One of the early decisions to make in setting up an online research community is the incentive strategy to use for encouraging members to consistently participate in research-related activities.
Below are three sample research communities, along with what we would recommend for incentive strategies in each approach. By no means are these the only “right” way to approach an incentive strategy; rather, they provide guidelines to think about for your own research community endeavors.
Scenario #1 – Branded, ongoing research community with 50 IT Managers from small organizations
This might be a case for a points-based system based, with a point value being allocated based on their participation in individual research activities. We’ll assume that since it is an ongoing community that the required amount of participation each week is relatively low (~15 minutes/week). The maximum incentive value will vary based on their experience and level within the organization. At 50 people, we may recommend a maximum incentive of $50/month (depending also on the budget for the study).
Scenario #2 – Branded, customer community with 50 members over 3 months
Since this is a short-term community, it’s likely that each week will require a fairly decent amount of time on the part of participants (on the order of 45 minutes/week or more). However, this is also a customer community, meaning that members may have a vested interest in participating and helping to improve the products/services of the sponsoring company.
For this community, a points-based system may also make sense. However, the amounts could be based on monthly totals, with participants only receiving their incentive based on their point totals for each month. Actual incentives amounts may vary from $10 – $50/person/month, with the biggest variable being time required each week.
Scenario #3 – Unbranded, ongoing community with 300 affluent consumers
In this case, it may make sense to again use the points system, but have their points accumulate with the intent of donating to charity at the end of the month. We may run a survey to choose which charity the community will donate to each month. If participation starts to wane, an occasional sweepstakes may help to keep some members interested. Budgeting for a sizeable honorarium for up to 300 members on an ongoing community is just not feasible (for most companies, at least).
The variables in deciding on an incentive strategy…
You may have noticed from these scenarios that there are some key variables that influence the recommended incentive approach. These include:
- Branding – Branded communities tend to get slightly better participation rates than unbranded communities, by virtue of the participants knowing who is sponsoring the research and potentially having a greater affinity toward that brand.
- B2B/Consumer Audience – Similar to traditional focus group studies, consumers are generally offered a lower honorarium than B2B audiences.
- Size – Offering an incentive to everyone in a large community can be a budget breaker. In these cases, points or sweepstakes-based incentives may work best.
- Duration – Attrition occurs naturally in any community over a long period of time, and accounting for that in the incentive strategy is important.
- Incidence Rate – Losing a recruit from a hard-to-reach audience can be expensive. Providing them with an appropriate incentive for their time can be money well spent.
- Purpose/Objectives – One variable not included in our scenarios above is the objective of the study. If the objectives tend to be fairly broad (e.g., general lifestyle/audience understanding), then some members may be turned off by the lack of focus.
- Customer/Prospect – Customers tend to (though not always) participate more than prospects, as they have a vested interest in the outcome of the research and the background knowledge of the company’s products and services.
- Time Requirement/Activity Level – If you’re asking people to spend a lot of time each week in the community, you should really think about adjusting the incentive amount accordingly.
- Budget – Last, but definitely not least in today’s economy, is the budget available for the study. While we would all like to pay an audience/situation appropriate honorarium to effectively thank people for their time and opinions, sometimes it’s just not possible to fit within the budget…
As you can see, there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to incentive strategies in online research communities. There are just too many variables to account for… However, this post will hopefully give you a few guidelines to think about in preparing an incentive strategy.
Have an incentive strategy you’d like to share? Wondering what makes sense for your community? Comments/questions are welcome!