Creating a successful research community

Creating a successful research community

Online market research communities work in exactly the same way as any other communities in real life. But getting these right is not easy. Do you know what to do?

Communities unite people around a specific focus and around the pursuit of shared interests and goals. Online research communities are exactly the same, albeit for a relatively short period of time. Done well, they allow interaction between like-minded people and enrich their lives. Afterwards we often get member comments like "Thanks for a great discussion - it’s been really interesting seeing other people's viewpoints" or "I've found out lots of different things in this community – I greatly appreciate it, many thanks".

So how do you create a successful online research community? The prerequisite is to get an understanding of the members’ interests, motivations and goals. Only then can you define the objectives of your community and fulfil its insight potential. But all too often researchers make their own agenda and objectives the priority. That’s why many research communities fail. Your focus should always be on the members not your own interests.

Below we outline some of the mistakes that community researchers should avoid when designing, creating and managing an online research community:

Using membership size as a community goal

Perhaps the biggest mistake of creating online research communities is to cram in as many members as possible. But what difference does it make how many members you have if no one is speaking? Don’t focus on the numbers; concentrate on the quality of the participation. Smaller communities always work better because everyone gets to speak and see what everyone else is saying. Individual voices get lost in huge crowds.

Assuming that conversations will take place spontaneously

There is a belief that research communities spring into life on their own. Not so. Communities need to be actively nurtured, supported and encouraged throughout their lives. People need to see the value of taking part and to see reasons why they should engage with the community. Great ways of doing this are to provide interesting and motivating content and creating stimulating subjects for discussion.

Believing that you know what’s best for the community

You may want your research community to end up in a particular place. But your members may have other plans. Listen to them. Going against the wishes of the community’s voice is unlikely to succeed. If they feel they are being ignored or uncared for, expect them to leave you in droves.

Creating irrelevant features

Why add features your community doesn’t need? Always ask yourself whether your members need the new feature. Does it make sense considering the community’s activity or focus? The growth of your community may include adding new features, but always first consider what value the feature adds to the community and insight as a whole.

Imposing what can and can't be said in the community

No one likes rude or negative contributors. There is no excuse for bad or offensive behaviour. But things you don’t necessarily want to hear are not reasons to exclude people. The community will very quickly see through any attempts to steer the discussion. Having said that, it is important to set some guidelines. But once you’ve created an active community, you don’t need to spend time policing it. Instead your members will do that for you. In fact, it gives them a greater sense of shared identity and strengthens the bonds between members.

Making tasks too difficult

Make tasks as easy as possible. For example, don’t ask them to start a brand new topic of discussion until they are ready. Instead ask for their opinion on an existing subject. Ask them to share experiences (e.g. how they became interested in the topic) or ask them to post a photo or video they find interesting.

Putting members in the spotlight

Don’t use an ‘introduce yourself’ thread or a self-disclosure discussion. Imagine if you were in a room full of people and the party host suddenly asked you to introduce yourself to everyone. It’s an extremely uncomfortable situation for most people.

Not responding quickly to issues or questions

Many communities lose a lot of newcomers after they make their first contribution. At this stage you need to respond quickly and positively, usually with a thanks and a supplementary question that sustains the discussion. It's difficult to get most people to make their second contribution to the community. A quick and positive response from you and other community members will help them settle into the community.

Not having a friend feature

Make sure that your community has friend building functionality. Building relationships with other members and feeling that they're part of a group keeps members returning to the community to see what's new. It helps to guide members towards others that share their values, habits or interests (who they are, what they do, or what they think/feel).

Not speaking the language your community understands

If you talk in business jargon no one will want to talk with you. Not only is it condescending (look how much smarter I am than you!), it actually makes you a much less effective communicator. If you speak to your community like a conversation you'd have with someone in a pub, you're far more likely to retain members. They may even recommend your community on other sites or social media.

Do any of the above sound familiar?

If you have had a poor experience of research communities, don’t give up. Well managed communities are one of the most effective tools in the new research tool box.

Please speak to us and we will design, create and manage a really dynamic, motivated and insightful community for you. We have done so for many very satisfied clients. And of course, we never forget the satisfaction of our community members.

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