Building your own market research online community (MROC) can provide a powerful way of continuously generating feedback about your brand and how customers feel about your products and services. So it is not surprising that MROCs are a growing trend. But it is not uncommon for organisations to put more effort into the design of their MROCs than addressing the key challenge of ensuring ongoing member interaction and engagement.
Unfortunately, even if you have an extremely well thought out and structured site for your MROC, there is no guarantee that people will come and engage. Here are nine tips to help drive greater engagement for your MROC.
Create an annual plan of interaction
Develop a detailed plan of interaction looking at least 12 months ahead. This should include the key topic areas you will focus on and the types of interaction (quick poll, article comments, forum discussions, in-depth surveys etc). Ensure that you research and include the topics that members are already passionate about to help get them into the habit of participating – this increases the chances they will participate in other topics.
You should regularly announce and preview the programme and flag the topics and content that members can expect – to ensure people are forewarned and primed to interact. Start with quicker, easier engagement types – a quick poll or a blog comment – to lead people in to the topic and then encourage them to interact in deeper surveys or qualitative discussions.
Target your content to members’ interests
Rather than throwing out generic calls to action to all MROC members, make sure your notifications are targeted based on your customer data. You should target polls or blogs to those members who have already shown an interest in the specific topic or theme you want to pursue. That way you will drive faster engagement and feedback and also create momentum – because when people see that a specific discussion or blog has already attracted a high level of engagement, they’ll be more likely to participate.
Keep asking, ‘what’s in it for members?’
Understand what the motivations of your MROC members are, and tailor your interactions accordingly. Are they looking for monetary rewards, or is it the chance to influence new product direction? Deliver on what you promise, for example closing the feedback loop by showing how their insights have fed into your strategy. Keep asking what’s in it for members if you want them to remain engaged.
Gamify community interactions
Gamification is a big buzzword in the market research industry and could be another way of driving up engagement levels. The basic idea behind using gamification in an MROC is to re-think the design of surveys or discussion to maximise the interactive and visual potential of the online environment. The objective is to make the interactions more enjoyable and absorbing so that members are more inclined to participate and to ensure more completions. Gamification is an exciting and emerging area which is very much evolving, so it is worth keeping an eye on new techniques it creates.
Ensure your MROC works across all devices
To optimise engagement levels, you need to ensure your MROC’s members can easily access content regardless of the device they are using – mobile, desktop and tablet. They might see a discussion they are interested on their mobile during their morning commute, review it on their work desktop at lunchtime and participate in the evening from their tablets. Technologies such as responsive design which automatically adapt web content to specific devices can help.
Make your MROC social media friendly
Many people have a favourite social network which they stay logged into and frequently scan throughout the day. You can help drive engagement and interactions by developing social media apps which allow members to receive MROC notifications and access content while they are in Facebook for example. Allowing them to participate without having to move away from the network could increase the chances of them participating.
Consider member anonymity and privacy
Sometimes people are more comfortable participating in an online community if they have the option to remain anonymous, so it is worth considering whether this might help drive greater participation and engagement in your MROC. Similarly you should carefully consider the information you request from community members when they initially sign up, and importantly, what information members will be able to see about each other. You don’t want to put people off joining and participating.
Balancing members’ privacy against your desire for information and community engagement is a tricky job. The simplest rule of thumb is: don’t ask for any information you don’t need, and let your members decide how much information they make visible to one another.
Make use of Member Ratings
User ratings can be a good way of letting your community members express their gratitude to the most helpful users, or tip you off if somebody is misbehaving in your online community. If you connect members’ community standing with a points system, you can reward the most popular users with special offers or fancy titles such as “Power Member”, this could be a way of encouraging some members on to greater participation and engagement.
Ensuring current feedback stays visible
Sometimes participation can be hampered if an online community is structured so that members have to click through several pages in order to find and participate in the most current polls, forum discussions, blogs etc. It can be helpful to structure your site so that current activities are immediately visible on the front page in the manner of a social network news feed for example. You need to make it as easy as possible for members to see what the current polls and discussions are, the topic they relate to and make it effortless for them to participate.
A successful MROC can give you a small army of engaged consumers who are keen to help you improve your products and services — and ultimately, your bottom line. But success depends on ensuring those members are motivated to continually engage. You need a community manager or team who is constantly reviewing your site design, topics and methodologies with a key focus on maintaining high engagement levels. Otherwise you’ll build it, but the members simply won’t come.
Chris Myers is Online Community Developer for QuestBack, a provider of online survey and managed feedback technology