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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'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.

The first key ingredient I talked about was alignment with business objectives: being able to stay on top of changes and making sure the insight community is providing the best environment for accurate research. One way to demonstrate this is with our second key ingredient which relates to recruitment.

#2: Diverse Recruitment Strategy

Where possible, we always recommend tapping into as many recruit sources as you can to find your members - not just to find the quantity you're looking for, but also to attract a variety of your different customers or target groups. Recruitment isn't a one-time event when you first set up your insight community; it should be an ongoing activity to maintain your desired size and response rates, and to keep your insight community fresh.

Let's first look at that target size. It's easy to feel confident when you have an email list of customers to use for recruitment - but we have found that most lists result in a 1-3% join rate (depending on various factors like how the addresses were collected, for what purpose, how long ago, etc.). You also likely don't just want to fill your insight community with one "type" of person - i.e. customers that are signed up for your loyalty program. That's why it's better to gather your team together and brainstorm other sources early on.

Secondly, let's consider your Profiling Study. Since this is the first and only study that everyone will be taking, make sure that it sets the tone properly and provide a first experience that is interesting, engaging, and doesn't take much time. If you're targeting different groups, tailoring the messaging to appeal to each is recommended to ensure they feel comfortable and connected - which also means putting ourselves in the place of the customer and asking "how would I want to be asked to volunteer my time to take part in this research?"

Recruitment doesn't end there. In fact, part of the process is the engagement each new member has with the insight community, especially in the first three months. Like building any new relationship, every new member will be deciding if the experience is what they had expected based on what they are participating in and what they're getting back from you. One way to engage with people right away is to send them a fun "welcome to our community" survey that allows you to learn a little more about them or find out what their expectations are. This gets new members involved quickly and also provides you with some great content to share back.

Since we all can get really busy with our to-do lists and tasks, it's wise to map out an engagement plan for the next 6 months to ensure every member of your insight community is contacted regularly with a good mix of research projects and engagement activities, and to factor in when you will close the feedback loop with an update or newsletter back to members. It may seem like I've moved off the topic of "diverse recruit strategy" by talking about engagement, but really the first few months for a new member does dictate the success of your recruit efforts more than just what your initial join rate is. This also gives you a little hint for what the third key ingredient is going to be!

Many past Insight Community of the Year nominees have been creative with recruitment and tried other methods like social media, point of sale receipts, signing new members up on site at store locations or sponsored age-specific events, promotional material and web banners, and invitations from the company President. Some have tried different messaging techniques such as using terms and jargon that align with their brand that would be familiar to their target groups, or testing different communication lengths to see if shorter is better (it is).

All our past nominees would agree that recruiting members from multiple sources, communicating with them in the right tone and style, and engaging with them early and frequently are keys to ongoing success for a winning community. The time and energy spent bringing a new member on and connecting them to the insight community will pay off: you'll spend less on ongoing recruitment and you'll have a good mix of tenured members contributing to your research.

If you haven't guessed it already - in my next post I'll build on the importance of delivering on promises, rewarding members, and building that win/win relationship as I focus on key ingredient, #3: member engagement and retention.

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

Your Step-by-Step Recruitment Guide

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