Community panels have been around for close to 20 years and have only grown in popularity as more companies recognise the importance of talking with their customers on a regular basis in order to make better informed, more customer-centric decisions. Yet, the majority of companies are still working without this type of insight solution, so there is substantial room for continued growth in insight communities.
In 2018, MrWeb conducted and published a study with BRB (British Research Barometer). In the results they highlighted the following as their most important finding in the study:
One stand-out result is that community panels are expected to experience massive growth - despite only being used by around 1/3 currently. 78% of those using them currently expect to use them more in the coming year and 34% of those not using them expect to start. Both of these figures are higher than any other methodology that we asked about.
The value of community panels is what is driving their growth, but how is value defined? There are 6 ways that community panels provide value:
The cost savings vs. conducting the same research projects using other sources of sample and tools.
The time savings vs. conducting online research using other sources of sample and tools.
Minimises the risk in decision-making. Not doing research altogether as a result of not having a community panel means making important decisions without any research basis.
Agile research can easily be conducted with a community panel which enables more research and more opportunities for research to influence decision making.
Increased customer engagement; promoting this amongst a company’s customer base, thereby sending a strong message that the company values customer input.
Multiple research projects run with different participant segments (such as target consumers, employees, business partners and others) thereby obtaining important additional perspectives for virtually no additional cost.
Time and Cost Saving Value
Calculating cost savings is relatively easy to do. We simply need to look at the cost of ad-hoc research projects including the acquisition of sample (that is the consumers who are participating in the research project). When using a community panel, there is no incremental cost each time consumers participate as the company owns the relationship. Without an online community, there is the need to purchase access each time consumers are needed as participants in a research project.
The other big difference between a community panel and ad-hoc research is associated with research tools. With most community panels, clients have direct access to tools which allow them to run some, if not all, of their own research projects and activities. Without a community panel the costs for ad-hoc services and sample from a research provider tend to be much higher.
The main reason timing is improved with your own community panel is that there is direct access to research projects, which means they can occur very quickly; this works especially when using simpler tools such as quick polls and forum discussions, which do not require a lot of time on the part of the researchers or participants as they tend to be quick and easy to set-up as well as having very fast and high response rates.
Also, community panels are profiled in exactly the way a company sees the business and category, such as any segmentations but also purchase and other behaviours and attitudes. With all of these data points easily accessible within the community platform, researchers can quickly determine what will be feasible in terms of how many participants can be invited and expected to complete a particular task. Once decided, the fielding is equally fast, because there is not typically a lot of time required for screening as invitations can go directly to those who qualify for the particular project requirements.
Value as a Research Method
Expanding on the third aspect of value, research is sometimes not conducted at all due to limited time or budget, resulting in important decisions being based on gut rather than tangible insights. There is more risk when making decisions without knowing what customers think, and too many decisions are still being made this way. Having a community panel means that there will always be the opportunity to collect feedback on whatever decision that needs to be made; this opportunity means that the risk of a bad decision is minimised, which ultimately adds more value to the business.
Agile is one of the most important trends in business today, and agile research is no exception. There are several meanings for agile as it is applied in the research industry, but the most common is for the research to be fast, cost effective, and iterative. With a community panel, all of these elements are present – fast because community members are ready and waiting and deeply profiled; cost effective because companies own the relationship and can talk with them anytime for no incremental cost; and iterative because shorter and more frequent research sessions are better for obtaining better quality data since it is easier for participants to engage with shorter tasks even if these occur more often.
Value through Increased Consumer Engagement
Community panels offer companies the opportunity to have an enthusiastic and supportive, yet large, set of customers who can serve as brand ambassadors. Even if the primary purpose for the community panel is to generate insights, a subset of this community can also promote the brand, encourage others to try it, and communicate with other potential consumers regarding why the brand is compelling. However, there is no concern that the online community is skewed towards the company, as there would also be plenty of customers who do not serve as ambassadors and do not necessarily have the same level of passion in and loyalty to the brand.
Community panels provide value by enabling segments beyond direct customers to be included in an online community; these other segments (such as target consumers or employees or business partners) have a wealth of knowledge and important perspectives to share, which are directly relevant to the company’s success. If the platform and database structure are set-up properly and the functionality of your platform provider enables this, then a variety of research topics and activities can occur simultaneously within the platform whereby certain topics are directed to one segment and other topics to another segment. In this way, the topics are relevant to the particular audience, also even more value is derived by being able to support a wide variety and volume of research all within the same platform cost structure.
Practically speaking, the value of your Community Panel can be documented and tracked within your company through some very simple steps:
Keep a record of all the research projects, big and small, which are conducted using your Community Panel including timescales.
Document decisions made and actions taken on the basis of insights generated which sourced from your Community Panel.
Ask your Community Panel members not only about their experience of participating on the panel but also how they extend that into their lives outside the panel such as in their interactions with friends & family.
The wealth of this information, if well documented, should supply ample proof to your company’s management that the use of the Community Panel for market research provides value to all departments and strategies within the company.
With 30 years of US and UK market research experience, Charles has held senior positions at Research Now, Ipsos, IRI, Nielsen and comScore. Charles uses his well-honed analytical and client-service skills to deliver growth by building and maintaining partnerships with global brands, agencies and consultancies. You can follow Charles on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.