IT’S ALL THE BUZZ, BUT WHAT
DRIVES MEMBER ENGAGEMENT?
HOW TO ENSURE ONLINE
SYDNEY 30 SEPTEMBER – 2 OCTOBER 2009
COLMAR BRUNTON, AUSTRALIA
COLMAR BRUNTON, AUSTRALIA
THE FUTURE PLACE, UK
RESEARCH 2.0: IT’S ALL THE BUZZ BUT WHAT DRIVES
HOW TO ENSURE ONLINE RESEARCH COMMUNITIES
Research 2.0; online research communities; emerging research techniques; engagement.
Research 2.0 is quickly becoming a big part of the market research landscape. Many large companies with
established market research teams are trialing and implementing a range of research 2.0 tools. These include both
passive technologies used on ‘natural’ online communities (e.g. web trawling of existing online behaviors and
conversations) and active techniques (e.g. conversing directly with consumers using blogs, wikis and online
Online research communities (ORC), in particular, have become popular and offer corporate market research
departments the ability to provide quicker, cheaper and ongoing (not just point-in-time) insights. They have the
ability to bring market research departments ‘front and centre’ within their organisations by being far more central
on how decisions are made, rather than their existing position being “sequestered off to the side as (just) a
resource used by marketers”1.
In the public domain there is a small but growing literature on ORCs covering the benefits, technology platforms,
and some case studies, however to date there has not been a lot of attention paid to the role of respondents. As
we all know, the raw ingredient in providing quality primary market research is quality data from engaged research
respondents and Research 2.0 offers our profession the opportunity to not only maintain, but enhance the
researcher - respondent relationship.
This paper addresses the respondent engagement issue from a Research 2.0 and ORC perspective. It draws on our
experiences in conducting Research 2.0 projects in Australia and internationally and provides practical guidance
about how to attract, condition, motivate, treat, and interact with community members so that they are engaged
to participate and contribute quality responses both now and into the future.
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2. DEFINING RESEARCH 2.0
Although many researchers will be familiar with the term Research 2.0, there will be those who are not, so we feel
it is important to start with a definition.
2.1 Traditional Research
All practicing market researchers will be very familiar with the design and set up of traditional research projects.
1. A client writes a brief and establishes objectives.
2. A project is commissioned.
3. Researchers design a methodology which will establish a set of controls and procedures for conducting
the fieldwork to achieve the objectives.
4. Data is captured from research subjects known as respondents. Strict protocols exist for how
respondents are selected and interacted with.
5. Researchers pose questions and respondents provide answers in accordance with the protocols. Clients
may view a respondent but will definitely not engage with him or her. Respondents may interact with
each other, if focus groups are the selected methodology, but only under the supervision of the
6. Analysis of data is conducted and reports are then written, often with a detailed section carefully
articulating the methodology and important protocols for the projects.
7. Some 5 to 10 weeks later, on average, the person requiring the research finally becomes involved and
receives the research to assist him or her in making informed decisions.
And so on it goes for the next project.
2.2 A New Research Paradigm
This traditional approach can now be termed Research 1.0. The term ‘Research 2.0’ came into being in 2006 , to
reflect a shift away from the old ‘command and control’ paradigm of market research towards a more
collaborative approach between the brand, the researcher, and most importantly, the consumer. The core of
Research 2.0 is a move away from an assumption that those ‘doing’ the research (ie organizations & researchers)
know everything, towards a true two-way discussion between the researchers and those ‘being’ researched (ie
consumers & citizens). It has been expressed as a shift to an adult-to-adult rather than adult-to-child relationship 3
and it enables consumers to be more conversational, not only with the researcher but importantly with other
consumers. This affords a richer and more natural dialogue including consumers posing questions (either directly
or implicitly) not just answering questions.
2.3 Listening and Co-creating
For organizations seeking competitive advantage through consumer insight, Research 2.0 ‘streams’ new learnings
(rather than delivering them in discrete chunks) therefore enabling faster product and service enhancements.
Consumer inspired knowledge becomes program rather than project centric.
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Another big benefit for organizations is that Research 2.0 not only facilitates a listening device, it also opens the
door for co-creation and therefore an optimized development and innovations process. This is critical given the
progressive global weakening of the marketing function within organisations and the impotency of the market
research profession, by and large, in being able to help . A big opportunity for our profession, therefore, is to
regain influence for marketing people in their ability to become more innovative by increasing their contribution to
the development of new products/services and therefore their impact on organic growth.
3. THE NEW WORLD OF RESEARCHER - RESPONDENT RELATIONSHIP
The definition of Research 2.0 outlined above is important as it strikes at the very heart of this paper. Implicit in
this approach is a rethink of the researcher - respondent relationship. Like all forms of research, the lifeblood of
success is the willing and ongoing participation of consumers. In Research 1.0 we called these people
‘respondents’. In a 2.0 world we know them as ‘participants’ and specifically with the ORC approach we know
them as ‘community members’. Consumers and citizens (who for decades we’ve known as respondents) are active
equals to researchers in the Research 2.0 world.
