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A research paper on how to engage with members in Market Research Online Communities.

A research paper on how to engage with members in Market Research Online Communities.

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  • 2. RESEARCH 2.0: IT’S ALL THE BUZZ BUT WHAT DRIVES MEMBER ENGAGEMENT? HOW TO ENSURE ONLINE RESEARCH COMMUNITIES SUCCEED. KEY WORDS Research 2.0; online research communities; emerging research techniques; engagement. 1. INTRODUCTION 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 research communities). 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 2
  • 3. 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 researcher. 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 2 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 3
  • 4. 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 4 progressive global weakening of the marketing function within organisations and the impotency of the market 5 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 4
  • 5. 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 9 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 as: “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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 5
  • 6. 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 6
  • 7. 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 ‘respondents’. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 7
  • 8. 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 Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 8
  • 9. 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 people”. 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...” Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 9
  • 10. “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 of discussion” . 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”. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 10
  • 11. 13 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 Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 11
  • 12. 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 drying up. 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 12
  • 13. 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 incentives. 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 13
  • 14. 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 14 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 14
  • 15. 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. 6.1.1 Recruitment 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 consultation forum). 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 occasional/holiday flyers. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 15
  • 16. 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 16
  • 17. 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 the community. 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 will fail. 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 17
  • 18. 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 own polls. 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 18
  • 19. 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 19
  • 20. 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 their contributions. 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 active members. 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. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 20
  • 21. 7. Summary 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. CONTACT INFORMATION 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 Email: Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 21
  • 22. 1 Li. C and Bernoff, J (2008), Groundswell, Harvard Business Press, p97 2 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. 3 John Shanahan, Ray Poynter, Jason Ho (2008) “Homogenenity or Heterogeneity? Social Networks and Asia Pacific” ESOMAR Asia Pacific, Singapore. 4 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 5 See for example Schultz, D (2004) “Market Research Deserves Blame For Marketing’s Decline”, Marketing News, (February 15), p7 6 Prahalad CK, and Ramaswamy V (2000), “Co-opting Customer Competence”, Harvard Business Review, January – February p 79 - 87 7 Comely, P (2008) “Online Research Communities – A User Guide”, International Journal of Market Research Vol. 50 Issue 5 8 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. 9 Li. C and Bernoff, J (2008), Groundswell, Harvard Business Press 10 For example see: “Will Web 2.0 Transform Market Research?” Brad Bortner, Forrester White Paper, April 2008. 11 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. 12 Manila Austin and Paul Caswell (2008) “How Disney Bridges the Multi-cultural Divide Building trust as a prerequisite for insight”, ESOMAR Congress, Montreal 13 The full discussion can be seen at 14 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 challenge. 15 16 We’ve adapted these from active/ which is a great site. Demonstrating The ROI of Customer Experience – The Flight Centre Case Study Page 22