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Who Should You Invite to an Online Community?

Updated: Jan 2, 2020

Written by: Evan Goodfellow

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Recruiting as many people as possible for your online community is the goal, right? Well… not necessarily. While it is important to have a populated, thriving online community, not all memberships are the same.

Online Communities can have either open or closed registration.

Open Registration- interested people can access the online community via a URL and register to become a member.

Closed Registration- people become members via an online invitation that grants them access to the community. Registration is not possible without the invitation link.

You might be thinking, “Why would anyone want a community to be closed?” Very simply put, sometimes it is a matter of quality vs. quantity.

While some online communities benefit from growing as big as possible – think general consumer brands, entertainment brands, or popular service providers- where the majority of the general public would be able to provide feedback from experience, and where adding more people would effectively work as a marketing campaign, others benefit from a more targeted approach to membership.

Closed communities are effective when certain requirements must be met for membership, and where “outside voices” (from people who do not possess the requirements) would be detrimental to the quality of data gathered.

An example of a closed community that embodies this explanation is a company that has a customer loyalty program already in place. If the company wants to hear back from the people engaging with their brand the most, it would be more effective to invite the customers with the highest number of points (and therefore highest level of brand involvement) in their pre-existing customer loyalty program to give informed and invested responses to the questions they are asking.

Another idea to think about is a controlled community, where membership is dependent on meeting requirements in the profile survey. The questions that ask about these requirements and ultimately determine whether or not membership is granted are called screener questions. These types of questions ensure only people with appropriate demographic (or other) attributes are sharing their opinions, and weeds out those who do not possess the attributes that the online community is looking to target.

A sector of customers that is especially interested in controlled communities is municipal governments. While municipal governments have great potential to grow their online community with basic promotions via radio, newspaper and online, the voices in these types of communities only hold weight if they represent certain demographics, namely, location. A screener question could therefore be put into the profile survey that ensures the member resides in an appropriate area. If they indicate that they live somewhere other than the desired locations the person is not granted membership. Once membership is controlled for appropriate demographic information, even anonymous surveys have merit.

Not only does this help to ensure the opinions being shared are relevant, but it also aids in accountability and keeps trolling to a minimum. Keeping trolls out allows the registered panelist to say what they really think without being bullied and humiliated by the trolls (i.e. 2016 US election). People who love to “stir the pot” are usually deterred by the fact that their name or email address is shown within the online community. Sharing opinions in an online community has also proven to help keep the loudest voices at equal levels of importance with everyone else- which is often not the case in town halls. Utilizing an online community where all members have equally weighted voices will help gain an accurate reading of your constituents.

If you are interested in learning more about how an online community can help you get more representative data, or the other tools we have available to accommodate your research needs, contact us!

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