Five ways to use an online research community in 2009

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It’s almost Christmas, and for  the penultimate in our Five things to do in 2009 series, I wanted to focus on one specific use brands can make of social media: online research communities. Of the communities we build and manage at FreshNetworks, many are specifically built for research. Even those that are not usually end up offering valuable insight into what consumers think. This insight is something every brand can benefit from, so today here are Five ways to use an online research community in 2009.

1. Get customers involved in your business

It’s often said that the cleverest people don’t work for you. And it’s certainly true that customers and consumers are likely to have quite extensive experience of your products, and how they are actually used. If you want to test a new idea, find out how people are using your product or find out about how you are different to your competitors, then the best way can be to ask these people who know best. An online research community can act as a customer voice and empower internal teams with customer input and insight. If you have a question, however small it may seem, you can get feedback from your online research community, often overnight, and be able to represent the customer inside your business.

2. Innovate with your customers

We’ve posted before about the power of co-creation and of innovating with your customers. An online research community can be a great way of both getting new ideas organically, and of working with your customers on innovation and co-creation. The format means that you can have ongoing discussions with them and involve them throughout the innovation process, rather than just testing ideas at specific stages. Bringing together internal experts and others with your customers can also have a powerful outcome, and in our experience always brings to your brand ideas you might never have thought of before.

3. Find out how your customers interact

Traditional market research has often considered the customer as a respondent - an isolated being who can answer questions about their habits and behaviours. This is a false construct and misses the most important aspect of any market decision - the social context. It is difficult to truly understand the ‘why’ of market research using traditional methods - we  know what people do and think but not why. All we can usually do is ask them what they think the why is. With an online research community it is easier to observe the conversations people have, how they discuss your product or competitor products. How do they advise other people, how do they explain their decisions and opinions, what do they choose to discuss. Answers to all these questions can come from observing what they do and how they talk to their peers. Just watching your online research community can sometimes be an enlightening thing to do.

4. Learn the language your customers use

Too many brands and products are hindered by the language that is used to describe it. We often find that customers use a very different vocabulary to the one that brands use. This can be very difficult to explore and understand using traditional methods. It’s only in an online research community can you analyse and draw insight from the language people use. And then you can ask them why they use this language and not the one that you do. Perhaps the most powerful finding from one of our online research communities this year was that a global telecoms firm was talking about its product in a way none of it’s customers understood.

5. Find answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask

Traditional market research offers great ways to find answers to questions. It’s less good at getting answers to those questions you never thought to ask in the first place. By building a community of customers and then using this for research and insight you will generate organic discussions and debates alongside any activities you run. These discussions will let you understand what your customers talk to each other about, what they really think about your product and how they really talk about. You will be able to see what matters to them most and what they think about it. And most importantly they will ask questions. A well managed online community will see community members generating ideas and debates with each other. If you are using this community for research then you will be able to benefit from these questions, and the answers others give. You’ll know the answer to things that are important to your customers, but that you probably never thought to ask

Read all of our Five Things to Do in 2009 posts

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15 Comments

  1. Eric:

    Brilliant post. Your advises are spot on. I even think they apply to any kind of engagement between organizations and customers or other communities.

  2. Guillaume:

    The empowered customer will still lead the field in 2009!

  3. Dr Wright:

    great post, now you can post 5 things NOT to do in 2009!! LOL

    Thanks for your good work!

    Dr.Wright
    The Wright Place TV Show
    http://www.wrightplacetv.com
    http://www.twitter.com/drwright1

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  7. Mike Macleod:

    Excellent post. Notably absent is “send your customers a 30 minute survey every week with lots of grid questions”

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  14. Sujit:

    Great, We’ll wait for your post on ’5 ways…in 2010′.

  15. Paul:

    After reading your article I will be addding a suggestions column in my online feedback section so that I can find out ways to improve my website http://www.poplartreegardencentre.co.uk . I would also like to find out thie rviews on the blog that keeps my community together which is http://www.mysod.co.uk