11 mistakes to avoid when running your first research community

Published 13 Mar 2016 | Updated 10 mar 2021 6 minute read

Online qual
Research communities

About to enter the fascinating world of the online research community? Here are our top tips on what you should be doing, what you shouldn’t be doing and the simple steps that will help make your community a resounding success

1. Failing to Value People's Time

What you get out of your community depends upon the engagement you build with your participants. That’s always been true, but it’s even more relevant now. The multiple issues caused – and highlighted - by the pandemic have left people wanting clarity and structure about what’s expected of them.

If you mess them around and fail to value their time – shifting the dates when you want them to be available, or setting tasks that take too long - you’ll reduce their trust. That makes it more likely that your participants will disengage from your community. And that means you won’t get the insights you need.

The reality? It can be tricky to convey the human cost of delays and changes to clients. They are (inevitably) focused on the outcome of the community, rather than the processes involved in making it work. You need to manage expectations by being clear about the need to respect arranged timings from the start.

2. Creating a Virtual Ghost Town

When your research community launches and the first person to arrive arrives at a community devoid of people, conversations and any life forms, they’ll be experiencing what’s referred to as a ‘virtual ghost town’. It doesn’t sound very inviting, does it? It can be intimidating and off-putting – after all, nobody wants to be the first person at a party.

That’s why you need to establish some energy by seeding content from the very beginning.

What are we talking? We’re talking a community space that has a feeling of having been designed for the participants. As a minimum:

  • An appropriate and attractive image or backdrop
  • A welcome video of yourself and your team on the front page.

3. Forgetting to Welcome and Brief Participants

Eager to kick-on with the research activities, researchers can sometimes forget the critical importance of establishing rapport and ‘warming’ up participants. Before you dive into the research you need to help your participants feel comfortable in this new online environment, so that they’re willing to open up and express themselves.

So, you need to:

  • Welcome them by name when they arrive
  • Share something of yourself and learn a little bit about them as individuals

To facilitate this, consider using ice-breaking activities. One useful example is an open discussion containing the following question(s):

  • What do you always carry with you in your bag?
  • Who do you most admire in life and why?
  • What can't you live without?
  • When did you last do something for the first time?

These ice-breaker questions can be answered by you and the moderator/ community manager before you launch. As participants join, they see that pre-seeded content and it prompts them to answer the ice-breaker questions, too. As the responses grow, they help to establish common bonds amongst participants and to build a sense of community.

The final thing to do before launching into your research activities is to brief your participants about what you need from them. That means:

  • Tell them about what is expected
  • Make it clear that there are no right or wrong answers to the questions you are going to ask
  • Emphasise that the community is a place to express genuine opinions and reactions.

4. Not Sharing Purpose and Objectives

When you’re talking to participants always be transparent about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. This is true both when it comes to explaining the purpose of the community as a whole and when it comes to setting out individual tasks. Transparency around purpose and objectives creates trust. Trust leads to greater openness and expression from the members. Greater openness means you are more likely to uncover unexpected insights in your research.

This approach starts in your welcome email. We also recommend sending out a daily email to participants, explaining:

  • What you will be asking them to do that day
  • The purpose of the activity.

The greater clarity you provide around your objectives, the more likely you are to get a great response.

5. Not Being Flexible with Time and Structure

Research communities need structure but they also need flex. Why? Because as interesting ideas and themes bubble up to the surface, you want time to explore them.

Balancing structure and flexibility is an art because no two research projects are alike. So, the best way to approach this juggle between planning and freedom is: Give yourself more time than you think you need.

And if you’re working with partners who come from a qual research background and understand what you’re trying to achieve (like us!), come and talk to us. We can suggest ways to build this balance into your community.

6. Designing your Research like a Focus Group Discussion Guide

Focus groups (synchronous) and research communities (asynchronous) are two very different creatures, with different ways of engaging people through different tasks.

Unlike focus groups, research communities allow members to share experiences, thoughts and feelings as they emerge, as well as reflect on them afterwards. So, don’t make the mistake of taking a focus group discussion guide and applying it to your research community. It won’t deliver the results you want. It will leave you uninspired.

7. Peaking too Soon

The energy and excitement around the initial launch of a community can sometimes result in it peaking too early, with moderators losing focus or getting distracted with other work commitments as time passes.

Be on guard against this, even for relatively short communities. Working to establish solid relationships within the community early on can help keep things going strong and lead to productive discussions. It’s also important – particularly with medium or long-term projects – to ensure that you build in days when less is asked of participants. This ‘downtime’ helps to create a natural pace that stops participants (and you!) from feeling overwhelmed.

8. Not Getting to Know your Chosen Community Platform

When it comes selecting the best and most appropriate market research technology, spend time doing your due diligence and learning how it works. You don’t want to make the common mistake of assuming the technology can do something it can’t.

Once you’ve made your choice of software, make time to experiment or run trials. Give yourself time to fully understand its capabilities and how far you can push the tasks. If you haven’t used it before, a good rule of thumb, is to give yourself two – three weeks to learn how much the software can do. And remember! Book in time to talk to your supplier about what you want to achieve and the best way to utilise the system.

9. Expecting too Much of your Members

Avoid overloading your community with too many tasks and discussions. If members get overwhelmed by your expectations they will lose interest and slope off. So:

  • Ensure that any task you give takes no longer than 20 minutes to complete (This is the maximum amount of meaningful daily engagement you can expect from participants in any online research community)
  • With every task, ask yourself, "Would I be able to achieve this in the allotted time?"
  • With every task, ask yourself, "Would I be prepared to do this myself?"

10. Thinking "If I build it, they will come"

Simply building a research community is not enough. Communities are organic, living things that require time, effort, intellect, and resources in order to be successful and reveal the insights that you need. This is true of all communities, but the longer they’re intended to run for, the more important this truth becomes.

Take the community through its life stages, investing in people and relationships along the way. When obstacles come – and they will – try to see them as opportunities and be confident that you can always find a way to work around them. Think about who your participants are and the other demands on their time:

  • Are they parents who might be unavailable during school holidays?
  • Do they practise a particular religion, which might preclude them from carrying out task on particular days?
  • Do they live in a different part of the world? If so, have you factored in when key cultural festivities will be taking place?

The more you work to accommodate the needs of your participants, the more trust and engagement you will create.

11. Not Being Prepared for the Volume of Data

Many first-timers end up underestimating the amount of data they will collect. If that happens, the result is that you won’t have a good plan in place for how to analyse and report on your data. So, our top tips are:

  • Make sure you understand all the analysis tools that your selected software gives you and use them to help you (if in doubt, talk to your supplier!)
  • Formulate hypotheses and be prepared for rolling analysis techniques and tools
  • It is usual to start your analysis halfway through the community. If you have resources available, consider how you can combine efforts and work together as a team on the analysis.

12. Not Having a Plan in Place (BONUS TIP!)

The key with an online research community is to plan in advance. The welcoming phase is crucial, demanding effort and energy. Have early activities set up and ready to roll. This leaves you time to concentrate on planning and re-shaping further activities in the light of feedback that you gather.

Be prepared for the unexpected to occur and for obstacles to pop up. It’s normal to run into issues like someone not logging on or someone not completing a task. Plan for what you’ll do in these eventualities!

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