Disruption and Innovation: What's Next for Online Communities?

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    The insights industry is focused on innovation and looking ahead. With each new technological advancement comes ample opportunity to revolutionize a research process or methodology and every step we take is a step into the future. Online communities are one such vital research methodology that benefits greatly from every innovation and disruption, and brings so much value to market research and insight experts everywhere – so what’s next for online communities?

    Defining Online Communities

    Before I get started on actually answering the question, ‘what’s next for online communities?’ I would like to make sure we are all talking about the same thing. As you know, “communities” connotes many different interpretations and meanings. As an industry professional who has been evangelizing this to the market research universe since 2008, I feel uniquely qualified to clarify what exactly I am referring to:

    An “Insight Community” is a research environment that promulgates ongoing conversations between researcher and consumer, as well as directly between consumers. There are many variations of how this plays out in the real world, including “pop-up” communities, which a lot of researchers define as short-term qualitative research environments. However, I argue that a pop-up community is a glorified bulletin board or question board that typically transpire over three to seven days with around twenty to fifty people.

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    Online insight communities have evolved a lot over recent years, but there is still some ground to cover yet to make them the best they can be - so what's next for online communities?

    While I think that pop-up communities can also be set up in more of a community configuration, I don’t think that you can call a “community” something that only lasts a week. So, I am going to assuming that, for the argument of this blog, the “communities” that I am referring to are going to be at least one month long in duration.

    The other confusion I find with the term “community” is the fact that researchers interchange “community” and “panel” quite a bit. For a client that does high volume quant with 1000’s of consumers with no real qualitative research, I again, don’t think that constitutes a community, since it’s assumed that community members feel like they are part of a community. In a panel if they don’t get to interact with each other except within the private survey, they can’t feel like they are part of a community.

    So, let’s recap: a community is around longer than 1 month and has to contain peer-to-peer interactions that actually make the community members feel like they are part of something together. Now that we are clear on the definition, let’s dive into what’s next.

    What’s in Store for the Near Future

    After hitting the mean streets of LinkedIn to see what people think before I throw my own ideas into the fold. Here is what I learned:

    The Rise of Video

    Video is where it’s at with insight communities. The ability to run a survey with a streaming video, run video focus groups and IDIs, capture video to get insight into the path to purchase or behavioral data has become a deal breaker for clients who are sold on the idea of running Insight Communities. Of course, this extends not only to the front end where consumers interact with research, however, also on the back end. What’s next is full integration of back-end video analysis tools so that you can filter by source, demographics, consumer groups, auto-transcribe, clip, create montages, so that when you present your results to your client, they can actually get excited by seeing their customers talking about their products and services, which as we know is so much more impactful than a graph or chart.

    The higher purpose to communities and what is important in what’s next is being able to quickly connect with consumers to foster deeper connections with your brand, your products, your services, etc. Yes, we all want to conduct quantitative research, but the times have changed. Brands want to dig deeper and truly understand why and quant only is just not going to cut it alone. Consumers change so quickly and it’s so important to gain context and understanding as to what is happening. Video provides this deepness that we are all salivating for more of, and packaging it in a “community” makes this research more accessible, cheaper, faster, engaging, and rewarding for both community members interacting with each other as well as clients.

    Broader Data Integration

    The other thing on my list of “what’s next” is broader integration, which extends to CRM, data sources, multiple communities with 1 log in, and collaboration with stakeholders within the community environment. Having a central hub, like the central brain where all the nerves connect in one place allows a greater freedom of how you can use your research as well as how it can become more integrated into the business, thus helping Insights gain a stronger foothold in the psyche of the brand. Let’s create better brains. Increased access to insights and data, more connections, more applications of how you use the community, and more variance in methodologies and use cases, can only help improve the bottom line for businesses. Siloed research teams, overly reliant on quant research is not the future.

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    We are at the threshold of the next generation of insights, and there is lots to look forward to with online insight communities.

    Increased Insight Generation

    The third disruption in the Insight Community world is all about Insight Generation. Researchers are being pushed to work at the speed of business and the minute to minute ever changing consumer landscape. In order to keep the pulse on these changes, Insight generation needs to accelerate as well. A long-term community can jump on any topic thrown its way assuming it’s up and running. It can produce in the moment insights for whenever a decision needs to be made.

    This not only speeds up the pace of insights, but more importantly, gives your business the ability to make real time decisions backed by insights. Your CEO can ask you a question that you can have an answer to within 24 hours, the long-term effect of this is a greater impact that Insights has on the business. Executives can come to rely on and trust that insights will back their decisions, making them easier to approve, and faster to switch directions if insights show something isn’t working. It’s about creating better business decisions through the speed of insights.

    We are at the threshold of the next generation of insights. Embrace this new frontier, be the next generation of insight community users and help us continue to evolve and develop an ecosystem that cannot be replaced.

    Camp InsightHub

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