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Every year since 2008, Vision Critical has showcased the insight communities that are best in class and chooses one recipient for the Insight Community of the Year award. As we gear up for our 2013 competition over the next few weeks, I thought I'd share five key ingredients for a winning community that our past winners - Discovery Communications, Banana Republic, NASCAR, MassMutual and Debenhams - have all proudly demonstrated year after year.

#1: Alignment with Business Objectives

First and foremost: do the insight community objectives align with changing business needs? Companies usually kick off a community with some key research goals in mind, and tailor things like the Profiling Questionnaire, tone and messaging, activity schedule, feedback plan, etc. to align with those objectives. Over time the purpose of the insight community may change whether it is due to new stakeholders, different target markets, new products and ideas to create. It is always beneficial to keep asking yourself "are we using the insight community in the way it was originally intended?" It's completely OK if things have changed, but you want to make sure your insight community matches those changing business needs, or else your projects may start to seem irrelevant to members or not helpful to you when you analyze the data.

This alignment with business objectives also means that you might need to look at who you've recruited on your insight community, and whether some people really wouldn't be qualified anymore given the changes. Or, you might have a whole new target market you didn't have before so you have to recruit more people or run regular parallel studies with nationally representative sample to make sure those markets are included.

Best case scenario: your insight community has become so popular in your organization that all departments are feeding projects through you and it's a win/win situation with your members because they are getting a great variety in topics and projects. If you're not there yet, consider spreading the knowledge throughout your organization and getting buy-in from other teams to solidify the community as a key research tool within your company.

From the Insight Community of the Year nominations I've seen over the past 5 years, almost all have cited internal awareness within the organization as a key to success - mainly due to the ability to get feedback from members within a short period of time, resulting in being able to make important decisions quickly and responsibly.

Many nominees have aligned with their changing business objectives and used their insight community to improve their website design, customer service mechanisms, social media strategy, brochure development, cover testing (for magazines), advertising effectiveness. Being able to stay on top of changes and making sure the insight community is providing the best environment for accurate research is one of the key ingredients of a winning community. I touched earlier on the need to recruit new members when changing business needs introduce new target markets or an increased demand on an existing group. The next key ingredient I'll be talking about is ensuring a diverse recruitment strategy for your insight community.

Note: Minor updates were made to this blog post on July 12, 2013.

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Christy Ransom

Christy has been “customer centric” since before it was even a tenet of modern business. For well over a decade, Christy has lead Vision Critical’s customer success teams, focused on community recruitment and member engagement best practices. She expertly directs the Sparq Next community, fostering the full customer journey, supporting customers to ensure they get the highest ROI from their insight community, leading the development of the education team, creating the curriculum for both customers and employees, and developing best practices in insight community management.

Her insights into customer success can be found in the Global Research Business Network Engage Handbook and The Insights Revolution: Questioning Everything. When Christy isn’t researching and celebrating customer success, find her harvesting cherries from her backyard trees in the wine country region of British Columbia.

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