Whilst this is a new concept for our profession, as market researchers we need to acknowledge that we are behind
leading business practices. For example it was a decade ago that Prahalad and Ramaswamy6 talked about the
‘new’ marketing economy and observed - “Business competition used to be a lot like traditional theater - On stage
the actors had clearly defined roles, and customers paid for their tickets, sat back and watched passively. (Today)
Consumers can now initiate the dialogue; they have moved out of the audience and on to the stage”. As early as
2000, companies like Amazon, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Cisco, eBay, and E*Trade, had already formed an active online
dialogue with groups of their customers who were active players in the co-creation process. So it could be argued
that the new world view of the researcher - respondent relationship that Research 2.0 brings to our profession is
simply catching up with how world-leading businesses have long viewed their customers.
Nonetheless, the implications of this redefined researcher - respondent relationship are enormous. The adult-to-
adult rather than adult-to-child relationship opens up many opportunities for participants to think, question,
suggest and explore. The change similarly facilitates market researchers and the organizations that commission
research to do likewise. Research 2.0 is done much faster and organizations are much closer to the consumer and
the insight generation process. It enables a richer and more frank and honest dialogue. It places market research
at the centre of organizational decision making. And, almost as an artifact, it presents an opportunity for the
research industry to improve participation rates and to access a greater pool of people who we would otherwise
never engage. That is, people who would never attend a focus group or participate in quantitative studies.
The practical implications of this redefinition of the researcher - respondent relationship are the theme of this
paper. The issue of how researchers optimally attract, condition, motivate, treat, and interact with research
participants in a Research 2.0 environment will be addressed. Performing well here is fundamental to ensuring
online research communities succeed.
First we discuss specifically what online research communities are, how they work, and the benefits they offer.
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4. ONLINE RESEARCH COMMUNITIES
In the last 2 years, online research communities have become the most powerful application of Research 2.0.
4.1 A Methodological Innovation
It is estimated that by mid 2008 over 1,000 ORCs had been set up worldwide7. Many large companies plan to
establish some form of online community in the next 2 years8, and it would be expected that a large proportion of
these will be for research purposes . And there is a sense by many in the market research community that for the
first time in many years we are seeing a true methodological innovation with potentially enormous insights
benefits10 and the potential to shift the research function from a cost centre to a knowledge centre11. Certainly,
European and American organisations have adopted ORCs quicker than Australians and indeed the winner of the
best paper at the 2008 ESOMAR 2008 Congress was from a submission from two Americans who presented a
brilliant case study on how Disneyland is using ORCs to generate enormous consumer insights 12.
Like natural online communities, that exist within environments such as Facebook, Myspace and Linked-In, no two
ORCs are alike. However, there are common aspects to all ORCs and we can define an online research community
“a group of people (members) who participate in an online environment to interact with each other, a
market researcher and sponsors of the research (clients) for market research purposes”.
The online environments in which ORCs exist are based on technology platforms such as Community Server that
allow for discussions, polls, content uploading (e.g. photos & videos), live chats, email and other functionality to
allow member-to-researcher and member-to-member interaction.
4.2 Online Communities
ORCs have a different focus to other forms of online communities in that their primary aim is a listening and
learning mechanism including helping customers work with each other to come up with ideas to improve what a
company offers and how it operates. The research benefit is primarily qualitative insight across product, service,
brand and communications development topics.
Aside from ORCs, organisations may establish at least two other types of online community, each with their own
primary focus areas:
1. ‘Marketing/sales’ online communities which aim to advertise and promote the business in a two-way
conversation rather than traditional marketing communication methods; and
2. ‘Support’ online communities which aim to provide a forum whereby the company can support customers
to use the product/services and where customers can support each other.
ORCs should not be confused with these other types of online community, although it is likely that they, whilst
having an alternate primary focus, will also have research ability.
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4.3 ORC Varieties
ORCs come in a number of varieties. They can be closed or open, branded or unbranded, company-specific or
shared and short or long. These variations all impact on how to most successfully drive member engagement.
4.3.1 Company-Specific or Shared
Company specific ORC are set up, run and owned for the specific benefit of one company. Shared ORCs are set up
to accommodate multiple organisations that are interested in a particular common topic (e.g. Queensland Public
Transport Users set up for the benefit of various public transport organizations across rail, bus & ferry services).
With shared communities, member engagement needs to be driven more by the issues than member familiarity
with the brand.
4.3.2 Open or Closed
Open ORCs allow anybody who meets the membership criteria to join the community and recruitment includes
member referrals, digital advertising, search engine optimization techniques and seeding on other social sites to
attract community members.
