When planning for the success of a community panel and then also tracking success metrics, I like to look at three big buckets: answering information needs, engaging stakeholders and engaging members.
Answering Information Needs
As researchers - this is our area of strength. However, managing a community panel is a different kettle of fish than managing ad hoc projects because of timing, budget, volume of projects and size of projects. Figuring out a plan to get answers to your company's big and small questions is critical to the overall success of your community panel. Do you think you'll be overwhelmed or underwhelmed with requests? Either way, this is a problem.
- Too many requests - and you're stretched even more than you probably already are - you need a process to help manage everything.
- Too few requests - and your community panel could be at risk when budget season comes around - you need to showcase the community and brainstorm information needs with your stakeholders.
If you're not a researcher, you may want to consider partnering with Vision Critical to develop a Research Roadmap that will provide a plan of attack for answering your information needs as well as laying out a process that you'll feel comfortable managing.
As a researcher you're likely used to planning out projects to answer your information requests. But if you're used to doing only ad hoc projects vs ongoing community panels you'll probably need to step up your time commitment to activate, manage and engage with your internal stakeholders, clients and potentially shareholders. You don't want to be in the position of explaining - or worse, defending - your community panel to your colleagues. This can happen when people aren't familiar with what a community panel is and when they haven't been involved in planning, process and presentation of insights. Remember, this is no longer about just managing a one off project; this is about getting stakeholders engaged in the overall concept of having a community panel to access customers. And add to that the fact that many community panels do research on topics and for stakeholders who are outside of your normal reach - so there will be more people and departments to work with.
Engaging Community Panel Members
Having an actual relationship with participants in the research process is something very new. In the past, the closest you'd usually get is watching customers behind the one way mirror in a focus group facility. But now they will engage with you every day in your community panel. A significant mindset shift needs to happen in order to nurture and establish a strong, positive relationship with the members of your community panel. This will also take up time in your day which you did not really have to set aside for in the past. Our research on research shows that the intrinsic rewards of participating are much more important than the financial. Members must feel valued and appreciated for their time. Stay tuned for some specific examples in upcoming blogs about what you can do to answer your information needs, engage stakeholders and engage your community panel members.