Archive for the ‘Online research communities’ Category.

Three popular series from the FreshNetworks Blog in 2009

Image by SlipStreamJC via Flickr

We posted on New Years Eve the most popular posts on the FreshNetworks Blog in 2009. Alongside some popular posts we covered a number of series of posts that were well read and referenced - here are three of the most popular.

1. Getting Started in Social Media

In this series we outline our thoughts on four steps any brand should do when they are getting started in social media. The aim is to give any brand who is looking to use social media (or indeed to use it better) a framework to work through, some ideas and also a lot of questions and decisions that will need to be made.

  • Part One:  Do you know what people are saying about you? Buzz tracking, social media monitoring, the power of understanding who is talking about you where and why, and some great free tools for any brand to use
  • Part Two: What do you want to achieve? Working out your brand’s aims and objectives (and making these measurable) is the single most important factor in a successful social media strategy. Do this before you think about technology.
  • Part Three: Have a go and experiment with social media Once you have clear objectives that are measurable it’s time to get going. Try things out and experiment, but make sure you do them where you know you will have the greatest chance of achieving these aims and engaging the people you want to engage.
  • Part Four: Track and evaluate the success you are having When you are using social media tools it is essential that you are measuring and tracking your performance against these aims. Measurement is critical and assessing the benefit you are having will help you to refine and improve your strategy overall.

2. Online Community Examples

People are always asking us for great examples of online communities in their particular industry, so we thought we’d start a series of great examples from different industries: Online Community Examples. Each week we looked at a different industry and showcased three short case studies of online communities, whether for marketing, customer engagement, market research or other reasons.

3. Insight from online communities

Not all communities are online research communities, but all communities can be a useful source of insight. Just watching the conversations can be invaluable and bring real insight to any organisation, but there are ways that any community can get real insight value from the insight of your members. In this series we described eight ways of getting insight from online communities:

  • Profiling data: gathering the right information and then analysing the profiles of  your community members can bring significant understanding of the people who join your community.
  • Focused discussions: focusing the discussions in your online community make it easier for people to join the debate and also let you concentrate on those issues that are of most interest to you and likely to bring greatest insights.
  • Learn their language: the language community members use is often overlooked, but provides a real insight into their lives and their perceptions on a product, market or issue.
  • Rating and voting: not everybody wants to begin or even add to discussions, but we can understand what they think and get insight from them by offering and than analysing their use of different ways of communicating.
  • Photo uploads: photos offer a real insight into what people think and also allow us to gather opinions people who are not as comfortable expressing themselves in words.
  • Photo activities: get community members to upload photos on a specific theme or in response to a specific question. Isolate the most interesting photos by using the opinions of community members.
  • Discussion events: as your community matures, people start to use the community at regular times.Take advantage of this by offering discussion events where people discuss a different issue at a certain time each week.
  • Quick polls: any community can use some simple insight tools, and quick polls are one of these. They are a great way to get instant and top-level quantitative insight from your community.

Russia has world’s most engaged social network users

Image by khrawlings via Flickr

Earlier this year we reported on how Russia is the fourth largest social networking market in Europe. Data from TNS showed that use of social media and social networking in Russia is widespread, making it the fourth largest market in Europe for social networking behind the UK, Germany and France. In part this position is driven by strong local social networking sites, principally Odnoklassniki (Одноклассники), which reports some 30 million registered users, and VKontakte (В контакте) with some 28 million registered users.

These numbers are truly impressive and perhaps the rate of growth in membership of social networking sites in Russia is even more so. But recent research from comScore shows that Russians are the most engaged users of social media in the world.

The research showed that in May this year, 1.1 billion people went online worldwide, and 75% of these visited social networks and online communities. In fact, the typical user of the internet spent 3.7 hours on such sites in May. But users from Russia led the way with the typical internet user in that country spending a total of 6.6 hours ever month on these social media sites. Brazil was second with an average of 6.3 hours per user and Canada was third with 5.6 hours per typical user. These numbers compare with 4.6 hours spent by the typical UK internet user on social networks. And a typical 4.2 hours for people in the US.

By this simple measure, the Russian internet audience appears to be perhaps the most engaged in the world in social networking and online communities. This highlights the danger of focusing on English-language-centric developments in online communities, social media tools and social networks. In Russia, two local sites each reach more than 40% of the entire Internet population in the country. Facebook, by contrast, reaches only 2% of the Russian internet audience.

Some of the most interesting developments in the use of social networks and online communities are happening where the users are most engaged and where the user bases are growing most rapidly. This is more likely to be in the markets where the audience and access is developing quickly. Perhaps we should all look to Russia and Brazil more when we want to know what comes next.

  • comScore: Russians Spend More Time On Social Networks Than The Rest Of World (
  • Top 20 Countries for SocNet Engagement (
  • Useful chart - the top 20 countries for social media engagement (
  • Russia has most active social networks? comScore on social media usage globally (

Is social media making it easier to take research inhouse?

In February this year a survey on the market research industry in 2009 showed two very different pictures. The research, sponsored by online-oriented companies Cambiar, MRops and Peanut Labs, found that whilst clients and agencies alike predicted a small growth in the market of about 1%, this did not tell the full story. Although they saw the market growing slightly in 2009, they thought that the proportion of work that was brought inhouse would increase significantly.

There are a number of reasons for clients bringing research inhouse. The current economic climate is making organisations review external contracts more thoroughly and spend money more carefully, and also making employers use their own staff in the most efficient way possible. So rather than paying  external agencies to do some tasks, clients are using their internal teams instead.

But even without the current economic climate there are deeper reasons for this move inhouse. The survey showed that one in five clients would use social media and social networks to generate sample, and that one in three clients intended to build their own branded community for research. The use of social media as part of the research process is changing the role of agency and client and changing the range of tools and methodologies available to us all. It can seem to make it easier for us all to do research, find people, watch what they are discussing and ask them questions.

