As mentioned in previous blogs, online research communities can be leveraged for superior value, deep customer understanding and fostering greater brand loyalty. However, according to Ray Poynter of Potentiate, the future of communities is all about secure long-term communities, of ever larger size, linked to other data flows, enabling agile processes and the democratising of insights, built on trust between organisations and their customers/users.
Communities have become the most widely adopted new research technique of the last 20 years, going from innovative ideas to mainstream research tools in record time. Taking a look at the United States where innovation in market research has come on leaps and bounds, 16% of the Fortune 500 companies have online communities, with over 90% of marketing leaders reporting that their communities positively impact their organisations; and a full 55% of communities 5 years or older generate over $1 million a year.
Future of Online Communities
Over the next ten years, the focus will shift from short to long-term. Whilst short-term (or pop-up) communities are valuable research tools, they are simply one ad hoc option in the toolbox of insights. A community that lasts – days, weeks, or even months – will often be the most appropriate way to gather insights related to a specific project or decision.
A short-term community competes for efficacy and budget against other ad hoc approaches such as focus groups, diaries, surveys or ethnography. Using a short-term community does not require the organisation to reassess its relationship with its customers – it is simply a research tool.
In contrast, a long-term community, particularly one of scale, is as much a philosophy as an insights tool. The community of now, and for the next ten years, is a commitment to four key principles that will shape the future for consumer-facing brands:
- Customer-centric: Putting the customer at the centre of the organisation and co-creating the future. Most traditional research is cross-sectional; each project is carried out with a different sample of people, and the results are averages. To understand how the relationship between you and your customer develops, you need longitudinal data; information from the same customers over time.
- Agile: If you want insights to move at the speed of your business, you need the right insight methods to be in place. You can’t be agile while finding fresh samples, writing surveys from scratch and deciding which qual tools to use. Building an agile solution is like building with Lego – you have many bricks and shapes, you have unlimited possibilities, but you know they all lock together in predictable and well-practised ways.
- Democratised: In modern organisations, the goal is to empower the whole organisation to embrace insights, to adopt evidence-based decision making. However, this expanded team of insights-hungry colleagues do not have the time (and maybe not the inclination) to become insight professionals. The solution that works for many organisations is to create insight approaches, based on their community. Communities can facilitate the safe and effective democratisation of insights throughout the organisation.
- Human-centric: The next ten years will focus on understanding people as people, rather than simply thinking of them as customers, users or even numbers. To understand people, you need to combine the length of longitudinal with the breadth of insights that go wider than your own range of products and services. To be longer and wider, you need a community, people who are on a journey with you to iteratively build a brand that meets their needs, and which engenders loyalty.
Recommendation – Democratise Insights to Unlock Business Success
One of the key trends over the last few years has been the move to democratise insights. For some, this means granting access to the raw data, for others it means ensuring that the insights are made available in ways that do not require any specialised knowledge of research, in order to interpret and utilise.
At the heart of this is communities. A philosophy of customer-centricity will transcend an organisation if they have the ability to democratise the insights captured in a consistent and digestible manner. Most learning in the future will be iterative, based on approaches such as build-measure-learn, and the best way to democratise that in your organisation is through the centrality of communities.
In order to achieve this, you must focus on two key elements. One, to make information available to those in your organisation who would benefit from it, and to make it available in ways and forms that suit the user. Two, to democratise the creation and commissioning of insight which the GRIT Report has explained in greater detail.
The future of online communities is incredibly exciting and ultimately, fundamental to the success of consumer-facing companies around the world. It will be filled with new technologies, great innovation and a shift in the attitude of many researchers as the industry seeks to democratise consumer insight. The catalyst for this democratisation, we believe, is the emergence of the communities as a philosophy for the brands of the future.