Planning, designing and recruiting a long term insight community is no mean feat.
It can be expensive. It can be time-consuming. And if you’re not careful, it can be disappointing.
So it’s best to make sure you know what you’re getting into; that it’s definitely what you want; and that you’re set up for success.
The first question should be: do you really want an insight community?
Do you really want an insight community?
When I was a teenager in the eighties, I really wanted some tartan jeans. I spent a month’s money on a pair that I thought looked amazing.
That turned out to be a minority view.
Everyone else thought I looked like Rupert Bear. The jeans only got worn once in public, but the name and the buyer’s remorse stuck around far longer.
Don’t be like teenage me and buy something that isn’t right for you.
Here are some good and bad reasons to build a long term insight community.
Good reasons to build an insight community
Iteration: you really need to work with the same group of users / consumers over time – to build new ideas, concepts, campaigns, experiences etc. Insight communities are great for going deeper and following up with the same people.
Dysfunction: your CRM team makes it really hard to do research with your own customers – so you need your own ‘satellite’ CRM for research, populated by a willing sub group customers whose data gets richer over time.
Data Poverty: you’re a packaged goods business without your own consumer relationships or data. An insight community can help you plug some of this gap for a sample of people and give you an on-going dialogue with your consumers.
Data Abundance: you’re a digital native business with more user data than you can ever handle, but it still doesn’t give you the answers you need. An insight community can bring qualitative context and help explain weird patterns in behavioural or transactional data.
Speed: if you need really quick answers, insight community members are usually primed and ready to go. The speed advantage is especially powerful if your insight community has a qualitative focus, because recruiting for ad hoc qual projects is what often takes the most time.
Obscurity: your customer base is really niche. Finding them on research panels is impossible and free-find recruiting them for every project costs a fortune. An insight community will probably save you money in the long run.
Bad reasons to build an insight community
Budget pressure: buy some software, hire a junior researcher, recruit a customer panel and then hammer them with surveys again and again. Sounds tempting if you need to save money. Don’t do it. You quickly end up with diminishing returns, crap data and a negative customer experience. Better to run ad hoc surveys to a fresh sample of your own customer base each time (assuming your CRM team plays ball).
Measurement: you want to run concept or ad test surveys to generate primary forecast metrics in business cases or marketing mix models. Bad idea. Use representative samples from third party survey panels if you want a whole-market view.
Speed: wait, what? Didn’t I just say speed was a valid reason to get an insight community? Sure. But if it’s your only criterion, make sure you’ve also looked at the alternatives below. Some of the automated survey tools can get you answers within a couple of hours and will be cheaper and less hassle.
Envy: your competitor has an insight community. They might. So what. Doesn’t mean it’s any good.
Alternatives to a long term insight community
Here are some things to consider if you have more bad reasons than good.
You need something iterative, but short term. Many long term insight community platforms can also be used for short term projects: incling, Digsite, Recollective, 2020 Research, Together and some of the others you can find here.
You need something long term, low cost and fast, but you don’t always need the same people. If you can use your CRM as a sample source – or even better, integrate directIy through an API – there are dozens of survey tools that do the job: Qualtrics, SurveyGizmo, QuestionPro and others all have standard APIs to Salesforce and other CRM and e-commerce platforms.
10 factors for insight community success
If you’re still keen to build and run and insight community, here’s what you will need to keep it fresh and productive over the long term.
You’ll need lots. Here are three factors that will try it.
Legal: never straightforward, always a learning curve for in-house lawyers and the process is much more exhaustive post GDPR.
IT Security: needs lots of documentation, certification and maybe even penetration testing.
Recruitment: expect it to cost more (set aside some contingency), take longer and end up a bit smaller than your ideal scenario.
The best way to avoid all these factors is to outsource the entire thing to an agency and have them free-recruit people to the community. It will cost more and you’ll lose a lot of the benefits from having your own directly-recruited customers – but it’s not impossible.
There’s the obvious discretionary budget for software, recruitment, agencies, incentives.
But the most neglected cost is usually internal resources. As an absolute minimum, you need to commit at least a quarter FTE. Lack of ownership kills more insight communities than anything else.
Keep your research topics varied to keep your participants engaged.
No customer wants to do the same concept test repeatedly on minor colour variants or price changes. You’ll just teach them to hate you.
Mix it up between topics, methods, formats, timelines. Spice of life and all that.
Insight people are gradually getting better at this – although most are starting from a pretty low base.
A customer community is not quiet off-camera work: it’s about engaging an audience in a semi-public setting, ensuring they keep coming back and making them feel rewarded for taking part.
Marketing starts with recruitment – get customers feeling excited and flattered to be invited. Then get your tone of voice right when you speak to them. Don’t use that awful research-ese that you see in surveys.
And get some good design work done on the community platform and all your comms templates.
If you’re working with customers, you’re obligated to give them a decent experience.
Related to the last point – be prepared to engage directly with your community members. Be the human face of your brand. Record videos, post photos, join in group discussions.
Insight community members want to know the people behind the brand. That’s you.
Users will join your insight community to give you feedback and take part in tasks that are specific to your topic and brand.
They will almost never join your community to have organic conversations with other users, find a new partner or chat about their children.
So don’t waste time and good budget recreating a social media environment inside your community. People have plenty of choice for that elsewhere, so stick to the task.
Plan for churn and non-response. You should always have a steady stream of fresh participants being recruited to your insight community. Budget for it.
People will usually join your insight community because they have an interest in or a relationship with your organisation.
They might not wake up thinking about you in the middle of the night – but they’re into you enough to give you some feedback from time to time when you ask them.
So do the same for them – feed back on what you’re doing, tell them if you’re launching that product they helped develop, give them an early preview of the ad campaign they tested.
It doesn’t have to be scary, commercially sensitive stuff. Just make sure it feels meaningful.
Incentives matter. Yes, you want customers who are authentically engaged to join your insight community.
But over-reliance on that goodwill is dangerous. Even those customers who love giving you feedback still need some encouragement.
And if you’re in a low-engagement category, you’ll need to manufacture a lot more of that engagement.
Cash is king: prize draws based on participation and activity-based payments if you expect people to make a bit of effort or invest more of there time.
But you can also be creative. Scarcity has value (limited edition merchandise, for example), as does exclusivity (behind the scenes tour, ask-me-anything sessions with a senior exec).
Finally, be prepared to compensate for your sample bias. Your insight community will have it – so recognise it and don’t feel defensive over it. It’s a fact of research life.
Keep some budget back to run parallel or top-up studies with non customers or market representative samples. You’ll need it.
Who to talk to about insight communities
There are dozens of insight community technology platforms and many agencies who specialise in this type of research.