This post is part of an ongoing series about developing an online community strategy. As a reminder, all posts will be tagged #ocb2b In my last post, “The Strategy Team & Goal Definition” I discussed the importance of identifying internal stakeholders for a community, getting the stakeholders engaged, and the process of defining initial goals for the online community strategy. In this post, I will discuss the crucial role of member research in creating a successful community strategy. In the most basic form, a community strategy is a balance of an organization’s goals and member (a.k.a customer) needs. Note: I will be using the terms “member” and “customer” interchangeably in this post. I will also use the term “member” as a placeholder for current and potential members of a community.
Why Conduct Member Research? Conducting member needs research as part of the strategy development process brings the voice of customer to the center of the strategy, and helps create a lens through which to focus your community building activities. Specifically, member research can help answer questions like:
- What are member’s expectations of you / your organization as a community host?
- What role should you play as host, and what community activities should you facilitate?
- What types of content and features should be present in the community?
- Should the community be an “on domain” destination, or should the community presence extend on to other sites, like Facebook?
- What types of members does the community want to include?
- What type of culture does the community need to thrive?
- What activities are members prepared to participate in that will directly or indirectly benefit the host?
- What types of marketing and advertising would members find acceptable?
Techniques for Conducting Member Research: The process for conducting member research is straightforward: decide on the appropriate techniques given your budget, recruit subjects, conduct the research and analyze the results. Great places to recruit research subjects:
- Your existing community
- Your blog
- Your corporate web site
- Newsletter mailing lists
- Customer Conferences
- Independent communities about your product or in your market or topic area
- Facebook or Linkedin groups about your product or in your market or topic area
One on One Interviews
One on one interviews can be conducted either in-person or over the phone. The key ingredients are a customer, an interviewer, a notetaker and a simple interview script (a sample can be found below). Interviews can be as short as 30 minutes, and generally should last no more than an hour (in our experience). In my experience, a minimum of 5-6 interviews will yield useful themes and give good data for strategy direction. If your community will serve many different products, market segments or customer types, a good rule of thumb is to try and do interviews with at least 3 people from each segment, if possible. One on One interviews can also be augmented nicely by a follow up online survey to a larger group, in order to drill down further on issues uncovered in the initial round of interviews.
Questions to Ask During Research There are essentially 3 overarching questions you want to answer as an output of member reearch:
1. What do community members need from you as the host? Ask questions that explore member expectations of your organization in the role of host. What are the member expectations around your level of participation, your effort in developing content, in fostering participation and your commitment to hosting the community long-term?
2. What do community members need from each other? Explore what community members might desire from interactions with other community members. This could range from knowledge sharing, to providing mentoring, to ongoing professional or personal support.
3. What can community members contribute? It is important to understand what ways community members are capable of, prepared and willing to participate. Participation could include sharing domain expertise, offering content samples, answering suport questions, or even just participating in casual online conversation. In order to answer the key questions, you will need to ask a series of baseline demographics questions (for context), as well as exploring each of the three key questions in a more granular way. A sampling of questions that can be used to create a script or facilitation guide are included below. Sample List of Interview / Survey Questions:
- Name, organization, title, a brief role description
- What information sources do you rely on (relating to the topic of the community)?
- What groups (on/offline) are you a member of (relating to the topic of the community)?
- What products / services do you use (relating to the topic of the community)?
- What is the biggest challenge you face in your day to day work (assuming this relates to the topic of the community)?
- How satisfied are you with the level and type of communication you have with organization x?
- Do you currently participate in any of the following social media activities: blogging, discussion forums, facebook, twitter, youtube etc (shape the list based on your audience)
- What information, insight or content do you want to share with other customers?
- What kinds of information would be helpful for other customers to share with you?
- If organization x were to offer the following content or features, please rate how useful each would be to you: discussion forums, expert Q&A, tutorials & tips, video previews, customer blogs, etc.
- Would you be interested in connecting with other members at local, in-person events?
A Note About Being “Member Shy” I continue to be surprised at the lack of member research in many community strategy projects. Even for organizations that are highlighted as examples of “getting it”, there are still cases where the community wasn’t engaged in research about a major platform change, feature enhancement or policy shift (facebook privacy anyone?). In many cases there seems to be a real fear (or at least discomfort) in connecting 1 to 1 with customers. Fear could be rooted in the ability to have meaningful interaction at scale, the overhead associated with regular contact, or the lack of an evolved organizational culture that encourages this type of interaction. Any community strategy development (or refinement) initiative *requires* the input and direction of the members. I’ve seen investment in member research pay off consistently, just as I’ve seen the severe cost of not conducting member research hamper or sink many community projects. In short: Want to know what your members want from their online community? Just ask.