What are they?
- A group of people with a clearly defined common purpose (research) and interest (brand, category or behaviour) in a gated, private space
- Accessed via phone, tablet or computer, participants complete a series of self directed tasks posted by the project team
- Tasks can be digital (native to platform) or real world (and then added into the platform e.g. video)
- A Community Manager is responsible for encouraging participation, following up on answers to probe deeper, fostering a sense of community and being the “human face” of the community.
Issues to consider
- Not suitable for every audience (though more audiences than you would think)
- Generating engagement is hard work, time consuming and requires skill
- Easy for participants to be lazy / hide
- Bias possible (without careful thought to task design)
- You are only getting what people are telling you (rarely get any NVC clues)
- Imposter possibilities; do you know who your participants really are?
- Takes time to yield results
- Not good when “case history” or personal experience is necessary
- Long term communities subject to bias, sensitivity (need good panel management techniques)
- Probing is hard / less effective - asynchronous so you miss opportunities to probe relevantly.
- Can provide aspects of both behavioural ethnography studies, and focus group studies
- Greater size possible for the cost
- Allows for coverage across more target segments and the potential for hybrid qualitative/quantitative feedback
- Not limited by time as F2F; can last as long as you want it to
- Fosters loyalty and consumer closeness to brand
- Easy for clients and participants to engage with the research
- Anonymity encourages participants to open up
- A more “real” environment for expression / opinion
- Can blend longitudinal and ad hoc, declarative and ethnographic in the same narrative and experience.
Best practice tips
- Be clear about objective and content of community
- Be realistic about time commitment; expect no more than 30 minutes per session
- Set and model community norms of engagement; brief by video if you’re asking participants to make videos, complete a ‘test” task yourself to model depth of answer
- Screen appropriately at recruitment stage; not just tech capability, but comfort expressing in writing, sharing thoughts and content online
- Keep copy clear, concise but engaging; get a copywriter if you can!
- Be single minded; 1 “question” per task only
- Think about audience and/or topic & design interaction to meet; content, task type, task mode
- Give it a (regular) face
- Make it valuable beyond the incentive; build in intrinsic value - feedback, updates, VIP previews, showing that the feedback has lead to action, thank yous from the clients
- Be consistent; post tasks regularly and stick to schedule so people can manage their time.