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 communities, 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 is an investment involving many facets, and it can feel overwhelming to think about how to plan for success.
To establish a community, it’s critical to get early buy-in and strong support in order to secure budget, manage effective implementation and maximise return and impact for the business and insight team. This requires early planning, time, engagement with key stakeholders and a compelling business case.
Over a two-part blog, I will outline the critical questions, considerations and steps involved. In this first blog, I will focus on the early stages of defining the purpose of the community, ensuring fit, and securing internal buy-in.
First, ask yourself what is the main purpose of the community? What will it enable you and the wider business to achieve, that currently, you are not able to do as well, if at all? How will it fit with the wider insight activities and team resource/capabilities? What type and nature of external/partner support might you need? And how will it help you to achieve more for the same or less budget? Such considerations are equally important if you already run a community and wish to review and enhance its purpose and value.
More specifically, what type of insight needs will it address and for which stakeholders? How do these stakeholders envisage working with the community week-to-week, month-to-month? It may be difficult to list specifics at the early planning stage, but you need to be confident there will be sufficient, relevant requirements and activities to keep the community members and stakeholders engaged and ensure a return on investment. In other words, does it have a mid-to-long term evolving purpose that will deliver significant value over time?
Typically, a community represents only part of the overall insight programme, so it’s important to understand how it will fit in the overall mix. For example, certain niche audiences may be too difficult or costly to access, recruit and retain on your community; particular types of projects or methodologies may not be suitable, and specific stakeholder preferences may require other approaches. Equally, there will be existing activities that will work or evolve more effectively via a community – such as those requiring more iterative qual and quant with an engaged group.
Be sure you can see the path for navigating these considerations in order to scope-out a community that will not only deliver on the main requirements in theory, but also in practice.
I can recall a client who was very much invested in building a community, who ploughed ahead without getting support from all relevant parts of their business. Not only did this cause logistical issues such as struggling to obtain email lists from the CRM Team to invite customers to join the community; the lack of awareness and appreciation of the initiative around the business meant there was insufficient stakeholder engagement and research activity to support the community.
Identify and engage with all the main stakeholders early, including those who will approve the budget for the community, those who will help to set-up the community and those who will use it. Define the main benefits for different key stakeholders and position them accordingly, whether they’re insight, usage/efficiency, budget or ROI related. Actively seek-out any obstacles that need to be overcome and allow time for any contractual discussions and implementation tasks. This will provide a strong foundation for the business case, more likely secure the support and budget required, as well as helping manage expectations.
Key benefits of a community include long-term cost savings compared to numerous standalone projects, better value/ROI through increased agility/efficiency, and deeper, more rounded insight. For example, the engaged and personalised nature of the community audience enables a more iterative understanding over time and can provide a more powerful view of survey, CRM, social and passive data combined, informing better business decisions. It can also strengthen the relationship between your brand and your customers, leading to increased brand advocacy.
Your stakeholders may envisage better engagement and benefit in the short and mid-term via a more developmental approach, starting with a ‘lite’ approach to member portal, platform functionality, community size and service model. This will enable you to get up and running with less up-front time/cost and build on early ‘pilot’ stage success, growing confidence and engagement over time. The key is to plan the right model for success based on your business’ core needs and priorities, selecting a community partner with the expertise, team and service flexibility to grow with you.
For the would-be primary users of the community, illustrate the additional value and efficiency benefits. A community can provide a suite of scripting, project management, database management and analytics tools in one platform, which provides greater agility accessing back-end research tools, with centralised data collection. Or it can give on-demand access to speak to customers whenever the stakeholders need to, instead of having to request and wait for customer lists from the CRM Team, or having to go through an access panel provider.
Also think about how to articulate these benefits around your business – you want to be as impactful as possible. For example, showing a community case study video from your industry would be a more visually engaging way to illustrate benefits than emails or PowerPoint slides. Illustrate and estimate the likely activity flow and benefits based on your knowledge of research priorities and evolving plans. For main user stakeholders, a platform demo would be effective at showing what using the community day-to-day would be like and how it would work for members. If possible, invite your team to use and try the platform and tools involved, for real/trial activities that bring customer feedback to life.
Remember, this is all about the ensuring the benefits are relevant, and resonates strongly with the stakeholders you are speaking to.
In the next part, I will be exploring the key considerations that come after getting internal buy-in for a community; what you need to think about to get a community up and running, and planning for success in the first few months of the community being live.
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.