Online communities: Enriching your customer conversations in Asia

Take one look at the international market research press these days and you might get the impression that the whole industry is drunk on tech, speed and instant insights.

In the excitement of reinventing and adapting market research methods through technology, we can’t lose sight of our key role as researchers: Understanding behaviours, attitudes and aspirations to help our clients build stronger brands and services.

Creating rich and meaningful conversations with customers is vital, which is why we love the deep dialogue we achieve running online consumer communities in Asia.

Our teams are using online qualitative communities, in addition to face-to-face focus groups and depth interview methods, to engage and interact with various consumer profiles.

“In Asia we are seeing an increasing number of international client briefs with an online community element. A few years back we were scrambling to learn and adapt, now we are advising our clients and international partners on how to get the most out of their online communities in Asia,” says Marjolein Winkelman, InsightAsia International Research Manager, UK.


The art of community conversation

Online market research communities (MROCs) give brands:

  • Fully thought-out responses on topics which aren’t always at the front of mind.
  • Access to the daily lives, experiences and thoughts of key consumer groups.
  • Ongoing feedback from the same people throughout a development process.

The key is to avoid the trap of running a dry Q&A session, instead harnessing the community imaginatively. Community members value contributing their ideas and opinions in the spirit of service and product enhancement, but will quickly lose interest if questions and tasks become too demanding or time consuming.

We aim for no more than two activities per day, taking up a maximum of 45 minutes. Maintaining interest to participate through forging an informal, personal connection with the moderator and encouraging photo, video, collage and creative idea contribution can help encourage response levels over several days, or even weeks.

Farah Meutia, Online Researcher and Community Manager for IA Indonesia, highlights some unique benefits of online community conversations; “In societies where standing out and being strongly opinionated can be frowned upon, tapping into the power of digital anonymity can help us elicit heartfelt, eye-opening responses.”


Setting up an MROC

There are choices to be addressed when setting up an online community and you need to be single-minded about its role, purpose and expected contribution to business intelligence.

Communities can serve various roles, each requiring different levels of investment, set up, recruitment, design and software:

Client branded customer communities:

  • Purpose: Closing the customer feedback loop whilst forging deeper customer loyalty.
  • Membership: Anything from 50 to over 1,000, drawn from key target segments.
  • Length: Six months or more, with membership refreshment over time drawn from client customer database.

Short term ad hoc qualitative communities and discussion boards:

  • Purpose: Enriching and extending qualitative conversations, idea generation, and behavioural logs, as well as concept and sense checks.

  • Membership: 20-30 per location.
  • Length: From three to 14 days, with potential to reignite.


Community software

The software we use needs to be suited to the task at hand, but with a strong focus on UX and an intuitive interface.

Asia is very much a mobile-first environment; platforms which are in-app and mobile-friendly rather than exclusively browser-based perform well.

  • Dedicated apps like our own 3Sixty platform have the benefit of sending reminder notifications, increasing buy-in throughout the process. However, newer apps can encounter compatibility issues with older smartphones.
  • Mobile sites, accessed via a phone’s browser, can be made to run on any phone, but without push notifications responses can be slower or less frequent.

We are constantly evaluating and inviting demos from global technology partners to assess the suitability and capability of different community software.

To date, we have worked with five different community platforms in Asia, selecting each according to the specific client needs and community objectives.


Recruiting a community

The InsightAsia approach to accessing online communities mixes the best of traditional and contemporary methods when it comes to finding the right people for the job.

A lot of researchers, in their mad dash to go 100% digital, outsource their panel recruitment to other companies and brief them via a web conference. Experience has taught us that recruiting and briefing face-to-face, where possible, results in more dependable engagement and participation rates in short term qualitative communities.

Gamifying the experience and offering one off large prizes intermittently, such as electronics and air tickets, can help boost participation in long term communities. Suhaila Shahri, Research Director at InsightAsia Malaysia, has some ideas for maxing out engagement:

“When it comes to incentivising participants, cash is still the king, and we stagger payment throughout the programme, usually on a per-task basis, to incentivise participation and hold interest.

Participants are the most motivated when there’s something in it for them directly. Rather than paying money to parents or guardians, vouchers, cinema tickets and similar goodies are an effective way of getting young people invested in the programme.”


How to grow your online community

Meeting participants face-to-face in the early stages is crucial when it comes to promoting a healthy growth for the community later on. Knowing that their moderators are real people, people who they have met and speak the same language as, helps keeps responses on-topic and productive.

This helps when it comes to the actual task of moderation. In cases where participants’ responses become out of context, a friendly conversation with a recognisable face is often the most effective solution. We find the personal touch goes a long way.

As a rule of thumb, we find respondents struggle to remain continually engaged with a study lasting longer than seven days, or where more than two tasks per day are required of them, without a two-day break.

This makes it critical to work with market researchers who know from experience what questions and tasks will produce the most relevant data and rich response.

Generally, our moderators spend between four and six hours per day interacting with a qualitative community of 30 participants, following up questions and teasing out the most meaningful contributions.


Wrapping things up

Wrapping up a community panel is as important as setting one up right in the first place. Satisfaction surveys allow us to improve the community for the next round, and where the client allows, we also like to share our preliminary findings with the community members.

This not only allows us an extra round of feedback, but it also shows participants that their comments have been taken on board and put into practice outside the sphere of this short experience. In effect, it serves as a satisfying form of closure.

Our Clients tell us they see multiple benefits from community initiatives:

  • Live, first-hand feedback they can observe in real time.
  • Instant feedback polls and sense checks.
  • Insight-focused debriefs drawing out key learnings.
  • Opportunities to meet face-to-face with community members to unpack issues.

Have you used online communities for your market research in Asia? Are you ready to make the leap and tap into this powerful resource? Leave a comment or get in touch to tell us your story.