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'm sharing the 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.
So far I've talked about how important it is to make sure your insight community is always aligned with your business objectives, and how a diverse recruitment strategy can ensure you are working with a good mix of engaged members. In this post, I'll be focusing on key ingredient #3: member engagement and retention.
#3: Member Engagement & Retention
Winning insight communities reward members for volunteering their time to participate in research, both intrinsically (making members feel valued and part of the community) and extrinsically (a physical reward, like cash). In almost every instance with insight community satisfaction results that I have seen, members rank the importance of having their opinions valued higher than actually receiving a cash reward. The main reason for this is we're talking about ongoing participation in an insight community vs. a one-time research project where the respondent has no connection to the process.
Providing that sense of community is inexpensive and not as difficult as it may seem. Members want to hear what's happened with their opinions and feedback - are they making a difference? It's as simple as feeding back results from surveys, general information about the community itself, or sneak peeks into what's coming up. Being able to provide members with a feeling of accomplishment and pride in participation is what really makes membership worthwhile to most people. Many of our Insight Community of the Year past nominees have focused on regular newsletters to inform members of survey results, using word clouds to show key topics from verbatim responses, or doing a "member spotlight" to provide more personality. Others focus on the member portal and provide dynamic content that is updated regularly, quick polls that are refreshed often, or video messages to appeal to members.
For many people, the presence of a cash incentive won't be the main deciding factor in whether they participate. Certainly, relying on cash incentives without providing any of the feedback described above is unlikely to be successful. However, for some, providing this more tangible 'thank you' helps to show that their time and effort is appreciated. Generally speaking, for insight communities, this need not be a pays per activity incentive, but for example, offering a chance to win a sweepstakes on a monthly basis. Surprise incentives also have a buoyant effect, for example, sending a thank you gift at year-end to the most loyal members who have participated the most in the past year.
What's the right mix? Every insight community is unique and requires its own engagement & retention strategy based on your budget, the demographics of your members, how connected to your brand they are, etc. One way to find out what motivates your members is to ask them; up front when they join and annually thereafter as part of an overall member satisfaction study. You can learn a lot about how members feel about their experience by asking them on a regular basis - and they in turn will feel more connected because you're asking and willing to make improvements based on their feedback.
Listening to feedback is key in engaging and retaining members, either through open-end questions in studies to monitoring the comments that come in through Technical Support channels. You'll learn a lot about what your members think of study design, the rewards program, frequency of contact, and even about your company since you're providing another touch point for customers to write in. Listening is the first step - acting on the feedback is the next, and that's when you'll see members react positively to the insight community: when they see their opinions in action. One Insight Community of the Year nominee engaged their members in evaluating the portal look and feel, which led to improvements made to the overall experience. Others have gleaned insights from satisfaction studies to improve their incentive programs (i.e. members wanted Amazon gift cards instead of company product), feedback mechanisms (i.e. members weren't paying attention to newsletters, and preferred updates via survey invitations), survey design (i.e. many members didn't enjoy completing long grids, so those longer questions were split into two), and frequency of contact (i.e. members were keen to complete more surveys and were happy to be contacted more than 2 times a month).
We take a close look at what Insight Community of the Year nominees are doing to engage and retain members as part of the process to choose finalists. This is probably the most important of the 5 key ingredients, mainly because fostering that sense of community isn't easy to do year after year, and it requires changing things up regularly by listening to what people are saying and taking action to improve.
One of the key areas of satisfaction for community members that can really impact the overall experience is survey design and execution, the 4th key ingredient for a winning insight community that I'll be writing about next. Specifically, how relevant the survey is, how well-written it is, how interesting it is to completeÛ_ and once members tell you how they feel about your surveys, are you willing (or able) to make improvements? I'll share some suggestions taken from our past Insight Community of the Year nominees that will hopefully help you with your survey design.
Note: Minor updates were made to this blog post on July 12, 2013.