4 Key Factors to Building Successful Online Research Communities

  • author

    Béatrice Maccario

  • posted

    Dec 07, 2021

  • topic

    Market Research

4 Key Factors to Building Successful Online Research Communities

Online research communities offer many advantages and can be a powerful tool for creating better connections with consumers, users, and influencers. The community setup and how it performs are based on a few keys that are ultimately relatively easy to incorporate.

Community management and regular monitoring are essential to ensure the sustainability of your communities.

What Are Online Research Communities?

In the field of market research, an online community brings together members in order to share opinions, ideas, and experiences. They can connect to express themselves through a multiplicity of media, including text, images, audio, and video.

These communities are based on the questioning and interaction of different targets via blogs, forums, virtual chats, and online focus groups. They can also support surveys when a quantified measure is necessary.

Small or medium-term communities are used most often to conduct ad-hoc qualitative studies with fewer than 100 people. Large communities of several hundred or even several thousand members can manage both qualitative and quantitative studies.

Depending on the topic of the study, you can invite all types of profiles to a community without any geographic limit — the general public or experts, young and old, consumers or non-consumers, brand employees, and more.

These online research communities typically share several characteristics:

  • Access is by invitation only, so interactions are mostly private.
  • Members’ interactions are done under pseudonyms or usernames to guarantee anonymity and free speech.
  • A majority of the interactions are based on an asynchronous mode of participation.

Such communities are generally used to collect insights, work on innovation or co-creation, continuously listen to client voices, move toward becoming more customer-centric, inspire marketing teams and more.

Regardless of their purpose, researchers who are building and managing online communities must determine who will be part of the community, the types of activities offered, what will motivate members to participate, and what message should be conveyed about the brand. Here’s a closer look at these four key factors and how you can make sure your insights community is set up for success.

1. Identify the right sample size for better management of your community

Depending on the duration and objectives of the community, you should diversify the profiles while respecting a certain number of criteria in order to allow for a reliable reading of the results.

  • For a community of a few days intended to explore uses or test concepts, 20 to 30 people is sufficient. The basic principle is to have at least eight to 10 people per sub-target.
  • For a year-round community with several hundred members, you will need to adjust the quotas as much as possible to remain fairly close to the reality of the brand’s customers in terms of socio-demographic criteria, equipment, and purchasing behavior.

It is important to have enough members to have a solid basis of analysis, keeping in mind that 100% of respondents do not participate in 100% of the activities. Participation rates can vary from 30% to 80%. Typically, you can expect to have 30% to 50% active respondents for long-term communities and 80% for communities that last a few days.

That means if you want to ensure at least 100 responses for a long community, then you will need to engage at least three times as many members, or 300 participants.

Depending on the profile of the respondents, the activities offered and the gamification system, you will also have to provide a refresh of your members — about a third of them — each year.

2. Prepare the right type of activities to create the best engagement

The diversification of the activities is key for engagement. Instead of doing repetitive surveys, keep in mind that there are alternative methods to collect data.

Different categories can help expand your data collection, such as:

  • Consider private blog/diary activity for individual experience or a collective discussion with more interactive and projective exercises.
  • On some sessions, you can ask your members to share photo or video testimonials of their use of your product or service.
  • At other times, it may be relevant to post surveys that are quick to complete but still informative for you.

It is also recommended that as part of a year-round community, you set up a few contests. Whether you’re searching for ideas or looking to improve your product/service, participants very much appreciate this type of challenge.

The idea is to diversify the approaches to avoid fatigue while allowing you to collect richer and more qualitative information. Varying the topics, asking questions in different ways, and giving small missions to achieve help you maintain a lively and responsive community. 

3. Add the right gamification to make your members happy and motivated

Can community participants be engaged without being rewarded?

The question deserves to be asked, but Krealinks’ long experience has shown that gamification gives an undeniable boost to member participation and engagement.

While consumers’ primary motivation of community participation is to give their opinions and help improve brand marketing, they also realize that their ideas are valuable, so it is normal for them to expect to be rewarded for their contributions.

Several systems have proven to be effective:

  • Starification, which means highlighting the top contributors in the community.
  • The allocation of badges based on member activity.
  • Cash winnings and/or gifts awarded via points and credits. If the contributor has accumulated enough points or credits, they get access to gifts.

Combining these three approaches gives you the best chance of retaining and engaging members. But if you need to use only one, opt for cash and/or gift rewards, ideally by integrating a point-to-rewards solution that will drive more engagement.

People are naturally excited to have the opportunity to redeem points for rewards. It is fulfilling to see how many points they have accumulated, and if they know they are close to their next reward, they’ll be motivated to engage even more. An easy-to-use, integrated points-to-rewards solution within your community creates a shopping cart experience, so participants can pick and choose the rewards they want. And the best part is that the digital reward is immediately delivered to the member via email, resulting in instant gratification.

You can associate point gains with certain activities, choose to give more to certain members, carry out raffles — a gamification program can help you implement any type of action that will energize and motivate your members. The actual rewards can encompass a vast range of things, including exclusive invitations to brand events, gift cards and prepaid Visa and Mastercards, and even e-donations.

4. Find the best ways to promote your brand content

Building online research communities is very useful for gathering opinions, insights, and ideas. A community also represents an excellent opportunity to share brand content with your members. You can thus communicate about the initiatives that you launch, highlight achievements that were made possible by the contributions of your community, and integrate links from your social networks to your platform (and vice versa).

Your members can also become ambassadors or create original content that you can then share on other media. It is extremely important to consider your community not as a simple collection tool but as an integral part of your brand’s marketing strategy. Likewise, your marketing team or communication agency will be able to draw inspiration from content posted by members, assuring that your brand is using the most appropriate tone and positioning itself in a more consumer-centric manner.

about the author
Béatrice Maccario

Béatrice is the CSO and co-founder of Krealinks, a SaaS platform to create and engage online communities for market research. It's available in more than 150 countries.

Béatrice is the CSO and co-founder of Krealinks, a SaaS platform to create and engage online communities for market research. It's available in more than 150 countries.