Research Communities 101

Published 19 Feb 2016 10 minute read

Online qual
Research communities

Today’s market researchers are finding that research communities are among the best ways to find out what consumers really think, because people are more likely to share their true reactions and feelings when communicating with people who they have established relationships with in an intimate community environment.

Understanding Research Communities

The digital revolution has played a big part in the growth and popularity of research communities. These online research communities have become an incredibly useful tool for bringing participants together in a setting that is convenient and private, yet still allows for the building of relationships. These communities can be either short-term (which typically means anywhere from a few days to a few weeks), or long-term, where that same group of people is consulted on an ongoing basis. The former is usually best when you need participants to focus on one main objective, whereas the latter is helpful when you have multiple questions and objectives that need to be addressed over time.

The genius of the research community is in the way that it works for both the researchers and the participants. Members can join in from the comfort of wherever they are, whenever it is a good time for them, and researchers get the advantage of engaging them in discussions and activities, and listening to them talk among themselves. The community provides a platform for structured collaboration and co-creation with respondents, while still allowing for plenty of flexibility and creativity. As an actual community, where members talk to each other and not just to the moderator, unique and real human insights often come to the surface that wouldn’t otherwise be found in traditional research methods such as a focus group.

Planning for a Research Community

Research communities clearly have the capability of bringing out valuable thoughts and information from participants that might be difficult to obtain using other methods of qualitative research. The benefits are significant, but there are a few critical elements that you need to consider once you have decided to add communities to your research toolkit.

To make certain that your research community runs smoothly and you get the best possible insight, you have to be prepared and plan thoroughly. Everything from selecting the right participants to choosing the best software to determining how and by whom the community will be managed is critical. Write a clear brief to ensure that everybody is on the same page and this will stand you in good stead for the life of the community.

Choosing the Right Software

The software that you use for a research community can make or break it, so take the time to select a software platform that will meet all of your needs. Questions to ask as you weigh your options include:

  • Is it private and secure?
  • Can people access it on a range of devices, not just on smartphones?
  • Can you create a variety of tasks?
  • Does it meet your needs and objectives?
  • Is training offered?
  • What support functions are available?
  • Can you make the community in keeping with your brand?
  • Can it handle multiple languages?
  • What are the reporting and analysis functions like?

Technical details, ease of use, and user interface are all aspects that need to be considered where software is concerned. If the software doesn’t offer the functionality that community members need, they will be discouraged from actively and regularly participating in the community and this will ultimately impact your insight.

Managing Your Community

In a research community, it is vital to have a great strategy for community management so that you can effectively create and provide tasks for participants, develop rewarding relationships and improve member engagement throughout the duration of the community. In some research communities, you may need to moderate discussions and probe deeper, in order to keep discussions on track and get to under the surface of what’s being shared.

There is a clear connection between good community management and increased participant engagement, so find a style of communication that will resonate with members. Typically you will want to establish a tone of voice that is inviting and friendly, but also one that inspires confidence and trust amongst members so that they feel encouraged to open up and share their opinions and experiences.

Successful community management means that you have to motivate the members to maintain interest. Part of that will come from the development of relationships within the community, but it also comes from the members being provided with tasks that they find engaging. That often means being creative, providing tasks that are fun and incorporate multimedia, and ensuring that there is a significant variety so that participants don’t get bored and become disengaged. One example that we have seen work really well is the Blob Tree. Fun and stimulating to complete, the Blob Tree can encourage your members to express their innermost thoughts, feelings and desires. This in turn will afford you the opportunity to reveal latent and unmet / unsatisfied needs.

Creating Your Perfect Research Community

No two research communities are alike. Ultimately the community is a collaboration between the community stakeholders, so it is important that they discuss objectives in the planning stages so that the community can be set up and managed in a way to get optimal results. The most essential step is finding the right people to be members of the research community. This means that a thoughtful recruitment and validation process is critical.

With the objectives in mind, the ideal software in place and a carefully selected group of members, a research community can be counted on to offer your clients actionable insights that can’t be discovered any other way. Download our guide to recruiting the right participants to ensure your research community is a success from start to finish.

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