This post was originally published on edelman.com.
At its most basic level, an online community is an invitation-only, private-access website for conducting research with a carefully selected target audience. Put another way, it’s like having a small, private social network just for research.
Businesses are increasingly turning to customer feedback and specifically online communities to generate insights, but insights don’t just appear (though we often wish they did). Successful online communities are the result of a carefully executed strategy, solid design and patient nurturing. Though they may seem like a lot of work, the benefits an online community can bring to your brand make the efforts worthwhile.
Here are some important tips that we have used over the years to get closer to the heart of true insights in online communities:
- Start with experiences: We all know the drawbacks of reported behavior, but having people describe their experiences in free flowing ways is a great technique to spot ideas and challenges. Think about semi-ethnographic ways for consumers to tell you about their last experience with your product through online diaries, journals and photo exercises.
- Don’t let the garbage in: Make sure you are focusing on the right issues for your business. Ask questions and introduce topics that really matter. If you don’t know why you are asking a question, then don’t ask.
- Give people room to breathe: Don’t overburden your community with too many focused research tasks. Instead, prompt them with softer content (e.g. articles, tips/advice) to solicit more undirected feedback and user generated content that will lead to insights. Avoid tedious and repetitive surveys. Just because you have a continuous relationship with your community members doesn’t mean you should ask them the same questions over and over again.
- Take a step back: Regularly look at themes and ideas that emerge across the broader community rather than just focusing on feedback for individual issues or activities. Take the time to connect the dots.
- Say, “so what”: Focus on implications. When reviewing feedback, always ask “so, what” does this mean for my business?
Of course, this list is not exhaustive. I would love to hear about any additional tips you have for generating insights in your communities. What would you add to the list?
Image credit: Chrisjbarker