We wrote yesterday about the promise of online research communities, and how too often they don’t quite live up to this. Whilst social media is empowering clients and agencies alike to do research in different ways, there is still a role for both. A good online research community is not just about asking the right questions, it’s about engaging people, building a real community that is vibrant and active and ready to contribute to research, innovation, word-of-mouth and in many other ways.

To do this isn’t easy. Whilst social media may make access to people and the ability to build a community site easier, it does not make motivating, moderating, and working with community members any easier. In fact it adds a whole range of new problems. How do you design a community that really meets your business needs? How do you find and engage the people you want to? How do you grow and build members, conversations, activities and word-of-mouth? How do you make sure that the brand is represented well in the community, and that the community is represented well in the organisation? How do you deal with negative discussions as well as positive ones?

These and other questions are the new challenges that social media and online communities present for research. If there is a move inhouse that is not necessarily a bad thing for the industry. It may be that certain parts of the research process are taken inhouse, whereas others are left for agencies to support. Agencies can operate where they add value most and where their expertise is best put to use. Clients, for their part, can take more control or have greater influence over some parts of the process. Exactly how this relationship changes is not yet clear, but change it will.

Clients will take more things inhouse, but have greater need for agency support in new areas. To cater for this, agencies need to change and some of their traditional roles may become redundant. For me that’s the bigger story for the market research industry in 2009.

I’ll be talking about the changing client-agency relationship, and in particular how clients can manage their own online research communities at the Online Research Methods conference in London in June.

When online research communities don’t live up to their promise

We’ve written before about the real power that online research communities can bring to a brand, and also of the way in which you can get insight from any online community. The promise of rich insight is great - real people talking to each other about your brand, market and competitors. They provide a real hub for innovation and co-creation and give you access to real-time insight. But sometimes they just don’t seem to work, they just don’t deliver what you might expect.

At FreshNetworks we have built online communities from scratch, and also worked  with organisations who have an incumbent online research community that isn’t living up to its promise. Through this experience we’ve developed the following four tips to help discover what the problem might be:

1. Do you actually have a panel, not a community?

Research panels and online research communities are very different. They work in different ways, deliver different types of research and insight and are useful for different business objectives. The biggest failing that we see with online research communities is that what you really have is a panel of people and not a community. The discussions tend to be between the brand or agency and community member, rather than peer-to-peer in the community. And you find that the majority of your traffic comes when you send an email about an activity, survey or discussion that you want people to respond to.

This can be the most difficult problem to solve. You need to think again about who you want to engage and why and  build an engagement strategy alongside your research plan.

2. Do your community members actually want to engage with you?

Wanting to engage with people in an online community is really only half of the story. There are probably lots of things that you want them to do, but do they really want to do them? And if so do they want to do them in your community?

The difference between an online research community and other forms of market research is that you want to build and grow a community of people to work with to help you for insight and research. You can’t call through a list of people until you find those who want to answer your questions. You need to build a community that targets and meets the requirements of the people you want to engage so that they will be there to answer your questions when you have them. If they don’t actually want to engage with you, this can be difficult.

3. Are you incentivising in the right way?

The topic of incentives is one much discussed in market research - should you incentivise people, for what behaviours and with what reward? Get your incentive structure wrong and you will encourage and grow the  wrong behaviours. People will only contribute to your online research community to an extent they think appropriate for what they are getting in return.

The signs that your incentivisation structure is wrong includes unusually larger churn-rates. Indeed you might see the higher rates of churn typical of a research panel, rather than the low churn rates we see in online research communities. You’ve moved people from the social context of the community to a market context where they aren’t engaging with you but transacting.

4. Are you part of your community?

The role of the brand and agency is changing with the growth of online research communities (a topic I shall be returning too at the Online Research Methods conference in London June). One major change is that rather than the agency and brand always asking the questions, and the respondent answering, the playing field is levelled somewhat. Online research communities only really work if you play a role in the community as a peer, rather than trying to lead or direct it.

You have questions to ask and activities that you want people to do, but you also need to join in the conversations. Don’t always ask questions, but answer some too. Join the forums, talk about yourself - give a face and a name to the research and the brand. This makes the experience better and fairer for everybody. And also more enjoyable for you. Where this doesn’t happen, where the agency or brand hides behind an ‘Admin’ name, or doesn’t engage in the community, you miss out on a whole range of real, rich benefits.

So, if you see an online research community that you think just isn’t living up to its promise then ask these four question of it. Of course, identifying the problem is less than half the battle. The next step is to fix it.

  • The Best Market Researchers to Follow on Twitter (
  • Getting insight from online communities (
  • Maximising the insight you get from your online community (

What right do brands have to do research in social media?

Last month I spoke at the Conversations event in London, debating with Jeremy Brown, from Sense Worldwide, the right that brands have to do research in social media. The debate was lively in in ten minutes we managed to pack in a lot: co-creation, why the best ideas come from outside your business, what you have a right to ask people where, online research communities and why people really will talk about washing powder online.

I talk about using research and in particular online research communities as a base for open innovation, and a way to get input from those outside your organisation. We also discuss whether there is a limit to the types of people that will engage with research in this way or the topics that are suitable for discussion. In our experience at FreshNetworks, the answers to these questions are not as clear cut as many may assume. There are a vast range of people that you can engage in an online community who may not typically be heavy users of social media for entertainment. It is also often surprising the topics people are willing to talk about - if you can establish what about the topic matters to them and why they would share and discuss this, you can get valuable insight on a really diverse range of things. Even on washing powder.

Conversations, London - Jeremy Brown, Matt Rhodes from designbyfront on Vimeo.