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.
I'm going to sum up all the previous key ingredients for a winning insight community with our fifth and final topic: regular insight community health checks. Regular health checks ensure you are maintaining a high quality of research and that the right measures are in place to retain valuable members.
#5: Regular Insight Community Health Checks
Probably the easiest way to describe what we mean by "insight community health" is to illustrate what "unhealthy" looks like. Picture a community that has been around for a period of time with no one paying attention to the composition, activity, or engagement: you'll probably find that the surveys going out are not reaching the right people or resonating with the members (research quality drops), members themselves start to become unhappy with frequency of contact or subject matter, and start to lose interest because they aren't hearing anything back (members become disengaged) which will inevitably lead to a negative impact on the overall impression of not just the insight community, but the brand itself.
We try to avoid this from happening by paying close attention to the overall experience, and tracking some key metrics over time to ensure we are recognizing the full ROI of an insight community.
The first main category for a health check is composition: circling back to our original plan for what our ideal members look like, how many there are in each target group, and where have we found them. What might have been ideal during set-up of the insight community may not be our ideal today. Even the qualification criteria for joining could have changed. To make sure we are reaching the right people with our research, we need to keep checking back to make sure we have the right mix of members and our target groups align with our business needs.
Monitoring churn is important to establish benchmarks over time. Once we understand what an average churn rate might be for our particular insight community, we can more easily identify situations where membership drops below that norm, try to pinpoint the cause, and avoid repeating it in the future.
Health checks are a good time to evaluate our past recruit sources to see which ones have historically brought in the better responders. Can we use these again to refresh and bring in more members? It might be time to brainstorm other sources too, in keeping with our plan to have a diverse recruitment strategy.
After we check and monitor the composition, we would move to doing an overview of the activity on the insight community. How many surveys or discussions have we done, and what is the average response rate that we're seeing? Again this is a key metric to track over time to establish a benchmark to compare to. Once we know what the average response rate is, we have something to compare individual surveys to and determine success a bit more easily.
Moving beyond just the activities themselves, how are the members responding? We recommend doing a regular responder analysis to see how the membership breaks down by participation. Checking this regularly can clearly show you the percentage of your insight community that is responding often vs. not at all, and the shifts between over time.
Lastly for monitoring activity, how well utilized is the entire membership? Are certain groups being sampled more often than others, and what is that experience like for those members, or the ones that are not being contacted as often? This check is a good reminder to attempt to engage everyone on the community at least once a month.
Composition and activity are where the real metrics are that you'll be tracking over time - but another important category to consider during community health is member retention. I talked about this more in key ingredient #3, but it's really important during health checks to take a look at the overall member experience from engagement activities to feedback mechanisms to make sure we are delivering on promises to members. Now is a good time to re-evaluate the incentive program and see how it is working with members, or identify some high-valued ideal responders and send them something as a thank you.
Once the health check is done and you have tracked your metrics and noted changes to improve the member experience, the most important step remains: set some goals. It's easy to move on to the next project and get back to the day-to-day tasks without actually acting on some of the things that are uncovered in a health check. I recommend setting 2-3 tangible goals for insight community based on your health check findings and incorporating those into your strategic plan for the next few months to ensure they are a priority.
Winning insight communities also have to make the tough decision to remove members based on inactivity in order to make more room for new and engaged members, and keep response rates going up instead of down. It's normal to see attrition on community's and shouldn't be ignored or avoided; it's all part of insight community management.
We're just in the process of gathering information for all our 2013 Insight Community of the Year nominees and I'm personally really excited to see so many coming in! We'll be sure to showcase our finalists as we've done in previous years and will be announcing our 2013 winner at the Vision Critical Summit in New York on October 3rd.
Note: Minor updates were made to this blog post on July 12, 2013.