- Open Up: Post something new about yourself every few days… something strange, something funny, a picture of your new haircut, a diagram of your rearranged office, a relevant workplace moment. However, make sure you pay attention to #5 below.
- Stay Singular: Resist the urge to load each discussion with too many questions. Try to only ask 1 or 2 related questions in a post. Also, before you publish your post, ask yourself if you could answer the question easily. If not, then edit. Remember, most people only answer the first and/or last thing you ask.
- Incorporate the Outside: Each week search for articles/blogs/news stories on the web related to the topic of your community. Then share the link and ask people to weigh in with their feedback. This is a great way to get a read on trends, current events and keep your community lively.
- Force Yourself to Iterate: Each week try to incorporate an activity that draws from the learnings of the previous week. Follow your poll with a related discussion, or summarize previous comments and post a deeper discussion on the summarized themes. This shows people you are really listening and gets you to that next level of understanding that your client needs.
- Know Your Audience: How serious is your audience? Too much fun/quirky content may not make sense for B2B, more mature audiences, and for more serious communities. There are a lot of ways to build community without resorting to “soft” content.
Last week we posted some ideas about how to explore perceptual mapping in an online community setting to help people better articulate how they feel in qualitative research. We promised some additional ideas and variations, so here they are…
Winners Podium: For this activity, show an image of a winners podium and ask members to share who they think wins the gold, silver, and bronze in the appropriate category (e.g. most entertaining) and why…
Family Portrait: Show an image of an extended family and ask members to share who they think each of the brands listed in this zany family are and why… (e.g. the crazy uncle, the worldly cousin, the baby, the grandpa, the trustworthy son, the mom that holds it all together, the black sheep).
Target Practice: Include an image of a target and have members place competitive products on the target (where the bulls eye is the ideal) and explain why they put them in the respective spot.
I know there are more ideas out there, so feel free to share. Keep in mind that these mapping exercises are fairly flexible and are not just relevant for brand associations. For example, you can use the Smart Phone Target Practice example and instead of evaluating competitive brands/products, you could list the top qualities of a smart phone to try to understand how customers describe the relative importance of each of the characteristics.
Last month we posted ideas about ways to go beyond surface level findings in market research online communities (MROCs) but we wanted to start a series of regular features about different ideas and tips for activities to run in your MROC. This post is on perceptual mapping.
Traditionally, perceptual mapping is a common technique used in qualitative settings to get people to better articulate perceptions about a brand based on select attributes. This same technique can be employed in the online community setting using a simple image. Typically, there are two common ways to use perceptual mapping. Take a look at the two examples below.
The idea is fairly simple. The one-dimensional map requires the member to think about a single attribute, while the two-dimensional map requires the member to think about a combination of two attributes.
Create a visual based on your client brand/product, competitive set and related attributes. Then have members place each of the brands/products listed on the continuum and share “why” they placed it in the respective spot.
If you are not a design nut, no worries… visuals can easily be created in PPT (saved as a .jpeg) and they don’t have to be advanced. You want to keep them fairly simple. The key is to really understand the rationale for placement on the map.
There are a lot of varieties of this type of mapping activity. We’ll share some more ideas in the days/weeks to come! I’d love to hear about any variations that you have used in traditional or online sessions in the past.
As many of the readers of this blog know, a major part of the moderator’s role in research settings is to help people discuss experiences, feelings and memories in ways that go beyond surface level responses, given that people can have a hard time articulating these thoughts initially. Given this challenge, face-to-face moderators use a variety of techniques to go beyond surface level/rationalized responses and into the realm of emotions and drivers of decision making.
However, these techniques change a bit in the online research setting… Here are a few of the techniques (among others) we use in online research communities to help dig a bit deeper when we discuss experiences and feelings:
- Incorporate images & props: Whenever we post discussions we try to include imagery that reflects the topic or the mood/feeling we are discussing. Also, we try to include other props to get people to visualize what we are asking. For example, we might use the image to the right when we are trying to get consumers to describe the “personalities” of the major wireless brands. I’ve found that simple/clean diagrams really do the job best.
