Tom De Ruyck

The fundamentals for establishing, managing and analysing the output of a research community approach work on a global scale. But, just like the brands we are working for, we need to localise our way of working from country to country. Research-on-research taught us that adapting elements of a number of dimensions is crucial in order to establish a healthy consumer consulting board:

Language: From the meta-research carried out on our communities we know that members participate best if they can write in their own language. Taking part in an English-speaking community for a non-native speaker can be hard. It has a rather negative influence on the intensity of participation and the level of detail and nuance when one is writing. That is why our default option is to conduct communities in the native language of the participant. For a global project to evaluate the IKEA catalogue, we conducted local communities in the US, China, Germany, Italy and Poland. That being said, there can be good reasons to opt for a multi-national English-speaking community: non-native executives of the company who want to follow the discussion, limited budgets or the fact that one is in search for global consensus on a given subject rather than an understanding of local differences. An example of the latter is our global Shape-It community for ketchup giant H.J. Heinz. The goal of this project was to come to a new and uniform design for the shape of the next-generation ketchup bottle. Participants from more than 10 countries took part in the same community to reach global consensus.

Moderator: The Cultural Iceberg model of the American anthropologist Edward Hall suggests that language is only a small part of culture. In order to grasp the local context and situation fully, our preference is to work with a moderator who does not only speak the language, but also understands all the other cultural aspects of a country (common values, beliefs, traditions, attitudes and perceptions), next to the local market situation and the business context. In order to fully understand to what extent localisation of our methodology is needed, we conducted several studies with moderators from our Global Community Moderator Network (active in 30 different countries) and with local research participants. This way we co-created best practices for the different markets we are operating in. We found that it is important to adapt your community to the local culture on 5 aspects. The directions in which the adaptations are made can be explained by the work of the Dutch academic researcher Geert Hofstede and his 5 dimensions to explain cultural differences between countries. For each of the 30 countries we do research in, we have developed a full overview of best practices for every single aspect of community management.

Below we explain the different dimensions in more detail and illustrate them with some striking examples.

Reason to participate: From the first invitation e-mail to join the community and onwards, it needs to be clear what is in it for the participants. In almost all countries, the main reason to participate is the possibility to have an influence on the future of a brand or a product. Next to this, we noticed that some countries are more extrinsically motivated than others. This is especially the case in the USA and Eastern European countries, but for different reasons. Americans consider it to be normal that there is a payment in return for performance. In most Eastern European countries on the other hand a (monetary) incentive is perceived as a nice extra on top of their monthly income. Furthermore, in Eastern Europe, it is a must to gain the trust of the members. Trust in the fact that the agency or company behind the community will not harm them in any way. And trust in the fact that they will really get their incentive. The preferred type of incentive differs from country to country. It is an illusion to think that PayPal fits all. In Asian countries such as India and China, intrinsic motivation is important: they like to be connected with aspirational brands and share their wisdom. In Latin-American countries like Brazil, the social aspect has a higher importance in the overall mix of reasons to become a board member.

Technology: Mobile technology is developing rapidly and adoption of mobile internet is increasing worldwide. It is a valuable medium to get access to another type of data: more personal and contextual information. But given the situation in some markets, where most consumers only have access to the web through their mobile phones, we need to change our preferred medium to reach out to them. As mobile-only users are the new reality, it is a necessity to adapt our way of asking questions or giving tasks. In the scenario of mobile-only communities, one needs to work more task-based and ask more questions that can be answered in a short and convenient way. Wisely rethinking the mix of research tools and adapting them to the small screen is a final must do.

Conversation guide: A different culture also means different attitudes and values, leading to a different way of reacting to certain questions, tasks and exercises moderators want participants to perform. Some cultures for instance love to share a lot of details about themselves and their lives. Others prefer to talk about the group, which is considered to be a safer option. This could be seen as a projective technique to let people talk about their own situation, free of any pressure. The same holds for co-creation exercises. It is not a given in every culture that people are used to taking initiative. They feel better when they are only asked to give feedback about what already exists. It is important to map the country that one is working in on those two axes (me versus we and feedback versus co-creation) and to adapt the way of writing and (re)mixing topics for the conversation guide to it.

Role of the moderator: One does not only need to adapt the way of inviting and incentivising the members, the medium of data collection and the nature of the topics in the conversation guide. The role of the moderator is also perceived differently from one country to the other. In Brazil a moderator needs to facilitate and start the discussion. His/her role lies more in the background. But it is also expected from the moderator that he/she is steering the discussion in the right direction when it is going off topic. In Russia on the other hand, the moderator needs to be strict and almost literally direct the members to the next question or task they need to look into. The moderator in Brazil is more a social peer; he/she needs to be a formal professional in China and a like-minded person to exchange wisdom with in India. It is crucial to know and manage all these different expectations when running (multi-country or global) Consumer Consulting Boards.

Gamification: adding elements of gamification to the community brings more richness to the table. In our research-on-research among our moderators we learned that the level of and the intensity by which you gamify your Consumer Consulting Board needs to differ between countries. In Spain for example they absolutely love the gamification elements, even to the extent that the local moderator includes additional game aspects in the topics and the newsletters. On the contrary in Germany it is wise to limit it to a minimal level as it is culturally less accepted. The above elements show that in multi-country projects you need to start from a master conversation guide. But adaptations both in content and style of the topics and the way of moderating will be key elements in making the community a real success. Experience taught us that, when analysing the comments in the community, it is as important to pay equal attention to how people say things as to what they say. There is a lot of symbolism and cultural meaning in the words and metaphors used by participants to express themselves.

Understanding these can be of great value to fully grasp the cultural differences around certain issues. Last but not least, it is important to walk our own talk and invite community members to become a part of the research process in order to fill our blind spots. They can even become our eyes and ears into the world around them. They can observe and share information about groups in society who until now have been less capable of taking part in research communities, adding again a totally different dimension to what we already know.