This month, a look at continuous research communities. What are continuous communities, do I need to use one, and how can I use them most effectively? Read on to learn more:
Continuous insight into your consumer base. An ongoing consumer testing ground for ideas. It sounds like the Holy Grail in many ways. Having a consumer resource to tap into whenever you want, to answer those burning questions that may hold the key to unlocking a killer insight, or a new product idea.
[Credit: Lwp Kommunikáció]
Continuous research communities are often offered up as that holy grail – a flexible, always on solution that can draw on the experiences, behaviours, and opinions of a wide ranging consumer sample. For many brands, they can offer a cost effective means of gathering consumer insight without being tied to the specific and discrete objectives of standalone research projects. Moreover, running a community over an extended period of time gives the opportunity to seed in a wide range of tasks – everything from usage diaries, lifestyle tasks, concept response, sounding boards and debates. The freedom this can bring, in terms of having a wider scope to find out about consumers on a longitudinal basis is a highly attractive prospect.
However, as with any research methodology, you get out what you put in. Continuous communities offer a whole host of benefits, but they also require a high degree of management and planning. To get the most value, it’s wise to think about a few key factors:
Do I need a long-term continuous community?
A continuous community is just that – a community that keeps on going, rather than running for a few weeks or months. To understand if this is what is really required, it is important to think about the role that community could have in aiding and driving the internal brand planning cycle. Are there a range of burning questions or initiatives that you can see arising throughout the year? Is there a range of stakeholders or functions that are looking to gain greater consumer understanding? Is there potential for ad-hoc projects to arise that will require consumer input occurring? If so, a continuous community may provide the optimum solution for satisfying those needs in a cost effective, flexible way.
How will a continuous community be utilised internally?
The best continuous communities are ones that become highly visible within organisations and gain their own traction. As a result, this creates its own momentum within the community, and fosters a sense amongst participants that their opinions are valuable and being listened to. It’s ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy.
However, this does not happen organically. Creating that visibility and momentum requires champions within an organisation who can help in demonstrating that value to wider teams. The success of our own continuous communities with Coca-Cola were highly dependent on key stakeholders within the organisation actively communicating around the outputs from the community, and the value findings were delivering. As soon as teams could see that demonstrable value, the community took on a life of its own.
What do I want to find out?
Continuous communities can be utilised for a range of research and business objectives – from pure insight gathering, to developing starter ideas for innovation, developing greater brand understanding and beyond. There are a range of tools that can help in delivering against those needs, but it’s also useful to think about how different tools and tasks can be utilised in a way that leverages the unique benefits of the community format:
1. Seeing opinions and themes emerge over time
Being able to spend time with participants over an extended period of time is a great opportunity to see how opinions and behaviours may change, evolve or deepen over time. To get the best out of this, it is often a great idea to develop enduring themes across tasks, and get participants to re-visit earlier responses. That sense of continuity and reflection can be invaluable in getting a great read on just how participants are changing over time.
For example, on a recent continuous snacking community we carried out , carrying themes over in tasks was invaluable in gaining in-depth understanding as to how participants’ response to a specific brand changed from initial interaction through their experiences further down the line.
2. Putting behaviours in wider life context
At Face we are always looking to see how we can merge different data streams to gain even deeper, wider contextual understanding of consumer lives. Continuous communities provide a great opportunity for gaining access to consumers’ wider digital behaviours and interactions – which of course vary over time in a way a brief week-long community can’t capture. Having participants’ digital social feeds (such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) linked up directly to a community enables a greater understanding of how participants’ community responses and interactions sit within the wider context of what they are engaging with and sharing – and also allows us to probe on why they share. This kind of ‘augmented research’ can therefore answer a lot of questions that simple social media listening might raise – but can’t answer conclusively.
[Image from Mashable]
3. Creating, not just responding:
The longitudinal nature of continuous communities means we have a rare opportunity to build up a rapport with participants and gain their trust. In doing so, we can often get them to do more than just respond to ideas and questions – the more they are invested, they more they are likely to give. Seeding in co-creative tasks can often work really well to develop starter ideas for products, communication or activation once participants have spent time on a community. This can often work best as a mix of pre-considered and real-time chat tasks, where participants can then build on each other ideas.
Understanding customers’ life contexts and change over time, and being able to build creative solutions, not just insights. Three great reasons to use long-term or continuous research communities.
If you’d like to discuss this further with Sharmila, contact her at Sharmila@FaceGroup.com. Or to stay in touch with more of our qual thinking and methodology knowledge-sharing, join our mailing list to keep in touch.