- Break it down into steps: When talking about past experiences, encourage consumers to break their experience into different steps in separate discussions. Ask them what they did first, second, third and so on. This can help them better articulate the entire experience or process. Sometimes we even load a visual alongside the discussion (e.g. building blocks or staircase) to reinforce what we are asking them to do.
- Give examples: Sometimes people just need a hint or an example to follow. If I am asking people to talk about what they ate this weekend, I may give them a very literal example of what I ate in the detail that I want them to follow. So I may include something to the effect of… “I know this exercise may be a little daunting, so I will go first. Here is what I ate this weekend. 8AM Sat = wheat toast, bowl of Cheerios, XL Dunkin Donuts coffee with cream. 11AM Sat = Handful of peanuts, glass of orange juice…” If you set your discussion so this is the first thing people see, you have a much better chance of getting to them follow your lead and provide the detail you need.
- Be specific: As we know, people have a hard time articulating their needs, especially when we broadside them with things like “what is the future of home entertainment going to be like?” Instead, try to give people bite-size and very specific situations to talk about. For example, in the home entertainment category, you may start with an overview of what they do for entertainment while at home, then have them describe their different entertainment areas, then use imagery (e.g. rooms of the house, entertainment center) to encourage them to identify problem areas. Then, roll off each of these identified “problem areas” into more specific discussions/multimedia activities about suggestions for change and the subsequent rationale. Through this battery of specific exercises, you have a much better shot at uncovering unmet needs regarding the future of home entertainment.
These examples are probably pretty familiar to the more seasoned qualitative researchers out there, but I would love to hear what other methods researchers have found successful in the online environment… Comments are welcome!
So you’ve spent a few weeks or months planning out your research community, including defining your objectives, drawing up your facilitation plan, seeding your site, screening participants, etc… Launch day comes and goes, and things go off without a hitch. Your research participants start signing in, introducing themselves to you and other members and participating in early research activities. Life is good.
A few days later you start to notice that the initial buzz and excitement is beginning to die down a bit, so you check the stats. People are still signing in, but it seems a bit different somehow than the “honeymoon” right after launch date…
No worries, this is completely normal for a community launch and nothing to be too concerned about (yet). The “lull” right after launch is bound to happen. The key is to make sure it doesn’t stay, and that the community builds into something sustainable, with regular participation from a broad cross-section of members. Here are a few tips to help you get your MROC off on the right foot…
- Throw a few “softball” activities out there – Try throwing out a few “softball” activities at first. Think of the types of questions you would ask in the first five or ten minutes of a focus group when you’re building rapport with the group… Those are the perfect questions to start with in an online research community. They’re personal and fun, without being too deep. Every moderator has their own bag of tricks that will probably work just as well in the online environment, so why not try them out to see what works best…
- Try out some surveys – Also try starting with a few surveys or polls that may or may not be related to the topic, and be sure share or discuss the results with members. Surveys are easy to fill out and provide a quick engagement point for members that are just getting their feet wet in the community.
- Email them more at first (and regularly) – In the first few weeks, be sure to setup a regular schedule for emailing participants about community news and updates. We like to email all of our communities every Tuesday with news and reminders that the latest research activities are available. As long as you’re fairly routine in your communications (and set this precedent early), you’ll be assured of regular participation among a core set of members.
- Get personal (on their profile pages) – We like to add a welcome message to member profile pages initially, and then find any excuse we can to follow-up with additional messages. That lets members know you’re paying attention and sets up an expectation for reciprocation.
Those are just some tips that have worked for us in the past. Feel free to share any ones that have worked for you in the comments to this post!
More Natural Research
We’re running a really interesting short term community project (Neighborhood) around an alcoholic beverage concept and it has really has confirmed some of my thoughts about the future of market research, specifically how our approach and research methods need to be more engaging, natural, and interactive.
