For many of us in the UK, it was the government’s rapid change of stance on Covid-19 that signalled a step-shift in the seriousness and scale of the situation. Every industry will be impacted by the human or economic cost of the pandemic. And it is certain that the impact on individuals will be even greater. So, it feels almost trivial to write about how insight communities and online research will affected. But it is also a valid question. Because in times of great uncertainty, we must strike a fine balance between business as usual and responsiveness – and all help each other in any way we can.
Even though it may be a small contribution, I want to make sure FlexMR are doing our part to help others. And while we’re evaluating more extensive ways to help the research sector, sharing our knowledge and advice on how to treat insight communities during this time of crisis is, at least, a start.
Now, before I go any further, I want to be clear on what the following is not. This is not a sales pitch for insight communities, online research platforms, or FlexMR. Those in the research sector that will be hit the hardest by the pandemic are those that work in face-to-face environments, and it is vitally important that we continue to support those businesses more than others.
Instead, the following is a summation of our research team’s collective wisdom. We’ve pulled this together in order to support and answer questions from those who have already invested in online platforms. We hope that this offers clarity, stability and a path to keeping your research investments delivering value during an extremely challenging period. Of course, should you require any further assistance or advice, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to support you. This is open to anyone, regardless of whether you are a FlexMR client or not.
Getting the Basics Right
It’s important to remember that there are many aspects of online communities that will not change. The basics still stand. Decisions around incentive structure, volume and frequency will still likely have the largest impact on engagement.
Similarly, in qualitative environments, the skill and experience of moderators will be a large contributing factor. These are the constants of insight communities, unaffected by the macro trends of the world. We’ve written extensively on the basics and general best practices of running insight communities, so if you’re looking for a refresher, I recommend reading the following pieces:
There has been a slew of advice recently on how to effectively work from home. On this particular point, all I would add is: do what works for you. Not everyone works the same, and if you’re struggling to adjust that’s fine. It’s just about finding out the patterns, habits and activities that work best for you.
However, when managing an online community (or any research project), it’s also important that data security doesn’t take a back seat. As researchers, we still have the same level of responsibility to protect our participants’ data – regardless of the environment in which we’re working. Here are some of the key pieces from advice from our Information Security team:
Ensure all business and research team members have the correct, and a proportional, level of access to communities, research tools and systems.
Minimise the duplication of data; keep data within insight communities and analysis tools if possible. Should you need to store the data locally on a device, make sure to follow your firm’s protocols on this. We recommend research data is stored on an encrypted hard drive or memory stick.
Try to reduce the amount of times that files containing participant or research data are shared, especially across collaboration platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams or Trello. We recommend sharing web links to relevant pages within insight community platforms where possible, or using encrypted email transfers when required.
Positioning and Communication
During this unprecedented moment of crisis, it is fair to ask whether you should be taking any active measures to adapt or change the content, tasks and communication of your insight community. The fact is, as we navigate such uncertainty - there is little concrete advice on best practice. Instead, we would recommend asking key questions about your business, your community members and how the two should interact over the coming months.
Let’s break it down by section. First, scheduled research tasks:
What kind of research tasks are participants most likely and most willing to take part in?
What research activities is it socially responsible to ask participants to engage in?
Insight communities, by their very nature, include access to a range of different research tasks. At this time, it is these two questions that should guide the decisions around which types of task and activity will both yield the best results, and be socially responsible.
As social distancing measures increase, it would not be advisable to use diary tasks in order to record shop visits. However, video or written diaries can still provide a window into consumer life, so long as the activity doesn’t encourage individuals to not follow self-isolation guidelines.
Forums and question boards are another way to stimulate engagement and get people to connect. Their design lends itself to digital community. Surveys meanwhile, do not. And ramping up their usage may quickly lead to fatigue. Of course, this is all dependent on your business and your participants – but it is these questions and considerations that will lead to the right answer.
Next, let’s look at topics:
What is the tone of your online community?
What topics currently matter most to your members?
It is a natural reaction to consider pivoting planned topics to those currently most prominently in the zeitgeist. But, we and many of our clients, are actively avoiding this. In fact, many communities are a place for fans or people with similar interests to gather. So before making drastic changes to planned content – it’s worth asking whether your members are here to discuss that, or are looking for an escape.
With the stress and worry many consumers are currently feeling, does your community support a tone that could provide much needed levity? Or perhaps, it is a place for members their worries and concerns. Whichever approach you decide on, it is vital that moderators and researchers are more sensitive than usual to the wording of questions and prompts. Tone and member motivation should be at the forefront of decision making.
Finally, let’s look at communication:
Is it best to increase, decrease or maintain levels of communication?
How will impacts on research schedules impact the community?
An effective insight community is regularly engaged, both in scheduled research tasks but also in peer-to-peer communication outside of these tasks. Should your research schedule change; whether that’s a decrease in projects, or an increase in those completed online – it’s worth considering the impact that may have on your insight community.
We would always recommend that there is sufficient new activity for members to take part in, so that they remain actively engaged in a community. That may mean replacing scheduled activity with more member led topics in order to maintain engagement levels.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your community activity is set to increase, it may be the case that you need to replace engagement activity with more scheduled research. The goal is not to overwhelm members with too much to do, and ensure that they are provided with a consistent, manageable level of activity that stimulates engagement without overloading them.
Ultimately, I hope that your insight communities continue to deliver value during this time – because they are still very much an integral aspect of an effective research strategy. To quote a recent Marketing Week article that I believes offers a balanced perspective which applies not only to marketing, but market research too;
“The wheels of industry need to keep turning so workers are paid and families are fed. Those wheels are best greased by effective marketing. We need to drive demand like never before. We should not be doing the job of the government or the chief medical officer, we should be doing our own – like mad – for the good of the country.”
Chris is experienced in marketing strategy and brand development, which he uses to skilfully guide the FlexMR brand to its full potential. Chris works hard maximising opportunities and ensuring the brand’s offering is relevant and appealing to insights professionals. You can follow Chris on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.