Social media has gained considerable human relevance. User-created content,citizen journalism and online social interactions (e.g. conversation,collaboration, participation, sharing, connecting) are embedded into the daily livesof consumers. With the different semantic waves of the web, the entire marketresearch process and industry has undergone clear changes.Market research has changed from asking questions to havingconversations with consumers. Online Research Communities have proven to bea viable environment to engage with consumers as well as marketing executives ina connected and participatory way. What makes research communities unique isthat they assemble consumers to interact in an asynchronous longitudinalsetting by applying social media techniques. Companies outsource tasks to acrowd (e.g. product and service creation and testing) in an open call in order tobring consumers inside organizations all the way up to the boardroom. Researchcommunities bring true consumer connect between marketers and their targetgroups as they use interactive tools to tap into social interactions between people,and allow a more equal relationship between researchers, brands and participants.
Why are research communities so hot today?Just like any information technology they bring And still there is a friction between the ability andautomational, informational and desire to conduct research communities in ourtransformational value (Day 1994; Grover et al. industry. The status of online research communities today is comparable to teenagers and their first1996; Mooney et al. 1996). They may bringautomational effects because, for sexual experience. Everyone says they are doingexample, communities allow quickly tapping into a it, everyone wants to do it … but in the end no-sample of consumers on a specific topic that one really knows how to do it well. This situationpresents itself, which makes getting the answer to a is reflected in the Greenbook Research Industryspecific question more efficient. The informational Trends 2011. Over 50% of researchers indicate theyvalue emerges from the fact that the inherent quality have plans in the future for running researchof consumer understanding we get is of better communities (ranking 2nd out of 16 emergingquality. Consumer input is multimedia, embedded technologies), while only 11% of researchers indicatein people’s life context as well more reflected they understand how to do it (ranking 16th out of 16and reasoned. Transformational outcomes of emerging technologies) (GRIT 2011).research communities lay in the fact that researchcommunities allow to perform tasks which were Hence, there is a need for an overview and somepreviously not possible without the asynchronoustechnology and engagement over time. Examples concrete tips on how to run online researchare in combining research communities with mobile communities.technologies as well as integration in socialnetworks.
Online Research Communities: types & applications
When positioning online research communities in the social media research space we should distinguish them from the natural communities and social networks where content and conversations self-generate between consumers. Researchers can tap into these for knowledge via social media nethnography methods like social media listening, scraping and ethnographical, qualitative observation.Positioning Online Online research communities assemble consumers purposefully though; consumers who wish to engageResearch Communities and co-create with brands. Communities are upon invitation-only and with a marketing and research motivation. These private research communities focus on a specific product category, brand or customer segment. Online research communities allow marketers to observe, facilitate and join conversations between consumers. Consumers enjoy this more participatory research approach and the interaction re-introduces the social context often missing from other research approaches that conceive the consumer as subordinate and approach them in a top-down isolated fashion.
In terms of taxonomy there areseveral labels and definitions forresearch communities used inpractice today, which may lead tosome confusion and some may evendebate whether all of the labelsclassify as real communities. Thelabels range from online researchcommunities, over market researchonline communities (MROCs), bulletinboards, blogs, community panels, on-going communities, etc. (see table 1).What they do share is that they are all some sort of asynchronous discussion platforms but they vary in terms ofduration (short term and ad hoc to on-going), intensity of moderation (longer lasting communities are less intense orcommunity panels are even just a form of access panels), direction of conversations and the number of researchtechniques used (ranging from synchronous online discussion groups, surveys, diary blogs, one-on-one interviews).
As mentioned, research communities can vary in termsduration and intensity. But when do you need a shortversus a long term community? As often is the case inresearch it depends on the management and researchobjectives marketers have. Research communities can beused throughout the marketing mix for understanding,developing, implementing or optimizing marketing offers (seefigure 1). For consumer insight, for example, communitiesare used at the fuzzy front end of product innovation or forconsumer immersion. In a development marketing phasenew value propositions are developed for product concepts,brands or activation campaigns. Implementation communitiesare organized when products or services are about to belaunched and need market testing, e.g. for beta-testing or inhome user tests. Finally research communities can be usedfor gathering feedback on customer experience andsatisfaction processes.
It’s not about technology, let’s bring the consumer into the boardroom
Often times the focus these days is on technology and tools while what thecommon ground real communities should share is engagement. Unlike internetaccess panels, participants in a research community talk to each otheras well as to researchers and marketers. Consumers exchange ideas intheir own consumer language and raise questions and answers whichresearchers sometimes did not even ask. In other words, the social contextand interaction is important and provides a holistic understanding. Thiscan only be achieved by means of creating engagement at different levels,however.First, there is a need for natural engagement which implies that consumershave to identify with the topic or the brand under investigation. A second formof engagement that is needed is method engagement. This implies thatresearchers should propose questions in a fun and challenging way to increaseparticipation and quality of input (e.g. gamification, infotainment, challenges).Finally, research communities need to create impact engagement whichimplies to create impact at the client management side.