The Old Way
Traditionally as a moderator (whether running online bulletin boards or focus groups), you create a comprehensive guide and once the project starts you scramble to field or execute the topics/questions in your guide. However, for this project, our approach is turning out to be much less controlled.
The New Way
We organized our activities in waves, and though we sketched out the entire 4 week study, we regularly reviewed and adapted our approach a few times each week. We forced ourselves to stop and think about what topics we had explored enough, and what new issues emerged based on what we were seeing. It sounds very simple, but it made me realize, that planning too much on the front end can at times be a detriment. In a focus group setting, you don’t have the luxury of time. However, in the online setting you do.
What we’ve found so far is that this more natural and organic approach that:
- minimized the amount of repetition for respondents
- created a more natural conversation with members
- quickly allowed us to develop a better context of the consumption experience (even quicker than we anticipated)
- allowed the client to change the product concept based on this better understanding of the consumption experience
- created room to explore areas we did not original intend (or even know we needed to explore)
It has been a great experience and we are looking forward to developing a formal case study on this project. I know the words “interactive” and “organic” can seem like flavors of the month, but it is great to see these concepts at work!
I had a bit of an epiphany the other day (well, maybe not an “epiphany” – more like a random thought)… I think I’m an online community moderator’s nightmare. Here’s why.
I’m the type of person who is trolling any one of ten or so different communities or social networks at any given time. I might be checking in on Digg.com, watching the latest tweets roll in on Twitter from my iPhone, reading through various group discussions on LinkedIN, looking at friend updates on Facebook, checking out my blog feeds through Bloglines and just generally checking-in on a variety of “niche” type networks I’m also a part of (e.g., various marketing forums, market research communities, etc…). That doesn’t even start to include any of the time I spend checking in on PluggedIN communities!
Here’s the kicker though – I almost never contribute content or even actively participate in these public communities/social networks (even though I might spend a couple hours a day lurking). I still feel part of a community (especially on sites like Digg), but I’m really not much of a contributing member. In fact, as a moderator I’d be pretty disappointed if I had to have me as a member of one of our research communities
Why don’t I participate?
It made me think about why I’m like that, and how I could convince someone like myself to get off the fence and start joining the conversation, particularly in the online research communities we moderate.
As for the why, I really think it comes down to a limited attention span and time available to find content that is really important. I try really hard to balance work and life, and allowing for time to participate in all of the communities I watch is a luxury I don’t always have. Which leads me to the question…
How would I convince someone like me to participate?
I think there are a few ways a community or community moderator could get someone like me to quit lurking and start participating…
- Personalization and attention – I like sites that I can customize or subscribe to the content I want to see. I need to find the content I’m looking for, quickly…
- Knowledge of who is in charge – I like sites where you know who is in charge on some personal level. Even with Digg, you at least know some of the Digg team and can get to know them a bit (e.g., by following Kevin Rose on Twitter). That makes me want to feel part of that community…
- New content – I need to see sites that are updated frequently, though not too much so. Posting at least something new each day will generally get me coming back for more…
- Usability – Busy sites, or sites where it takes me more than a few steps to find the content I’m looking for, are a big no-no in my book. In fact, they won’t even make the cut of regular sites to troll through (much less participate in) if the usability of the site is poor.
- A little “something” for my time – I’m not suggesting that I’ll only participate if I’m given something directly, but a small acknowledgement that my time is valuable and the community appreciates having me as a member (even in my “lurker” capacity) would go a long way to me dropping the trolling habit and actually contributing content. This could be in the form of inside knowledge only available to members, free products, discounts, etc…
- Feeling exclusive and “in the know” - I really liked Digg way back in the day when it felt like it was a geeky site about technology news. It has changed quite a bit since then, and I still visit the site religiously. However, it just doesn’t have the same “exclusive” feel as it did back in the day. The same thing happened with Second Life after it started receiving a ton of press and marketers jumped in the fray. Sites that make me feel valued and exclusive for being a member are more likely to get my attention and contributions.
