The increased popularity of social media monitoring has given market researchers a new approach to research - instead of asking questions and getting answers back, we can now 'listen' to what people are saying. Online we can listen across thousands of social media conversations 24 hours a day, providing a wealth of data.
Can a research community also help us listen to what customers want or need? In short, yes it can. They complement social media monitoring very well, helping add the context and understanding that social media monitoring cannot, with tailored recruitment for broader sampling, and providing accurate background data on each participant through transparent permission/opt-in processes.
A listening community needs to be planned well. You need to be clear on your research needs and how you will approach it. Out of all the community approaches to research that exist, this can be the hardest to master, structure and run successfully because it requires continuous thought.
Why Use a Listening Community?
The purpose of a listening community is to get customers to discuss and share things so that you, the researcher, can listen, to unearth customer needs and on products and services, in a controlled way. For these to work well, you need to encourage a lot of peer to peer engagement so the listening element evolves and the community becomes more self-sustaining. Peer to peer interaction and engagement is therefore critical to the success of a listening community.
In a listening research community we profile all the people so that we, as researchers, can analyse the context and behaviour across different segments; a key advantage over social media monitoring and a key way to gauge the scale and complexity of an issue that might have first cropped up on social media. The findings from your online research community are much more relevant to you the client with more emphasis on action and meaning, taken from a deeper level of control, understanding and closeness to your customers.
Best Practices for Listening Communities
They work very well when you can create a common, shared interest across the members, so ensure the branding and subject is useful for your client or research need. Think carefully about the brand you use for the site; should it be branded for a company or product? Or should it carry a neutral brand, one that emphasises a shared interest or purpose - such as food, energy or travel? Each can work, but it will have a big impact on how the community and the discussions unfold. Also, think about how structured it will be - how much intervention and seeding of discussions you plan to do.
The final element to consider is whether your research community is publically open for anyone to join or whether it is to be closed and invitation only. The latter is much easier to structure the exact sample that you are interested in and also much easier to profile members, which will significantly improve the analysis at the end. However, the open approach will achieve a far wider audience and may create a genuine community of interest that has a life of its own for you to continue to listen to.
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