1 Engaging with participants - natural & method engagementMany practitioners focus on the absolute number of people they connect with in research communities. Whileimportant we argue that sample size is subordinate. What is really important is the number of interactionsper discussion thread which can only be created through engagement with consumers. Setting up an onlineresearch community is technically easy, but in order to make interactions useful and effective, researchersneed adequate processes for (Schillewaert et al.2011):Natural engagement: Purposeful sampling. Researchers are Small is beautiful and better short and intense. Depending advised to create natural engagement by on the research objective research communities can last a sampling brand fans or consumers who couple of weeks or months or be on-going – they can have 50 or show an interest in the topic when recruiting a several hundreds of participants – it depends. But one needs to for research communities. True these be aware that longer and larger communities need higher consumers are “biased”, but at least they engagement and require more resources. Lurking can increase reflect an illustrative consumer reality and with too many participants or an over-whelming number of posts. generate in-depth discussion. A paradox? Not really. When participants see too much information they disconnect because they are convinced their opinion has already been voiced and adds less or no value.
Method engagement (1): Adapt the context and Build the community. Once Engage as many environment to the target participants are screened and stakeholders as possible. group. For example, let participants recruited, “kick off” sessions are Engaging members of the important to build engagement on a marketing team, senior choose colors and the name of the social as well as informational level. management or a well known community or put topics and expert from the industry or questions on the discussion Such sessions discuss the research academia to participate in the agenda. Foresee a social corner agenda and objectives, the client is discussion spurs activity (next to the actual discussion presented and participants get levels tremendously. space) where participants can acquainted. interact “off topic”. If needed moderators should guide participants to such a social corner. In doing so the community is for and by members.
Method engagement:(2): engagement Moderators should develop the C-factor – What we ‘do’ to people is as important as what the “C” of community manager. Good we ‘ask’ them. Give participants tasks to perform moderators have good writing skills, are and play games with them which generate insights. creative and apply “social media” in human We can make people generate information for us by interaction. Moderators need to be aware that introducing more fun elements and creativity. In his community discussions can last for too long book Brain Rules (2008), Dr Medina posits that we and moderators need to pay attention to often ignore how the brain works, and so do we steering interaction. There is an important role researchers. If we would apply some of his 12 rules to for researchers and community moderators in how researchers can generate information, we could building identification with the community, get more productive. As an example, there are five keeping up the engagement with the topic to rules that are particularly relevant for market research: keep the discussion going while not letting (1) „exercise boosts brain power‟ (rule #1); (2) „we do members over-socialize and drift away from not pay attention to boring things‟ (rule #4); (3) the researchers‟ agenda. Too strong social „stimulate more of the senses‟ (rule #9); (4) „vision relations among members of a research trumps all other senses‟ (rule #10); and „we are community can be counterproductive as they powerful and natural explorers‟ (rule #12). In doing so lead to irrelevant discussions. researchers play on the engagement and brand relation of participants. Allow participants to do what they like, surprise them with something special and check out their reaction.
2 Engaging with internal stakeholders – impact engagementIf we are completely honest, a lot of the research that is commissioned does not have the necessaryimpact. Unfortunately, research has commoditized as clients search for „more and cheaper‟, not truetransformation or added value. Still, the core of market research should be to bring the voice andideas of consumers inside organizations all the way up to the boardroom. Because of their verynature online research communities allow to do this, but researchers need to create internal engagementand change management. Market research studies are not only about formal presentations, knowledgemanagement and communication programmes. The informal „hall talk‟ is an equally powerful way to havemanagers use and share intelligence. The most powerful is when research is a conversation starterand generates lively stories about customers. This can be done in three phases:
Phase 1: Engage the internal audience via positive disruption. Create a friction interms of contrasting management knowledge with actual market situations via e.g. games andquizzes with managers. Let executives participate in a consumer quiz to learn about consumerfindings. By answering questions about consumers they receive social status (e.g. abadge), achieve different game levels and unlock extra information when progressing – at leastsomething worth talking about..Phase 2: Inspire executives by allowing them to observe, facilitate and even join theconsumer conversations in the community. Allow executives to participate in the community.Phase 3: Activate managers to increase their usage of market research studies in theirdaily job by means of using creative and inspiring sessions and organize internal news streams andinfotainment (e.g. via twitter updates, newsletters, infographics, mood boards).By creating internal engagement executives’ knowledge will increase, they willconverse about the study at the water cooler and will continue to observe consumersbeyond the mere report (De Ruyck et al., 2011).
ConclusionMarket research is in a state of limbo. Research communities can help to bring theconsumer into the boardroom by means of creative intelligence generationmethods, making sure research is a conversation starter to stimulate managementresponsiveness. We need „enacting‟ research communities that create ENgagement andACTivation among clients as well as participants, through gamification, stories andexperiences.
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Want to know more aboutresearch communities? Tom De Ruyck Head of Research Communities +32 9 269 14 07 firstname.lastname@example.org