Closed ORCs are more common and exist within a ‘walled garden’. Here members are people who have been
invited to participate by a market researcher, typically from customer lists, online panels or from company
websites. They are also referred to as invited, closed, private, or gated online research communities.
4.3.3 Branded or Unbranded
Branded ORCs are those where the company sponsoring the research is clearly transparent to members, either by
being part of the community name e.g. “Suncorp’s Your View Community” or by clear reference on the homepage
e.g. “Blue Mountains Opinions Community” which is sponsored by Tourism NSW and Tourism Australia. Here,
members can be engaged by their passion for the company or products that the company markets.
Unbranded ORC are those where the company or companies sponsoring the research are not part of the naming
and branding of the community e.g. “Financial Crisis Perspectives – An Online Community of How the Financial
Crisis Impacts Ordinary Australians”.
4.3.4 Short or Long Term
Short term ORCs can last from 3 days to 3 months. Long term ORCs last a year or longer and therefore issues of
member fatigue and replacement are important to the ongoing vibrancy of the community.
The following diagram provides a summary of the discussion above. It gives the reader a sense of perspective as to
the fit of ORCs within all online communities, and the forms that ORCs take.
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Diagram 1: ORCs and How They Differ To Other Online Communities
*The focus of this paper.
4.4 Member Benefits
ORCs allow specific benefits over Research 1.0 with respect to the researcher - respondent relationship. Compared
to traditional research approaches, community members benefit through:
Respect: ORCs can ‘close the loop’ in ways that are rarely ever done by traditional research. For
example, several weeks after providing feedback to advertising concepts, members can be shown a
new TVC/print advertising campaign in advance of general public release.
Transparency: It allows members to be part of the brand that they are doing research with rather
than the tradition of not telling the respondent upfront who has commissioned the study. They feel
empowered and engaged.
Self:esteem: Members can receive ’egoboo’ when other members or the researcher (directly or via
the community platform itself such as via most active member counters) recognize and acknowledge
contributions. Egoboo is a form of social reward and is a term that originated from the sci-fi fanzine
scene and related to the positive feeling one receives when something done, said, or written is
recognized and praised.
Enjoyment: Many times we have had members make comments like “I really enjoy reading other
peoples comments and writing my own”. This is not something that traditional research has offered
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Learning: Many community members have also commented that interacting within the community
provides learning opportunities. For example easyJet publish their new schedules to their community
members before making them generally available.
Convenience: ORCs are ‘on’ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week meaning that members can participate in
their own time and from a location of their choosing.
Creativity and non-textual information: ORCs enable user generated content opportunities. For
example members can show their experiences through photo or video that best represents their
experience of dealing with an organization, not just by responding to a survey question.
5. FEEDBACK FROM COMMUNITY MEMBERS
To assess more fully these benefits and how ORCs work to drive member engagement, we observed member
feedback in three ways. First, we polled 1,000 Australian Bureau of Statistics representative online research
participants (sourced from the Your Source research panel) who were asked whether they would participate in
online communities and if so why. Second, we posed questions to community members about their experiences
participating in ORCs. This feedback was conducted during the first half of 2009 during or at the end of ORCs that
the authors have managed and involved both discussions posted with the communities and one-to-one email
conversations with members. Thirdly, we studied the backend analytics provided by our community platform to
see what impact different strategies have on the behavior of the members.
5.1 Are people willing to participate in ORCs?
There is widespread interest in participating in online research communities. We found that 96% of people on a
panel that participates in online survey research would also be willing to participate in an ORC.
Chart 1: Would You Participate in an ORC?
Your Source online omnibus; Jan 2009; n=1000
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Obviously, we need to bear in mind that these people are already active within online market research however it
is still encouraging that, even given the relatively greater time commitment required to participate in an ORC
compared to an online survey, only 4% would not be willing to participate.
ORC members frequently comment that they enjoy participating and enjoy learning from the comments of others.
“I enjoy being involved in forums as u can learn so much from others all around the world. in this forum, I
don’t know a lot about what we discussed but if I wanted to know further I believe I would have been
confident enough to ask. Because I get a lot of knowledge and sometimes friendships out of forums I
wouldn’t always expect prizes/giveaways/cash”.
“I would participate again as I said I did enjoy it and it’s a diff way to learn things from a good selection of
5.2 Why do people participate in communities?
Being able to preview or input into a new product/service, before the general public, is the main reason and
‘getting a behind the scenes look’ ranks third. Fostering exclusivity around these issues therefore, should be a key
engagement mechanism. People also said they want to contribute to advertising campaigns and also directly
impact the success of the company.
Chart 2: Why Would You Participate in an ORC?
