Vision Critical

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A frequent question I hear from clients is the following: how do you make a large community intimate and engaging?

It’s a question that is relevant not just to insights professionals. As global brands increasingly use social media to connect with customers, maintaining intimacy in a public forum with thousands (or even millions) of people is also a challenge for marketers. When people join communities, they expect to feel heard and they want to build a close relationship with the brand.

At Vision Critical, we have a Community Philosophy that we apply when managing insight communities and that we encourage clients to adopt as well. In a nutshell, our philosophy ensures that survey questions are asked in a targeted way; it also aims to create a smaller, more intimate environment when we run discussions and other qualitative activities. We would never expect nor want 5000 members to participate in a discussion—that wouldn’t be fun for anyone.

We’re confident that our approach works:

We build insight communities that give clients the ability to run robust quantitative surveys and analysis, as well as gather exploratory insights through our Discussions tool. The intent is for these projects to focus on answering your business needs and challenges. Questions get asked in a targeted way through surveys, and in a more organic and loose way through discussions.

We typically see overall engagement rates of 70-80% in our insight communities, with response rates to surveys hitting the 40% mark.

So what does it take engage a community?

The following are universal elements of engagement we recognize within our philosophy to ensure intimacy, regardless of the size of a community  

  1. Set expectations

Set expectations up front with members as to what volume of contact they should expect when they sign up, whether that be a couple of times a month or a couple of times per week. After launch, plan to deliver on these expectations. If volume gets higher than anticipated, consider doing a split sample or only inviting members to projects relevant to them.

Also, be transparent about the amount of time it would take for a member to spend with us in a typical month—this usually ranges from 15-20 minutes to a couple of hours depending on anticipated volume.

  1. Build transparent and authentic connections

From the member’s perspective, they are invited to be a special advisor to the brand or category. As with any relationship, trust and respect must be the foundation. To build the relationship on a strong foundation, we encourage our clients to:

  • Give members access to the company’s decision making process and challenges in ways typically not shared in traditional research
  • Communicate in an open, straightforward and authentic way with members about the purpose of the community as well as individual projects
  • Introduce the team as real people to the community members
  • Interact with people in their community during exploratory activities
  • Answer people’s questions directly as they arise
  • Profile and recognize people by posting quotes, photos and interesting ideas
  • Offer behind-the-scenes access and sneak peeks that are relevant to members

Members of our insight communities, even those which mainly run surveys, would say they feel they are part of a community because of our strong push for engagement.

  1. Reward members extrinsically

In addition to building transparent and authentic connections with members, we also typically offer financial rewards in our communities. These can take any of the following forms:

  • Recruit incentive—a thank you for joining the community.
  • Contests/sweepstakes are the most common forms of rewards and work well as long as the program is easy to understand and members are promoted.
  • Surprise and delight incentives for top contributors on an annual or semi annual basis.
  • Product delivered as part of a research project or as a separate thank you to everyone or just to top contributors.
  • Charitable contributions on behalf of the community.
  • Individual incentives for time intensive activities (eg: chats, groups, digital journals).
  • Points programs for individual rewards.
  1. Invite members to relevant conversations

When running qualitative activities, ensure you invite the right people to the right conversation. Just like creating a guest list and planning for a party, you want the right mix of people in the room so people have a common ground to start conversations and engage with one another. Make sure you make people feel comfortable and entertained so that they’ll want to stick around and come back the next time you invite them.

A conversation is also a two-way street. To ensure members know you’re listening, you need to interact, respond to posts and questions, encourage the dialogue by posting follow ups, and share back what you learned and what you’re doing with the insights.

So does size really matter when it comes to engagement and intimacy in communities? NO.

Whether you have millions of Twitter followers or thousands insight community members, you can create engagement and intimacy by following basic principles of setting expectations, creating transparent and authentic connections, rewarding members extrinsically, and inviting members to relevant conversations.

What are your ideas for building engagement and intimacy in a large insight community?

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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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