If we put communities under the microscope we’ll find that the status quo is not without problems.
Insight communities as we know them today were first introduced in the early 2000s. Back then, the idea of recruiting a group of consumers who opted-in for ongoing engagement was revolutionary. Community-based research allowed brands to circumvent new anti-spam laws by having an at-the-ready pool of people who could easily complete surveys, providing a degree of speed and efficiency that was unprecedented at a time when expensive landline-based survey techniques were the norm.
Today, insight communities are still in-demand. They’re so popular, in fact, that according to the 2019 GreenBook Research Industry Trends Report, communities still have the highest level of interest amongst insights buyers, outranking mobile surveys and text analytics. For the most part, insight professionals still see insight communities as a core tool for agile research.
If we put communities under the microscope, however, we’ll find that the status quo is not without problems. For one, community platforms haven’t really evolved as quickly as they should. But more crucially, as an industry, our approach to community-based research hasn’t changed much either.
In many organizations, communities are a cumbersome initiative.
Today, communities are still heavily reliant on aging research technologies that are out of sync with how consumers live their digital lives. In the past decade, billions of consumers have adopted smartphone-enabled, mobile-first communications channels like SMS and social messaging apps. In contrast, most community-based research platforms still rely heavily on email survey deployments—an increasingly crowded channel that is rapidly being discarded by youth—to recruit and engage consumers. It’s no wonder it’s getting harder and harder to have an active, highly engaged community.
Beyond technology, we’re also contending with a philosophical evolution in the idea of how insight communities should be managed. In many organizations, communities are a cumbersome initiative, requiring a full-time person to oversee recruitment, respondent engagement, incentives and everything else in between.
Long, boring surveys sent to community members are often repetitive and overly formal, using language no one would ever use in real life. (When was the last time you asked a family member, “On a scale of one to 10, where one is extremely dissatisfied and 10 is extremely satisfied, how would you rate our family life?”) Indeed, it is not surprising that traditional insight communities are seeing declining response rates as they have increasingly become massive walled gardens that require active, ongoing oversight to keep them healthy.
Talk to research participants like they are people, not as merely “respondents.”
When I founded Reach3 in 2018, it was done with the belief that we’re entering a new era of online marketing research—one characterized by more authentic, natural, and on-demand engagement with real people. The idea is simple: Engage in real conversations using the messaging networks and apps that are already part of consumer’s everyday lives. Keep it simple. No walled gardens and overly formalized research language. In other words, talk to research participants like they are people, not as merely “respondents.”
I did this with a firm belief that if we don’t address our industry’s reliance on long, boring email-based survey approaches, we’ll continue to see declining response and engagement rates and face more questions about the validity and representativeness of our results. It’s in our best interest to accelerate the evolution of our practices.
For the first Insights Platforms Communities Summit, I’d like to explore how we as an industry can rethink our approach to communities—leveraging modern mobile messaging technologies and conversational research design principles to drive deeper, more human insights. Please join my session on March 26 and let’s start a conversation about the future of community-based research.
A version of this article first appeared on Insight Platforms.