Your Source online omnibus; Jan 2009; n=1000
Online research communities succeed in engaging people, in part, because the researcher - respondent interaction
is more human and real than the more artificial nature of Research 1.0. As one community member put it “I prefer
the forum to a normal survey because you can express your own opinions rather than ticking the box that comes
closest to what you think. So many times I’ve had to close a survey because none of the options have represented
my opinion.” Other comments that were supportive of the humanizing aspects of the ORC methodology were:
“This IS a good way for a market research company to gain useful information as everyone has an opinion,
instead of some of the direct targeting to a certain demographic...”
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“I think this is a really important point, expressing your own opinion, rather than just answering what the
surveyer thinks are the answers”.
“I would definitely help out again. I think this type of research is better than surveys because you can feed
off other people’s opinions (if you haven't thought of that idea before) and add your own touch to it”.
Rather than simply asking people to agree or disagree with our assumptions, online research communities give
members the opportunity to articulate their viewpoint or at least align themselves with other members.
“using online communities is a useful way of addressing a larger audience and receiving a wide range of
views on a wider range of topics than you could with face-to-face discussion groups”.
ORC members feel more confident in participating than do respondents in traditional Research 1.0 methods. The
risk of dominant personalities (other participants) overshadowing other members and silencing them from voicing
their opinions is reduced. The ability to be more honest is a key benefit of ORC as a methodology.
“It allows people to be free-er and/or more honest with their opinions as they have a facet of anonymity to
hide behind, and won't be judged or anything”.
“In a forum such as this it is easy to get a lot more honest opinions cos you are not going to have to justify
your opinions as you do in a real life group situation”.
“Engaging with each other in the forum is a lot more fun, and can flesh out more ideas, and as Fee says,
you can be more honest as people won't judge you to your face and you won't feel intimidated/have to
justify your opinions”.
These comments also highlight that Research 1.0 respondents often view researchers as ‘judgmental’.
5.3 What sort of topics do ORC members feel are most suitable for ORCs?
Assessing what topics are suitable involves assessing what members ‘say’ and comparing this to what members
‘will do’. When we reviewed answers to the question “What sort of topics are unsuitable for ORCs?”, the following
responses were typical.
“I think it suitable for a variety of topics as long as they are not too sensitive and personal, like religion for
example might be a topic that might cause trouble if discussed and some opinions could offend others”.
“From this perspective, I think general topics that are not too personal/sensitive are the best for this form
These comments suggest that ORC members desire to not approach anything controversial. Our experience,
however, is that when we do discuss controversial issues (gambling, tax avoidance, speeding, relationships to
previous friends/lovers) there is a significantly higher participation rate. For example, in a recent ORC, one
member started a thread entitled “Married/Defacto” as below:
“I strongly object to married /defacto being linked would like to see them as separate identities”.
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This led to a heated discussion which accounted for 139 replies from members . Here are a few of the comments.
“I agree with Beverleymay, I think married should be seperated from defacto. I've been married to the
same person for 42 years.” beverleymay
“I am so sick of seeing this married/defacto discussion. It's the same thing. I've been defactoed to the same
person for 33 years.” julie.clifford0
“Get a life!! Two people living together, have the same rights after 6 months. I can't believe that so many
people are so thick skinned. Married, signing a piece of paper, spending thousands on a wedding, which
incidentally could be used more productively. De facto, living together making all the same commitments
as a married couple and not wasting thousands on a wedding only to see it go down the gurgler when it
doesn’t work out. What a waste of cash. OK lets see how many De facto couples are still together after x
amount of years and Married who stays 'married the longest. By the way I am divorced, have been for 30
odd years, do I now call myself single, now I have reverted back to my maiden name.. ?” lynne.0
While as researchers we are still charting the boundaries as to what are suitable discussions within the ORC
methodology our learning so far suggests that ORCs may in fact enable a broadening of the topics that researchers
have traditionally discussed with consumers and citizens. Topics that are slightly controversial are likely to evoke a
degree of passion and therefore engage more people.
5.4 Participation Through The Course of an ORC
The final part of this section examines statistics gathered from ORCs and the impact of different approaches on
participation rates. The charts below are from the launch period of an ORC and show membership sign-up over
the same time span as the number of contributions being added.
Chart 3: ORC Membership Sign Up
Note: The line in the chart represents a smoothed rolling average
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Chart 4: ORC Member Contributions
Membership sign up peaked in late April/early May (Chart 3) but it is not until late May (Chart 4) that participation
activity escalated significantly. This is because a group of people put together does not instantly form a
community. Like all any form of community, they are about people interacting with one another in a certain way
for a mutual purpose. Time is required for trust to build and relationships between community moderators and
participants to evolve.