What does this mean in a research community context?
Of course, this makes me think of a few community moderation and management tips for online research communities…
- Mix up discussions with surveys and polls – Polls are easy to participate in and help get lurkers (like myself) to take baby steps into becoming more active. Put up an interesting poll and follow it up with a discussion around the results. That’s more likely to drive participation in discussions.
- Set reasonable expectations for time requirements – It’s unlikely your research community is going to become anyone’s homepage when they open their browser. Set reasonable expectations for how much time people have to participate, and don’t overburden them with activities each week. I’m certainly not unique in having many different communities and social networks I’m a part of, and your research community members are likely to be in the same situation.
- Post personal profiles, pictures and ways of contacting moderators - As I mentioned with Digg and following Kevin Rose on Twitter, any ways that you can reach out and make the moderators seem more “human” will go a long way to building loyalty in a research community (or any online community for that matter). Make sure you have a profile page with pictures, and try to update it from time-to-time.
What do you think?
Would a community moderator like to have you as a participant? How would you get someone to move from a regular lurker to a regular participant? Comments and ideas are welcome!
I know I’m not the first (or the last) to address this topic, but there are some very interesting developments in the qualitative research world that we are seeing. They seem to fit nicely into one of two groups – those that involve the qualitative tools/methodologies and how we use them, and those that involve the delivery of qualitative insights and reporting. This post refers just to the methodologies/tools and our roles as moderators. We’ll address delivery and reporting trends in Part two of this post. Here is a list of top trends that we see regarding qualitative methodologies:
Research communities and other longitudinal methods now give us the ability to develop continuous or extended relationships with respondents that truly allows us to explore issues over time. No longer do we have to rely solely on a few hours or a few days with a set of people. Time is on our side!
Research from Multiple Angles
With this extended relationship also comes the time and tools to approach research objectives from multiple angles. We now can use a variety of tools (e.g., discussions, photos exercises, blog/diary creation, polls) to explore issues with our audience. We need to be more multifaceted than ever and think about mixing it up rather than pointing and shooting the same old way.
As the qualitative researcher tool belt is expanding, there will be even more opportunities to mix in online and offline qualitative for our clients. Using technology in-between face-to-face efforts to help continue conversations will only improve our value in the marketplace. Also, unique research designs that use a combination of techniques (e.g., in-person ideation + online customer advisory board + sub panel of early adopters) to provide clients with holistic solutions for problems will be very successful.
Equal Exchange of Ideas
We are now embracing a culture of “losing control” and giving respondents tools to express themselves apart from the questions we ask as researchers. Whether through controlled environments or research in existing public communities, qualitative research especially will be about engaging people with less directed Q&A sessions and more passive listening opportunities.
New Ways of Expression
We’ve touched on this in previous posts, but with technology comes new ways of expressing ourselves. The future of online qualitative will be measured not just by its ability to replicate traditional methods, but by the extent to which we can leverage technology to allow individuals the ability to communicate in ways they could never do in-person. There are potentially many powerful ways for people to represent their feelings or perceptions in a virtual, non-verbal manner, and the future of online research revolves around the ability to find unique ways to allow individuals to represent their thoughts. For example, instead of relating words or images with a particular brand, consumers could potentially build characters that represent brands (with hair color, outfit choice, personality traits, and lifestyle factors). This virtual representation can help researchers uncover deep underlying associations with a brand in a way that a conventional Q & A session (either online or offline) could not replicate.
New Roles as Moderators
We blogged the other week about how moderating online communities is different from other methodologies, and we see the role of moderators as a whole evolving over time as well. Finding new ways to open up and engage members in online settings will be even more important. This can be done through creating interesting profiles, embedding video-type discussions (recording ourselves asking questions), thinking up creative role playing and game-like research activities, and other engaging/fun solutions. All of these methods will be crucial to keeping members actively involved and excited in continuous research methods.