In September, Caio Casseb wrote a compelling article arguing that digital research can be human. However, part of the human condition is that we’re not always very nice; we can be insincere and we can be down-right lazy. These are traits which aren’t altogether very useful for the brands behind online research communities.
When it comes to online methodologies, money really is the root of all evil – and these unfortunate ‘quirks’ of the human character are actually accentuated by the financial reward systems that most online methodologies use as their primary motivator for consumers.
How, then, can we avoid the problems caused by insincere and lazy respondents? Companies need to work really hard to engage their communities at an intrinsic level, and we’ll share some practical tips for doing just this.
Online research presents an opportunity for businesses to become more nimble and iterative in their approach to insight and innovation. Indeed, a few years ago a Deloitte concluded that despite the recession, 94% of business would continue to invest in online communities and earlier this year Forrester released a report concluding online research communities will continue to tackle ever more strategic challenges.
Despite their many virtues, the new world of intermediated interfaces leaves us vulnerable: the online world can act as a robust screen for an unengaged throng to hide behind. For brands that invest in online methodologies this is a real challenge: how can you be sure your investment isn’t being thwarted by community members’ less than productive behaviors? To answer this question let’s first consider why unconstructive mannerisms in the digital space might come about in the first place.
What causes respondents to behave badly in online research?
‘Bad behaviours’ in online research falls into one of two broad archetypes:
- The Professional Respondent: On the surface their responses appear are detailed, incisive and considered. But they are motivated only by financial reward, and so it’s hard to interpret their contributions as unadulterated.
- The Despondent Respondent: This is someone who contributes without any real care or creative thinking. In order to receive their monthly incentive they may make a significant number of comments, but when you dig deeper you see that they have become lazy and offer very little by way of insight.
What’s the one thing that underpins these 2 archetypes? Well, Notorious B.I.G had a point when he mused: “the more money we come across, the more problems we see” .
As is tradition in most offline market research, online research participants are likewise enticed to take part in exchange for financial reward, and this has two main problems. Firstly, money encourages the wrong sort of community member in the first place (The Professional). Secondly, money has the ability to make previously creative and enthusiastic consumers lazy (The Despondent Respondents). Whilst the link between financial reward and encouraging The Professional Respondent is intuitive, the link between financial reward and laziness is less so. However, two studies that originate outside of the world of online communities support this idea:
- Nominal financial rewards actually make you lazier than if you didn’t receive any financial reward at all. In 2004 Heyman and Airely conducted a study that showed that participants who are not financially rewarded actually work harder than those that are paid a nominal sum.
- Financial incentives actually reduce creativity and speed of task completion. Collins & Amabile (1999) asked two separate groups to develop a high-quality solution in a short time frame. One group got paid, the other didn’t. Not only did the unpaid group produce the best result, but they did it quickest.
So, money alone clearly isn’t the answer. But what else can online researchers do to encourage participation? The answer lies in intrinsic motivations.
Intrinsic reward and quality of member contribution to online communities
In a recent Promise study exploring the reasons for taking part in online communities, we found that more than 65% of members listed the ‘opportunity to engage with the brand’ or the ‘opportunity to engage with other community members’ as their primary motivator for taking part. Financial incentive only played a role for 2% of people.
Evidence from outside the world online communities also indicates that removing the emphasis on financial reward is a positive move and one which is particularly relevant for online communities: eradicating individual earnings can make communities more pro-social. It goes without saying; pro-social behaviours are an inherent part of any thriving community! One study that demonstrates this was conducted by Vohs, Mead & Goode in 2006, who found that compared to people being paid for a task, ‘unsalaried’ people are more likely to demonstrate social behaviors.
However, tending to the intrinsic needs of community members is a lot of hard work – throwing money at our members would certainly be an easier option! Nevertheless, feeding intrinsic motivations is vital to any successful online community: the most constructive contributions come from community members who have their curiosity, creativity and self-insight needs met.
If you’re worried that your online community places an over-emphasis on financial rewards, here are a few practical tips for shifting the focus back to your members’ intrinsic motivations.
5 practical ways for you to encourage more constructive online behaviours
- Acknowledge your community members are the most important advisors you have: you shouldn’t refer to your online group as a panel, nor should you call them respondents – instead elevate their status to what they really are: co-creators and advisors to your brand.
- Share a wide view of your brand’s challenges: You can turn both Professional and Despondent respondents into sincere brand advisors by simply making them care about your issue: share with them the real detail of the challenges your brand currently faces.
- Utilise psychodynamic principles to elicit creativity and unconscious insight: The online world is ripe for fostering deep relationships and getting beyond ‘formal’ personas – use projective techniques, and other psychodynamic methods, to get intimate with your community.
- Make community members accountable to one another: allow members to build their status within the community only by delivering the most pro-social and peer-centric contributions.
- Reward them with more than just $: a little incentive certainly acts as a sweetener, but as soon money enters the equation this becomes a functional transaction, and the most successful communities are more than that.
I’m a staunch believer in online communities: I’m convinced that of used effectively, the online research environment presents a wonderful opportunity for brands to truly engage with their consumer. But I’m also acutely aware that the online environment presents particular challenges and the success of online methodologies research relies upon cultivating communities where intrinsic motivations are central.
Anna Peters is a Senior Consultant at Promise North America