The reason for peaks in Chart 4 rather than gradual inclines, in this example, is due to the community moderator
emailing participants to drive to the community. In general, community members tend not to proactively visit an
ORC that they are a member of. Members require ongoing communications to encourage them to visit the ORC on
a regular basis. Without pro-active management and communications by the community moderator, ORCs risk
Chart 5 shows poll and discussion activity in an ORC; discussions have been run weekly and quick polls have been
used more intermittently. The chart shows that there is a direct correlation between the response rate of polls
and discussions on a week by week basis. Polls typically gather higher response rates because of the ease and
speed of participation.
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Chart 5: Poll and Discussion Participation
Chart 5 shows discussions of a similar nature that were conducted using the same style from beginning to end,
enabling us to review the impact of incentives.
1. In the first week on the chart, respondents were being incentivised on a per participation basis of
about $3 of points per person.
2. The sudden drop accounts for a change in method of incentivisation, where prize draws were used
instead of points.
3. The sudden spike around the 6th April 2009 was in correlation to a shift from prize draws to $10
petrol vouchers. Despite the petrol vouchers holding a significantly higher dollar value than the
points, they did not exceed or match the same level of number of hits that the points were
previously associated with. However this is the first impression that incentives are not sufficient to
maintain member engagement.
4. The sudden drop around the 13th April 2009 ties directly to the return to prize draws and
subsequently sees a general decline in participation rates.
The results here are typical for communities that fail to actively engage with members and rely solely on
Finally, we look at the life cycle of an item in a community, in this instance a discussion. Charts 6 and 7 both show
the same correlation that discussions have an early spike (particularly when members are notified by e-mail) and
then slow down as attention moves elsewhere.
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Chart 6: ‘Calling All Yogurt Lovers’ Discussion
Chart 7: ‘Who Needs Meat Anyway’ Discussion
New topics and activities that are of interest to the community members need to be introduced regularly to keep
members engaged. However care needs to be taken when posting new topics. There is a fine balance between too
many and too few topics running at any one time. Too few and members will become unengaged at the lack of
option, too many and respondents will be divided between which topics to discuss and consequently the level of
activity on an individual item will be too small to gain traction.
To summarise, the feedback and reactions from consumers and citizens towards ORCs is very positive. Nearly
everybody currently participating in online surveys is willing to participate in ORCs. Those that have participated in
ORCs give the technique a big ‘thumbs up’. The inference from our findings is that ORCs offer huge potential to
improve response rates and broaden the pool of people willing to ‘give research a go’. We would expect to see a
large number of the general population who do not currently participate in ‘Research 1.0’ activities to be
interested in participating in ORCs. The challenge for community moderators will be to ensure that members are
engaged throughout the life of the community and particularly in the formative stages of participation. The
following section addresses the practical challenges to achieve this.
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6. PRACTICAL GUIDELINES TO OPTIMIZE MEMBER ENGAGEMENT
Drawing from the learnings derived directly from community members, highlighted above, and our own
experience in managing ORCs, we offer the following practical guidelines across five broad categories:
Attracting community members
Conditioning community members
Treating community members
Motivating community members
Interacting with community members
6.1 ATTRACTING COMMUNITY MEMBERS
To initiate a community the researcher needs to populate it, i.e. find and attract members.
The two most popular ways of sourcing closed ORC members are client lists and via online access panels. Client
lists have the advantage of leveraging existing relationships, whereas online access panels have a wider reach and
can be a very fast method of recruiting.
Other options do exist and are often appropriate, particularly in addition to client databases and panels. The other
methods include pop-ups and links on the client’s website, member referrals, and offline approaches such as
leaflets in key locations, or letters to the homes of people directly affected (for example in a local government
Open ORC recruitment can involve existing member referrals, digital advertising (e.g. on Google), search engine
optimization techniques and seeding on other social sites (eg Twitter).
6.1.2 How Large Should Your Community Be?
There is no single answer to how large an ORC should be. The answer depends on a number of factors. The key
element is that the community has to have sufficient members to ensure that the community answers the
research needs it has been created for and it has to have sufficient members to create the required level of
dynamism and interaction. At the same time, the community needs to be small enough to create a real community
and to be manageable. The final driver of community size is cost. Larger communities cost more to recruit, more to
incentivize, and much more to manage (in terms of moderation and reporting).
Short-term communities tend to be smaller. The research needs tend to be narrower, sub-groups and topics tend
to be of less interest and attrition rates tend to be less important. In this case, community size usually means
anything from 20 to 250 people.
Long-term communities tend to be larger than short-term communities, with members ranging from 200 to 5,000.
The smaller long-term communities are focused on developing ongoing conversations and high quality feedback.
The larger communities tend to focus on semi-quant techniques (such as surveys) and on sub-groups.
Like in real life, engagement is optimized when members get a sense that they are in a community rather than a
crowd. In the larger communities, this is normally achieved by people mostly interacting with sub-groups. For
example in an airline community, sub-groups might include business flyers, regular family trip flyers, and
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6.1.3 Topic Focus
The mix of topics discussed within the community needs to be sufficiently interesting to create and maintain
engagement. The comment below reflects feedback from a member (within an energy sector ORC) indicating a
preference for more specific, and meaty, topics.
