Consumers today have access to more information than they ever did in the past. This has changed marketing considerably. Marketing is no longer about 'tell us what you think of our pack design', it's more about 'what is important to you and how can we be a part of that'. Consumers today know a lot more about a company or a brand then they did some years ago. They know how they treat their employees, where the materials are sourced from, their ethical standpoint, global options of the same product or service and what they are doing for their community. This, I guess, must be a daunting for some marketers who not only have to think about creating a great product but also have to genuinely engage with the community and ideally complete the circle by providing feedback.
That's one reason why there is a growing recognition that brands and organisations need to tap into online communities to understand consumers better. Some choose listen to existing communities (Social Media) others setup their customer communities (long term) and some setup product or issue based (short term) communities.
Although the reality of the choice between short and long-term options may sometimes be dictated by budgets and willingness to invest time and effort there are some intrinsic differences to be mindful of when working with either approach, outlined in the diagram below:
While both approaches options are like having a room full of consumers in your office where you can go to ask questions and get feedback, the differences provide considerations as to which option to choose.
For example, although whether both types of community will thrive is dependent on how much time and effort you are willing to invest, with a short-term community that engagement may be more intense, more sporadic and shorter duration. It is harder to engage with members over a longer period of time as more work is needed to ensure that members are invested and inclined to engage regularly. However, longer duration communities generate much more longitudinal understanding of participants and issues often without even asking.
Secondly, incentives need to be managed strategically according to the community type: if we make it a 'cash for comments' community then in a long term community it will add to the costs considerably. However, this approach is feasible with short term communities. For the long term community it is better to provide a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic incentives to keep the costs manageable and yet give members a reason to be a part of the community.
The choice between short and long-term community may also come down to its reason for being? Certainly, whatever the type of Community, it does need a clear and succinct proposition to bind it. In other words, a Community can be established only with a consciousness of what will convince the consumer join a community panel and to stay engaged (what's in it for me?). The ideal proposition for a community is the happy marriage of the company's overarching philosophy and inherent customer needs from the brand or category. Good examples would be:
1) A pet care client, where the company's philosophy is to make the world a better place for pets. The community philosophy is positioned at 'come join a group of people who believe that their pets make their world a better place to live in and share their stories.
2) A health care client community talking about what people do to maintain their lifestyle and quality of life as opposed to talking about medications and health conditions.
But perhaps if there is a specific, narrow topic or a fixed, time-limited project, then the short term community makes more sense? In my opinion though, it represents a wasted effort and opportunity to close a community that is warmed up and willing to continue engaging.
Therefore, before we ask whether to create a short or long term community, we should be asking ourselves 1) how serious we are about the community commitment?, 2) what do we want to achieve?, and 3) how much are we willing to give back to the community? Answers to these questions should make the right choice apparent.