When I first became involved in online communities for research purposes, about ten years ago, the expectation was that research communities would mirror many naturally occurring communities. Enthused by the Cluetrain Manifesto, published in 2000, the hope was that customers would flock to communities to create self-managing, self-perpetuating, co-creating entities that would deliver insight with minimal management or intervention.
Turn the clock forward to today and the picture is clearer, useful, but quite different. Businesses commission insight communities to deliver ROI, not just to consult and involve customers. To deliver ROI, insight communities have to be managed in ways that ensure that they work and which ensure they keep working. This means making the process engaging, ensuring that the right tasks are sent to the right people, and having a plan of how the community is going to be linked to the wider organisation.
The three key tips we'd share with anybody seeking to manage an insight community are:
- Know who is in charge of the 'health' of the community.
Research projects are one thing, but ongoing member management also requires time and effort. It is important to determine what combination of the insights team, internal stakeholders, agency etc. is going to be responsible for creating and maintaining an engaged community. If nobody is in charge, it won't happen. To ensure your community's health, the team in charge should follow project management and design best practices.
- Deliver ROI by keeping your community engaged.
For example, don't wait until your community is fully recruited before deploying a survey. Depending on the size of the community and the types of members, the community may take up to six weeks or longer to recruit. Members should get a welcome email and/or a first 'Engagement Study' within a week of registering.
If you promise people that they will get to share their opinions, make sure your questions ask opinions don't just ask questions about 'facts'.
To know your community is engaged, you need to set KPIs to evaluate engagement, for example response rates, churn rates, and scores from member satisfaction studies.
- Keep your community healthy by closing the feedback loop.
Provide feedback on a regular basis. If you promise members' views will have an impact, let them know how you used their research and share back interesting tidbits via newsletters or your member portal. Follow this simple feedback process: community members tell you something Õ you listen Õ you act Õ you tell the members what you did and what role their feedback had in the process.
At Vision Critical, we understand the importance of treating community management as a discipline in its own right, and that's why over the last decade we've developed a comprehensive community management process. We believe this process delivers a better experience for community members, and deliver ROI for end-clients. As part of Vision Critical University's commitment to sharing the learning, we have published our best practices for ongoing community management, which covers the following topics:
- Using hindsight and planning as a single process to ensure the community develops and grows.
- Conducting health reviews, looking at size, churn, response rates, and composition.
- Monitoring member satisfaction and utilizing the findings.
- Developing strategies for member retention.
- Showcasing success.
The detail of how to implement the three tips we've shared here can be downloaded from Best Practices on Ongoing Community Management. Please download the free white paper and share your views on how we think insight communities should be managed.