“I think the topics need to be more specific to extract some quality ideas. Ideas that could make a real
difference, and could potentially be used by many, not just folks that want to save 20 cents, washing their
smalls, using off peak (not new). For example, a more specific discussion point would be how can energy
companies help consumers take up Solar power. Then there might be more ideas about how to solve the
capital investment hurdle to get into solar power, and provide a solution for a greater number of
consumers, and achieve a real outcome. Then you might get ideas such as: Energy companies could fund
the initial outlay in areas where their infrastructure is lagging, on the proviso that surplus energy
generated that is returned to the grid is used to 'pay off' the capital investment”.
The ability for members to suggest topic ideas is a critical part of both the ethos of Research 2.0 and the need to
maximize the benefit from the community.
6.1.4 Member Focus
Imagine you were hosting a dinner party for a group of friends. Thought goes into the composition of guests, to
ensure that everyone will have a pleasant and perhaps stimulating evening. The same consideration needs to go
into the design of a community.
How similar and different should the members be in terms of demographics, psychographics, and interests.
Consideration needs to be given to whether to mix customers with non-customers.
The key thing to keep in mind is that an ORC needs to be a community, different, incompatible types of people will
struggle to create an effective community.
6.2 CONDITIONING COMMUNITY MEMBERS
There is a saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, this is very true of ORCs. When
members sign-up to a community they have no clear idea of what is involved, they are not a community, and the
community is not part of their daily life. The design and moderation of the community needs to form these
disparate arrivals into an effective community.
6.2.1 Early Expectation Setting
The expectation setting begins with the recruitment process. Let people know how long the community will run for
(three days, three months, ongoing), let them know how often you would like them to visit the community (several
times a day, daily, two-four times a week, weekly), tell them about an incentive, and tell them about the purpose
of the community (e.g. helping Suncorp provide a better banking experience, Virginblue a better flying experience,
or Woolworths a better shopping experience).
When new members arrive at the community, welcome them, introduce the lead moderator, and ensure that new
members have a task to do as soon as they join for example a discussion or a poll, or ideally both.
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6.2.2 Setting Up the Site and Platform Issues
Unless you are running a community for tech experts, the platform has to be friendly and obvious. People should
be able feel they are in a community, see all of the options, and not be required to read a long list of instructions.
People can use Google, Wikipedia, and Facebook without a manual; the same should be true of your community.
6.2.3 Early Days
In the early days of establishing the community (think minutes and hours), it is important to establish ‘critical mass’
and momentum. Think of it like a party, perhaps at a nightclub. If you arrive and no one is there except for the
catering staff (researchers), the experience is likely to start to feel lame and it is likely you will leave. A new
community needs to be lively within minutes of it being launched.
One of the benefits of using an online panel or a client database to recruit a community is that the invitation can
be sent out in such a way that a significant number of new members arrive at the same time (i.e. within one hour
of the invitations being sent, if they are sent between 10.00am and 4.00pm, Monday to Friday).
6.3 TREATING COMMUNITY MEMBERS
There is a growing body of opinion on the key issues about how moderators interact with community members,
the two strands being ethics and efficiency.
6.3.1 Transparency and Honesty
The basic rule is very simple - say what you are doing and do what you are saying! This is consistent with both the
Web 2.0 philosophy, trends in data protection legislation, and the requirement to engender trust and honesty in
6.3.2 The Moderator
The relationship between the moderator and the community is the key to the success of an ORC. If they have a
connection with you, they have a connection with the community15.
In natural online communities the key connections are often between community members. In an ORC the key
connection is between the members and the moderator. If moderator/member connection fails, the community
Like traditional focus groups, ORC come alive when members start to share information about themselves and
contextualize their answers. For example in an ORC discussing Private Health Insurance, a member commented
“When my ex husband left me, I had to…”. This won’t come from day one. Community moderators need to build
the trust of members before they start talking about the real highs and lows of their lives. The more comfortable
and therefore open your members are, the stronger your community becomes. Community moderators (and other
researchers and organizational stakeholders participating in the community) need to set the example and share
relevant personal information with community members. If you don’t disclose your age or your marital status why
would a member? Opening up and sharing part of yourself includes the use of real and ideally close up photos of
yourself. As a community moderator, do not hide behind an avatar.
6.3.3 Moderating an ORC and the Similarities and Differences to Focus Groups
The main similarity with a focus group is the need to have a discussion guide. Productive conversations do not,
usually, just happen. The conversations in an ORC take place over a longer time-span, but they need to be
purposeful and planned.
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In an ORC the discussion guide will tend to be detailed for the upcoming week, with less specificity for the
following weeks, perhaps simply highlighting future topics along with the objectives that need to be met.
