Some best practices in building and managing ‘research communities’
First of all, we believe that we need to be careful to not over and miss-use the method of research communities. We have to be wise in when and what to use it for. To fully understand this, let’s take a look at the main characteristics of ‘Insight Communities’. By definition, they are not representative, as they work best with participants who identify with the topic and/or the brand hosting the platform (Ludwig, De Ruyck and Schillewaert, 2010). We screen participants on these criteria. Secondly, 150 people are the maximum number of participants a moderator can build a real relationship with. And, relationship is key in this case: no relationship = no community! We go for qualitative depth instead of quantitative reach.
Never underestimate the power of N=1: one participant can inspire to change something very drastically. This number was cross validated by research done in collaboration with Maastricht University where we found that in order to gain an output of at least 30 posts of participants (the minimum we need to conduct proper qualitative analysis given the mean length of a post), over a three month period and at the speed of five posts a week (taking into account participation rates known from previous studies), 150 participants is the ideal number to conduct research communities with.
This makes that communities for research are qualitative of nature. You can do some basic quantitative research on them, but only to have first feelings. If validation of insights afterwards is necessary, it needs to be done through a traditional (online) survey. Of course, you can also invite participants for in-depth interviews and online group discussions. Let’s say that every method has its place within a community. In the end, it’s all about fusing methods to get the insights you are looking for. In that sense, market researchers need to use a mix of research techniques. We have to become more like DJ’s. Here’s why:
DJ’s play and select songs for an audience from their wealthy music collection. The successful ones provide a creative mix that makes the crowd go wild. They are the cool new super stars! What makes DJs also successful is that they have the guts to experiment without forgetting tradition: they re-use old riffs and blend it with contemporary elements.
Integrating a community with quantitative questionnaires to validate can be conducted on a dedicated panel build around the qualitative community. This can be interesting from a cost perspective if you have a need for a lot of quantitative validation or are confronted with a difficult to find target group. Keeping up a certain relationship with them can be beneficial in such a case.