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Go big or go home. You've heard this expression before, but when it comes to your community, does it apply?

It's a question I get asked all the time by clients who would like to get the most value out of their insight community. The assumptions are usually either bigger is better or that you have to have a small community to ensure intimacy. But in my experience, it really depends on what your needs are and who you're thinking of recruiting.

Figuring out the best size for your insight community is an important step in your planning process. It determines the type of research you can do and how quickly. Size also dictates how much time and resources you'll need to manage the community once it's up and running.

Here are some things to consider to help you decide on a community size that meets your needs:

  1. How well does your brand resonate?

What category or industry are you in? Are you B2B or B2C? How engaged people are with your brand will impact your original join rates, member retention and member response rates to your projects. The higher your brand engagement, the less likely it is that you'll need to over recruit, and you should have higher member retention and response rates.

  1. What are your sample size goals?

What sample size are you comfortable with for projects? If you're good with a few hundred responses and achieve Vision Critical's average response rate of 40% for surveys, then your size could be 1000. If you want 2000 completes for each project, then you should aim for 8,000 to 10,000 members.

  1. Do you have different segments?

If you have different segments within your community, you should also look at your sample size goals in comparison to the size of the segment. You may need to over recruit smaller segments and have them disproportionally represented within your community to reach the base size you're looking for in projects.

  1. Is your community blind or branded?

Branded communities - those communities where the organization running it is transparent about who they are - will typically have about double the response rates as blind communities. And engagement in a blind community will wane much faster compared to a branded one. If you plan to run a blind community, you need to start larger to achieve your sample size goals.

  1. How do you plan to engage and reward members?

Intrinsic rewards are more important than paying people to participate. Ensuring you have interesting topics and fun design, along with a plan to close the feedback loop to ensure members feel valued for their input, will go a long way to building up your response rates. However, if your topics and projects are not relevant and engaging, and you know you'll have difficulty sharing anything back with members, then expect to have lower response rates and overall engagement and start with a larger size. Paying individual members to participate is typically not the best approach and will also cost a fortune when you're talking about a community of thousands. Running contests for a few hundred dollars or products and showcasing the winners is a better approach to providing a small thank you for people's time.

  1. What learning tracks are in your research roadmap?

The more interesting your projects, the more likely members will continue to participate. If you're planning to do a lot of repetitive projects (eg: concept test after concept test), you should try to split your community into different sample groups so you mix up the types of projects for members.

  1. What is your research volume?

The minimum contact we recommend is once a month, and maximum of about once a week. If you're planning for more than that, then consider doubling or tripling your community size so that you can split your community into multiple sample groups and avoid overwhelming your members with communications.

  1. How are you recruiting people for your community?

If you plan to recruit from your customer database and have 100,000 valid email addresses, you have the potential to recruit somewhere between 500 and 5,000 members. List quality, age of list, level of brand engagement, volume of list contact, and original source for the list will all impact how many members will respond and join your community. If you're going to recruit from an external sample source and/or from lists of people who have lower brand affinity, you'll need to over recruit by double or triple.

  1. How big is your target audience?

If your target audience is small and comprises a relatively low percentage of people in a population, recruiting people for your community will be more challenging. Lower incidence and specialized recruits (eg: B2B, IT Directors etc) are more expensive to recruit if you don't have access to a list so you'll likely need to go to an external sample source. This in turn will cost more money, so you're better off going with a smaller community size.

Considering answers to these questions will help you sort out the numbers game for your insight community.

If you have more ideas on how to determine size, please share them with us!

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Ellie Hutton

Ellie is passionate about our customers' experience, shining a spotlight on the success of our customers, and bringing the voice of the customer to our business. She’s been with Vision Critical since 2006, in research, marketing, sales enablement, customer success and CX teams. Ellie has over 20 years of experience in research and marketing, partnering with companies across many verticals to build brands, develop products, retain customers, evaluate communications, develop strategy, and facilitate change.
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