The key difference between moderating an ORC (other than the timeline) is the need too for the moderator
(community manager) to be part of the community. In a focus group the moderator is often positioned as the
external observer. In an ORC the community moderator has to engage with the members as a first amongst equals,
both to stimulate the community and to engender trust. The effort to be constantly visible and part of the fabric
of the community should not be underestimated. Often we have used multiple community managers (each fully
familiar with the community members) to ensure that we can go the extra mile to support and engage members.
6.3.4 Client Involvement
Ideally the client should be fully involved in their community. One of the key reasons why members take part in
communities is to have an impact on the brand, they want to know they have been heard, and they want to know
their contributions have resulted in changes. The best way to prove that members are being listened to is for the
client to be present in the community, taking part in conversations, answering questions, and reporting back on
changes which have resulted, at least in part, from community input.
6.3.5 Delegate and Empower
The more influence members have within the ORC, the more engaged they will be and the more interest they will
have in its success.
The way that empowerment is achieved will vary from case to case, but the most typical method is to permit
members to suggest or create their own discussion threads. Some communities permit members to create their
One way of delegating tasks is to create ‘missions’ for specific members. Examples of missions might include asking
a member to visit a website and report back, or to keep a log of a trip or journey, or to write a blog.
6.3.6 Don’t Add Unnecessary Features
It has almost become a maxim among all forms of social networking that a community is based on people, not on
technology. This rings completely true for an ORC. The more features available, the more careful you have to be.
There is a risk of confusing and diluting your community. For example, adding games, cartoons, and news feeds
can increase the time spent in the community, but reduce the time spend in community activities.
Features that relate to specific functions should, ideally, only be present if they are needed at that time. For
example, if your community has a video-chat facility, it should only be present when it is in use, otherwise it is
simply a distraction. This is especially true early on in the life of an ORC.
6.4. MOTIVATING COMMUNITY MEMBERS
Motivation relies on understanding the community members and having general and specific strategies to keep
members engaged and productive.
6.4.1 Ability to Know Who Has Done What and When
One of the key requirements to maintaining motivation is for the moderator to know who has done what, and who
has not. Whenever a member posts, comments or uploads, the moderator needs to receive an alert to let them
know something is happening, and the moderator also needs to be able to search the log of actions to be able to
find specific cases.
6.4.2 Analyze Engagement Statistics from the Community
ORC engagement statistics should be monitored frequently, at least weekly, to ensure that the health of the
community in terms of both numbers of contributing members and the strength of contributions is known.
The following screen shot is from the dashboard of Colmar Brunton’s Your Community software.
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6.4.3 Incentive Issues
Most communities use a mixture of extrinsic incentives (for example cash rewards) and intrinsic rewards (for
example the egoboo of lots of people agreeing with your comment).
In terms of extrinsic rewards there are a number of issues to consider. Are you going to reward participation (e.g.
frequency), quality of contribution (as defined by the moderator, the client, or other community members), or
offer a chance based reward? Are you going to use one method, or a combination, or none at all?
Although most practitioners agree that people should be taking part in communities because they find them
intrinsically rewarding, the ethics and practicalities of ORCs suggest that there should usually be some form of
extrinsic reward/motivation. We have developed normative guidelines on this issue and have found, for example,
that mentioning a small (up to $100 per week) lucky prize draw up front is important and lifts weekly member
participation by 34% and weekly responses by 62% compared to not mentioning an incentive upfront.
6.5. INTERACTING WITH COMMUNITY MEMBERS
Traditional research had long phases of inactivity for the researcher. While a questionnaire was with scripting,
when it was in the field, and while the tables were being prepared, the researchers would typically be looking after
other projects. However, ORCs are an ‘always on’ medium, and members expect to be able to contact the
moderators on an almost 24/7 basis.
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6.5.1 Communicating With Members
If this sounds like a huge task, that’s because it is. It’s also an important one and should be done on a daily basis.
However, communicating with members is not something you have to spend hours doing. Many moderators find
that it is often enough to spend 30 minutes, twice a day, to recognize the members who keep the community
afloat by spend a good portion of their time on your site.
6.5.2 Effective and Efficient Communications With Members
Here are a number of ORC moderator techniques that we have found to be useful16:
1. Comment on ORC member contributions and be sure to compliment the author publicly.
For example, ”This is a great idea KC1971.”
2. Make a helpful suggestion, indicating that you value their content. For example, “Great post. You might
want to add a link to your last blog since it’s related.”
3. Ask for their opinion based on what you know about them. For example, “I know you’ve commented
previously on the counter service you get at banks, how does the telephone service compare”
4. Write to community members that haven’t participated in the last couple of weeks. Tell them you miss
5. Send as many personal e-mails as time allows. For example, “Jack, you were one of our top posters last
week. Just want you to know how much I appreciate your time. Keep it up!”
