Communities Are Simply Conversations
Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas Series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Stephen Thompson will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 13-15 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX NA. Click here to learn more.
By Stephen Thompson, Executive Vice President, Ramius | Recollective
Almost two decades ago, the marketing industry was starting to buzz about something new, something huge.
Brands were waking up to a new millennium in which consumers had started to use a rapidly-expanding global internet to connect and talk to each other about them and their products. These were conversations that the brand hadn’t initiated and often wasn’t included in. Most alarmingly, consumers weren’t always being nice. In fact, the anonymity of the internet meant that people were more secure and confident than ever to be brutally honest!
Fast forward to the present day, past some spectacular social media fails and a veritable library of books on the subject (some like Outside Innovation and Cluetrain Manifesto are worth a read). Brands are now using online communities in a myriad of different ways to engage their consumers, but it’s always with the same purpose: to be part of the conversation. Because when connected, you can explain, influence, strengthen and learn about your consumers.
As I now observe and work in the marketing research industry, there are some obvious parallels. For the past few years in GRIT reports and at conferences, there’s been a similar growing buzz about online community technology and how it can be used to power new and exciting research. While the latest tech often includes features specific to researchers’ unique needs, qualitative research shares the same purpose of engaging people in conversation that is fundamental to traditional marketing communities. So on the face of it, the fit is a natural one.
Yet I talk to researchers every week and there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about how simple a research community can be. Many share concerns about a preconceived notion of size and complexity, about how much effort is required to moderate it and how to manage the data. Whatever the cause of those concerns, there are five misunderstandings about online research communities that we need to debunk:
- They don’t need to have a large number of people
- They can be any duration (including quick 3 day “popup” communities)
- They don’t have to socialize every contribution a participant makes; it can be (and should be) selective
- They can be much more than a discussion forum or bulletin board
- They don’t need to be “always on”
What’s important to remember is that community = conversations. All you really need are two people: a moderator and a participant. Everything after that can be tailored to your research needs, experience and resources.
It’s great if participant responses are socialized to the community members, but sometimes that isn’t appropriate. Likewise, it’s great if you can maintain those conversations on an ongoing basis, but often they’re for a specific purpose and have a natural end. So when you consider using today’s online research community platforms, remember that they’re flexible of purpose because the best insight communities strip right down to the heart of what a community is all about: simple conversations. Kendall Nash from Burke and I will talk more about this in our presentation “Chameleon Communities” at IIeX – we hope to see you there!