Updated: Jan 3, 2020
Written by: Megan McDowell
Preparing for An Online Research Community
In a recent report Keys to Community Readiness and Growth: How Brands Prepare for an Online Community Vanessa DiMauro and Jessica Fish conduct research with 400 plus individuals who have an online community or are thinking of getting an online community. They share insight regarding the initial reasons why organizations decide to get an online community and how that reasoning can shift. The research goes on to look at how the software platforms are chosen, why companies want to create an online community, the actual running of these communities and the overall level of satisfaction these individuals derive from their online community.
While some companies hear about online communities as a new and integral part of market research and decide their company needs an online community to stay ahead of their competition, many go about formulating their decision in a much different fashion. Many companies create an online community as a result of customer pressure. DiMauro and Fish’s research showed that 54% of respondents said that they created an online community based on the fact that their customers were frequently giving product feedback or ideas. The second highest response at 53% were customers who frequently reached out for answers to their questions. Third, were customers looking to the company for expertise. The research suggests that idea sharing is a key indicator that your company is ready for a community.
Build it and Recruit
The old saying “If you build it they will come” is not always true especially when it comes to communities. The report by DiMauro and Fish states that 85% of the organizations surveyed sought to check with their customers whether a community was needed before starting one. Creating a successful online research community depends on members using the service provided, so it is important that the community fills a customer need as well as a business need. Having a community fill a business need helps ensure a company will invest in the software as well as the support needed to keep it running.
When leadership can see the need for a community it can have a strong impact on the outcome of the community. According to a study by Demand Metric “Two thirds of organizations with highly involved executives are seeing their communities’ influence 16% or more of their organization’s total revenue.” Companies creating a community found that there were two main factors in starting one, the first being the sharing of ideas, and the second being looking to companies for expertise.
What it Takes to Run a Community
While the idea and need for a market research online community might be clear, many companies are unsure of the amount of resources needed to properly run a community. This topic is also often discussed at online community conferences in regards to burnout and under-staffing. The results of the research found that the average community has at least one community manager tasked with running the daily operations with 68% of respondents saying that this individual was full-time, while 22% stated that they had a part-time community manager. The need for at least one manager is necessary early on, with the need to hire more individuals to help manage the community as it grows.
Community growth was another aspect that was dealt with in the research. They write, “close to a quarter of respondents indicated that their community had at least doubled in the past year.” They go on to state that if the community is not growing in the beginning stages then it is likely the organization has failed to meet a member need, or is unclear in their message, or does not have a strong enough relationship with the customer to create trust in the community space. They also mentioned that social media use was one of the best ways to gain new members, simply by sharing the community results on social media.
Customer satisfaction with online communities was surprisingly high. Out of the over 400 members that had an existing online community, 9 out of 10 considered their community a success. When the respondents were asked to rate their success, 59% stated they were moderately successful, 26% stated that their community was very successful, with 12% stating they were moderately unsuccessful and 3% stating they were unsuccessful. When asked what respondents attributed their success or lack thereof, respondents cited three factors. Successful respondents stated that their members are engaged, and trust the community. Secondly, that there was a clear business strategy. The third factor of success was having excellent community management. In contrast, those respondents who felt unsuccessful attributed it to a lack of internal support and resources.
We can learn a lot from DiMauro and Fish’s research beginning with understanding whether your company actually needs an online community. Before starting a community your company should look and see if your customers are currently looking to engage and share ideas, or are looking to you for critical information to help them with the use of your product. Thirdly, before starting a community, do your customers state they would use the service? If you have the support of these key steps, then you need to look internally and see if there will be executive support to invest in the software, and the talent needed to manage the community. Lastly you need to create your community in a twofold approach, one so that your customers are benefiting directly from the community but also that your company is benefiting as well.
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