"When was the last time you spoke to members of your community?"
I ask this question every time I meet with a client about to invest in an online community. When working directly with community managers or founders, the answer is typically, "Very recently…. And I can name some who are in my phone contacts."
But when I ask this question of teams or executives investing in community for the first time or revisiting that investment, the answer is much more commonly, "Well..." Followed by lots of caveats.
No shame in feeling out of touch. But if you want to move forward, you must do your work. When building a community, the most essential work is talking one on one with members, or qualitative research. Research takes time, the most precious commodity of all. That's why it is important to know why and how you plan to spend your precious time so you can glean the richest insights from community research. In this article, I break down important considerations for making the case that community research is worthwhile.
Research Saves Months of Time
There are many reasons why research should come before a launch (and why a launch is not an ideal or innovative form of research). But more than anything else, it will save you time. Yes, research does take a bit more time on the front end, but then it will save months, even potentially years, of wasted effort.
When organizations skip research and cross their fingers they’ll figure it out, they experience unenthusiastic membership, loss of patience and trust, and aimlessness.
It may seem like several weeks of research and analysis take forever, but they will directly inform your:
Content seeding strategy
Your community value proposition
Without research, you are left with biased and unsystematic assumptions about all of the above. If it seems like you’ll be flying blind without research, it’s because you effectively are.
You Can Use What You’ve Already Got
It’s likely someone in your organization has conducted customer research already. It might not offer targeted community insights, but you should use existing research to build your research agenda. It will save you from asking the same questions and wasting time. Using other teams’ research can also get them more interested in what you are creating and how it may apply to them.
Ask around. Focus on your product, design, and marketing teams, and ask if they have interview notes, insights, surveys, or other documentation of customer needs that a community might address. If you can review their raw data, all the better.
Then formulate your questions based on what they have learned, effectively building on internal knowledge. Build goodwill by citing their research in any presentations you do once your own research is complete.
Your Research Benefits Everyone
You don’t have to consider an investment in community research valuable just for your team. Your work can (if you analyze and then spin it right) help your entire organization. Don't keep it to yourself.
Community investment research almost always reveals insights relevant to other teams, such as:
Marketing: the deeper needs of your customers
Support: larger trends in customer service inquiries that can be solved proactively, resulting in fewer and happier customer service interactions
Product: succinct and organized feedback that can be addressed systematically through the product
Sales: another value proposition that will encourage customers to sign up for your product or service versus your competitors’
A Little Goes A Long Way
If dedicating months to research and analysis is not possible, that’s okay. There are ways to conduct research without spending all your time doing it or bringing on an external partner to do it for you.
Some organizations may invest in a quick survey to a targeted group of potential community members, use that as a screening tool, and then slowly interview members over a few weeks as they develop strategy and work on other projects. If you do this, just be careful to document everything, such as research interview notes, in a manner you can synthesize later.
No matter how you go about it, methodical research will not only clearly guide your community efforts but also communicate to your future community that you are curious and listening. Ensure you take the time to analyze insights and implement them into your community and you will go a long way toward building trust and confidence to sustain your work for years to come.
Want to know more about the Power of Community Member Research? Save your spot at Carrie Melissa Jone's upcoming webinar!