Emerging Roles Profile: The Research Community Manager

Face CommunitiesContinuing the series of posts started by Face MD in London, Job Muscroft, about the emerging roles changing the face of market research, here’s a closer look at the research community manager position with an interview with Kate Davids from the New York office.

How would you describe your role?

I’d describe it as a research meeting customer service. On the one hand, I am the voice of the researchers. In the beginning, I assist in copywriting the task plans, keeping a fun and easy tone and making sure that participants understand what they need to do. During the community, I am responsible for ensuring that participants do all the tasks the researchers need them to complete. At the end of the community I help summarize the results of each task for the researchers.

On the other hand, I am the participant touch-point. If a participant needs help, they come to me. If they are curious about a particular assignment, they ask me. If they are having technical difficulties… yep, they come to me.

The best communities occur when these two sides are balanced appropriately. I find participants answer tasks more completely and more promptly when  they feel there is someone who not only is directing them in the community but also who genuinely cares that they enjoy the experience and is always there if they have any questions.

How did you become a community manager? What’s your background?

I actually got my start working as a marketing community manager, growing communities for a restaurant brand. Managing research communities and marketing communities is similar in many ways, though very different in others, to be sure! Marketing community managers must always be in tune with their communities, in order to encourage the best forms of participation, same as for research community managers. You’re always on the lookout for the most engaged participants. And the least engaged, too. Some of my favorite participants actually started as less involved and after a bit of communication later, turned into research goldmines!

The real differences are that a marketing community manager’s goal is to encourage shares and comments and the participants are involved, generally, to get freebies. Meanwhile a research community manager’s goal is to encourage insightful comments and participants are incentivized and recruited. Though the goals and the participants are a different, the love of people and communication necessary for the job are the same.

Any tips for how to stand out from the competition when you’re trying to get a job in community management?

The best thing you can do is prove your understanding of online communication alongside a willingness to push boundaries and make your own rules. You need to be able to show that you know how to communicate effectively online, so maintain a Twitter and blog presence. As mentioned before, customer service is a big part of this role, so if you have ever held a customer service role, be sure to put it on display, perhaps in an online resume on LinkedIn. Community managers need to be able to solve participant problems, and these are often technology based, so being able to show that you can guide others to successful conclusions is a good thing, too.

What are the top three rules you have to follow as a community manager in market research?

  • Participants are people, too. If someone isn’t engaging, be sure to remember, they have lives outside of this project.  Sometimes you might have to remind other team members of that, too.
  • Always be there. Tasks often go up on the communities rapid fire, so if a participant is having trouble, you, as the community manager, has to be there to help. Even on the weekends.
  • Always keep the research objectives in mind. If a participant isn’t producing useable content, follow up with them and politely help them meet your and their objectives.

Where do you see your role going in the next five years? What’s the future for community management?

Community research is only going to become more important as MRX develops. Communities allow researchers to peak into participants’ lives over time and really get into their heads. As technology improves, this capacity will only grow more prominent. Community managers will have to be able combine the “people-side” and the “technology-side” as they develop in tandem. The community managers are uniquely positioned to feed learnings from the “people-side” into the “technology-side” and vice versa.

Communities will likely get larger and longer, too, as participants and brands maintain relationships even after the initial research project is finished. Community managers would likely be involved in maintaining these ties and perhaps even be involved in the recruitment for future research communities.

What’s the biggest mistake you most often see in community management? What’s so bad about it?

I am really sad when I see a community manager lose sight of the fact that the participants are people, too. It’s really easy to do. We sit in offices and obsess over our communities; meanwhile our participants are off living their lives. So when a participant isn’t participating, it’s easy to think this person just doesn’t care and write him off as a lost cause. The reality might be quite different – maybe he is studying for his med school final and a simple check-in will encourage him to do all the tasks after it’s over.

Community research is on the rise, and for good reason. Here’s an example of just one of the types of projects a community manager might be involved in.


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