6. As with focus group moderation, probe for the views of quieter contributors in addition to those of more
The trick with member communication is to be responsive. We are in the digital age and responses beyond 24
hours start to date fast.
6.5.3 Members Communicating With You and Each Other
In a natural community members tend to communicate with each other, in a research community the bulk of
communication is between the members and the moderator. Communication between members should be
encouraged. For example, ”What do we think of Ella5 and Jude2007 ideas about the ads that we’ve looked at ”.
Over time you will notice the value by way of improved engagement and ideation processes that this generates.
6.5.4 Communicating the Findings Back to Members
An important part of the motivating process, and the honesty process, it is important to feed information back to
community members. Both in terms of what you have learnt from the community and in terms of what the client is
doing as a consequence.
6.5.5 Supporting Technical Issues
From time to time members will have technical problems, which may range from forgetting their passwords
through to problems with extended features such as video conferencing. You need to provide the best technical
support you can.
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Optimal ORC member engagement offers huge benefit to researchers in the form of the quality and quantity of
fast ‘data’. This paper provides guidance to ensure ORCs are optimally managed to achieve the ongoing and willing
participation of target consumers so that researches can realize these data benefits and therefore deliver
impactful insights. Furthermore, market researchers have an obligation to each other to create positive
experiences for consumers and citizens (who for decades we’ve known as respondents). As this paper outlines,
consumers and citizens are active equals to researchers in the Research 2.0 world.
ORC member engagement will only occur by doing a lot of small things right. By having the right philosophy
regarding the researcher - respondent relationship. By thinking carefully about what the community is trying to
achieve and what types of members should be attracted. By working diligently to ensure that the members are
appropriately communicated with, encouraged and supported. And by being responsive to member issues and
having a service culture to how members are treated. By thinking carefully about the role of incentives. By thinking
about what you are trying to achieve from the community and communicating this framework in a transparent
way ongoing. Ensuring online research communities succeed means ensuring that members are engaged.
Optimising engagement is about a whole range of issues done well. Just like engaging communities in real life.
Steven Cierpicki, Global Head of Research 2.0, Colmar Brunton, Australia
Address: 95 Edward Street, Brisbane, QLD, 4000, Australia
Phone: +61 7 3026 3000 fax: + 61 7 3026 3030
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Li. C and Bernoff, J (2008), Groundswell, Harvard Business Press, p97
Ray Poynter, Steven Cierpicki, Pete Cape, Andrew Lewis, and Shizue Vieira (2009) “What Does Research 2.0 Mean
To Consumers In Asia Pacific?” ESOMAR Asia Pacific, Beijing, 5-7 April.
John Shanahan, Ray Poynter, Jason Ho (2008) “Homogenenity or Heterogeneity? Social Networks and Asia
Pacific” ESOMAR Asia Pacific, Singapore.
For example: Verhoef P, and Leeflang P (2009) “Understanding the Marketing Department’s Influence Within The
Firm”, Journal of Marketing Vol 73 (March) 14 – 37; Rust R et al (2004) “Measuring Marketing Productivity: Current
Knowledge and Future Directions” Journal of Marketing Vol 68 October, 76 - 89
See for example Schultz, D (2004) “Market Research Deserves Blame For Marketing’s Decline”, Marketing News,
(February 15), p7
Prahalad CK, and Ramaswamy V (2000), “Co-opting Customer Competence”, Harvard Business Review, January –
February p 79 - 87
Comely, P (2008) “Online Research Communities – A User Guide”, International Journal of Market Research Vol.
50 Issue 5
In a recent Gartner group press release (October 6th 2008), it was stated that “more than 60% of Fortune 1000
companies with a web site will connect to or host a form of online community by 2010.
Li. C and Bernoff, J (2008), Groundswell, Harvard Business Press
For example see: “Will Web 2.0 Transform Market Research?” Brad Bortner, Forrester White Paper, April 2008.
Peter Harris (2009) “Aha: How Online Communities Will Shift Research From A Cost Centre To A Knowledge
Centre” ESOMAR Asia Pacific, Beijing, 5-7 April 2009.
Manila Austin and Paul Caswell (2008) “How Disney Bridges the Multi-cultural Divide Building trust as a
prerequisite for insight”, ESOMAR Congress, Montreal
The full discussion can be seen at http://www.opinionspaid.com/op/forums/t/2866.aspx.
Falling response rates have been a major topic of concern for market research for a number of years, with most
national and international organisations tracking and debating the decline in response rates. The 2008 Confirmit
Report highlighted that this was seen by agencies as the most significant challenge facing market research. The
report showed 57% of research organisations listed it as a challenge in 2008, and 25% listed it as the major
We’ve adapted these from http://www.communityspark.com/get-more-members-of-your-online-community-
active/ which is a great site.
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