how your time will be used, the communication style you employ and the psychological hacks you’ll use to deepen the connection with your participants.

We ran a webinar previously on psychological hacks, the deck for which you can see here.

5. Determine your recruitment channel

Depending on which audience you want to research, you have a number of optional recruitment resources for a research community. Pre-Covid, these might have included in-store intercepts. Right now, they may include:

  • Qualitative recruitment (sometimes called free-finding)
  • Panels (Access & Custom Panels)
  • Email lists
  • Social Media
  • Web intercepts

You'll need to decide on which is relevant to finding the right people for your research. For example, you might need to source mainstream consumers or early adopters. As you can imagine, they won't both be found in the same place, so make sure your approach is relevant and delivers the right people.

Don't just attempt to make up the numbers and achieve budget; you risk recruiting the wrong people which in turn will lead to you collecting the wrong data and making the wrong decisions.

6. Plan your time (for success)

The time, effort and skill you put into building successful insight communities, whether they're short or long-term, is tantamount to their success. If you don’t dedicate the time and do the planning, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Communities need life breathing into them in order for you to capture the data and insight you need to make those big decisions.

Research community success is measurable, quantifiable, so when defining the above always think about how you are going to measure it. This in turn help you know that you’re getting better at it each and every time. There are plenty of effective online qualitative research tools out there that can help with this!

Download our popular 'Research Community Engagement Guide'



Discover our platform and services


The insight platform for online qual, research communities, digital diaries, ethnography and more.

Services & Support

A range of expert research services and resources to help you deliver your projects with ease, speed and reach.


Human insight with impact; leveraging our academic and industry experts to uncover insight, create impact and make confident decisions.

Conde-Nast (1) (1)

We were amazed at the level of insight we achieved in just a week. Further opened our eyes to new ways of researching and understanding our staff

We helped Conde Nast International define a new global mission and vision statement

van-tay-media-Kab_-4M4I74-unsplash (1)

Further really understood the brief and were extremely proactive. We are now very confident that we’re taking the right products and proposition to market.

We helped this insuretech startup tailor their customer value proposition for the UK market ahead of a planned launch

Keyhouse (1) (1)

Further's expert team pushed us to clarify our assumptions and to think harder about how to communicate the value of our products and services

We helped Keyhouse enter a new market and understand what target users of their case management software needed and how to position their offer

FTH001_Mother_2_children_tablet (1)

Working with Further was a refreshing and eye-opening experience…...the qualityof their output which was excellent.

We helped Unicef generate insights to support the development of a mass market, sustainable fundraising product.

Zwift image (1)
Zwift-logo (1)

Strategically, Further’s insights provided clear and directional answers that will guide us through our next phase of growth

We helped Zwift understand users and non-users needs and wants so they could prioritise their innovation pipeline

Chillys image case study (1)
Chillys-logo (1)

We helped Chilly’s leadership team consider new ways to understand and co-create with their customers’

We helped disruptive pet insurance company Waggel develop customer personas and map out the current and intended customer journey.

What next?

Browse our site, download our resources, request a demo of our platform or speak to one of our experts

Browse our work
Request a demo
Book consultation