As the Head of Online Communities here at Harris Interactive, I am responsible for advising on insight communities to ensure they add maximum value to our clients. I’ve been delivering and consulting on communities for years, including many longer term, branded ‘community panels’, typically lasting several years. I’ve spoken with many clients who have a clear plan for what they want to achieve from such communities, and a similar number who are understandably less sure. A long-term insight community panel is an investment involving many facets, and it can feel overwhelming to think about how to plan for success.
In the first part of the blog posted a few weeks ago, I started exploring the key early considerations you need to think about, around defining the purpose of the community, ensuring fit, and securing internal buy-in. In this second part, I will focus on how to get a community up and running, and planning ahead for success in the early months of the community.
Know what is involved, who needs to be involved, what you want your community to look like, how it should work and what kind of timeframes are required to establish the community initially and during the first few months. Scope out a realistic, manageable and flexible resource plan for the nature and ownership of tasks and the amount of time required for different elements. Your team’s bandwidth and skillset should be a key consideration and may also determine how much additional support you need.
If you are outsourcing elements of the community to a specialist partner, understand the level and type of support you will get from them. What is their skillset and role in the community – from consulting on implementation, to providing all or some of the technology, tools and audiences required, to offering flexible management, engagement and expert insight services throughout? Where will you need help, how much and how often; and is your partner flexible enough to adapt to your changing needs and provide the right kind of support as and when you need it?
In order to set up a long-term community, a member portal will need to be designed and implemented, with domain name registered and member Helpdesk inbox and registration survey in place. The timings around the set up can vary depending on your requirements, from a templated member portal taking a few weeks to get up and running, to a fully bespoke multi-language/brand community that takes a couple of months to set up. Whilst a templated portal is certainly quicker and more cost-effective, the more on-brand your portal is with its look and feel, the stronger affiliation your members will feel to it. Timings can also vary depending on the nature of members being recruited, the method of recruitment and various internal stakeholder needs and discussions along the way. Ensure you know how long you will need, and communicate this to your stakeholders up-front.
Understand who and how you want to recruit to the community. Do you have a list of customers you can contact from your CRM database? If so, how many of them are opted in to receiving communications? What kind of response rates have you seen from previous similar communications? Are there any data you want to bring over into the community from your database, and append to community members, such as demographics, segments or transactional data? How would you work with the CRM Team to email customers to join the community? Are you looking for broader non-customer sample also?
Carefully consider community size and composition, which should be determined by the needs of your business in talking to those audiences. For example, your stakeholders may need the community to have an age and gender composition that is representative of your customers. For ideal robust survey response base sizes, apply the expected response rate to come up with the estimated community size you need. Consider the nature and frequency of likely activities too, as this may impact response rates. If you’re not sure, talk it through with your community research partner as they should have the experience and expertise to advise. You can always expand and fine-tune as you go.
Successfully setting up and launching a community doesn’t guarantee its ongoing success. You need to also plan beyond these initial stages of the community, to maximise/maintain momentum and engagement with your stakeholders as well as your community members.
Create a research and engagement schedule for the community, designed to meet the overall objectives of your community and your stakeholders’ ongoing research needs, as well as keeping your members engaged. I have worked on some communities where the client wasn’t able to plan ahead, and those communities lacked direction and ran into more challenges, such as having too many or few activities in a given week, or having resource issues around delivering community projects.
Scope out the community research activities as far ahead as you can. A good research plan will incorporate and prioritise the varying and potentially conflicting requests from around the business, including regular/predictable pieces. Identify the most relevant community members/audience groups and methodologies for each research need and have realistic timings set around projects. The plan should also ensure that the research being done not only meets your stakeholders’ needs, but feeds into the overall strategy of your business.
Also consider any wider insight team or organisation initiatives that may impact resource availability or community member feedback. You should avoid scheduling in research during disruptive periods for you and your stakeholders. Conversely, you could time a project to coincide with big organisation changes/news, in order to gauge members’ reactions to them.
Plan regular catchups and health checks on the community, to keep a close eye on how the community is performing on KPIs. If you are working with a partner, look to them on how to improve the community; a good partner will go beyond simply reporting on statistics to providing actionable recommendations that help you meet your community objectives.
ENGAGE, ENGAGE, ENGAGE!
When reviewing activities to schedule in, remember that a community is not solely a means for your members to provide you insights. In order to ensure long-term success, you need to keep the community members engaged and maintain a strong two-way relationship with them.
To do this, include a variety of relevant and interesting activities for the members, such as a mix of iterative surveys, quick polls and qualitative discussions/co-creation, about products/services the members use or are interested in. Frequency of activities is important too – as a general rule of thumb, avoid contacting members more than once a week (unless as part of defined/iterative week-long project, for example), and less than once a month. If the right variety and regularity of activities cannot be provided from research projects alone, you should be scheduling in activities that are solely for member engagement purposes, such as open discussion forums on the community website about fun topics related to the community.
Ensure you plan regular feedback to maintain the two-way conversation, such as project feedback that shows members how their opinions have shaped your business decisions. And it goes without saying that you should be rewarding members for their contributions – ensure you are scheduling in timely incentive / prize draw payments, and letting members know when you have sent their reward. Non-monetary reward methods are another great way to boost engagement, whether you recognise valued members in newsletters, provide them exclusive sneak peeks to incoming products and services. Gamified rewards, such as points leaderboards and member badges, are additional proven methods that boost engagement.
The need for engagement is important for your stakeholders too, without this the community will lose momentum. Incorporate stakeholder engagement initiatives, such as infographics outlining key highlights, member video vox-pops, case studies illustrating innovative activities and resulting business actions and impact and Q&A sessions. Such activities are all about improving stakeholder understanding of how the community can be used, and maintaining interest across the client’s business.
As you can see, there are many important considerations around setting up and planning for success with a long-term insight community. Keep in mind that ongoing stakeholder & member engagement, and continual planning and review are part and parcel of a community’s success throughout its life cycle.
Please get in touch if you would like a free consultation.
HEAD OF ONLINE COMMUNITIES
Jack joined Harris in 2018 as Head of Online Communities, and is responsible for developing Online Communities across all of Harris Interactive’s sectors. Jack brings 9 years of industry experience, having previously worked at MindMover, Verve and Research Now. Jack’s main area of expertise is in ensuring online insight communities are adding value to clients. His key achievements include launching a high-value, multi-market, multi-language Pan-European community for a major international electronics retailer, as well as setting up and recruiting for one of the largest insight communities ever for a US pharmacy retail brand and building out a North American operations team to service the client.
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