Chris Brogan had an interesting post today about how to “Sell Benefits Not Features” of social media. He uses one example of how Twitter itself isn’t amazing; rather, it’s the ability to connect with many voices in a collaborative way that is valuable. Anyone can build Twitter. It’s who is there and how it is used that matters… His post got me thinking about the features and corresponding benefits of online research communities, as well as the role technology, moderation and analysis/reporting play in the delivery of a successful research community.
All too often we have a tendency to focus on the “features” and software (especially given the wide variety of community and SaaS research platforms available) at the expense of taking a step back and looking at what the benefits really are. It’s a fairly trivial marketing concept, but one that is easy to forget when everyone is in the race for the “latest and greatest” features and functionality inherent in a community platform. So without further ado, here are a few “features” of an online research community and the real benefit of those features…
Feature: Discussion forums – Benefit: Run qualitative activities on-demand and explore customer needs in-depth
Let’s face it. A discussion forum is a discussion forum. Even though we have little tweaks in the PluggedIN Research Community Platform that help us run research activities more effectively, at the very core we’re really just running ongoing conversations with a targeted group of people. That’s the feature. However, the benefit to a company using a research community is the ability to run a 24/7 conversation around a their brand/product/service in a manner that is more convenient, efficient and effective than many other research methodologies. That’s the real benefit that companies should be focusing on, as well as how they intend to apply the feature to create research value and insights.
Feature: Blogs – Benefit: Keep an ear to the ground on what your customers are saying
By now, most all community platforms have some type of blogging capability for members to keep an ongoing journal/diary of their thoughts, stories and experiences. Again, that’s the feature to advertise (which is pretty consistent across the board). The real benefit is the ability to listen and learn from community members, and guide your conversations from there. You don’t have that luxury in a focus group, for example, since you don’t have an ongoing venue to listen.
Feature: Photo Albums – Benefit: “See” and really learn about your target audience through the images they share
It’s been a long time since Flickr and other early photo sharing services were first launched. By now most community platforms have something resembling a photo sharing feature. That’s the feature. The benefit is to learn about what customers or prospects are like through the photos they choose to share of friends, family, hobbies, places they’ve visited, etc… It’s about structuring the sharing of these photos in such a way as to produce insights that wouldn’t have been attainable in other research methodologies. That’s the qualitative “color” that just doesn’t emerge through other methodologies, and is one of the real benefits of having a photo sharing feature available.
Feature: Research community platform – Benefit: Stay plugged in.
You get the idea… This list could go on and on with features, but ultimately it’s not about the software or the platform. Our developers will kick me for saying this, but most any community software can “get you there” (or at least most of the way there). It’s about how you use it to stay plugged in to the needs of your audience, stay on top of trends, collaborate with customers to build innovative new products and services, etc…
What’s the takeaway?
In the long run, the features don’t matter. With the advent of free/low cost social media and collaboration tools, the features are largely ubiquitous – especially in the “online community” space. Instead, focus on the benefit of these features to your organization, and concentrate on how you (and the company you’re working with to get you there) plan to apply these features to create real value for your business.