In the DIY Era Communities Still Need to be Managed

Julie Paul, SVP, Online Communities

With the advent of a range of DIY tools that simplify everything in the insight gathering industry, there have been some recent moves away from managing communities so closely—thus leaving clients to fend for themselves. While Toluna has been at the forefront of the move to use technology to simplify the research process, we believe it’s still important to stay close to our communities and provide the kind of management and support clients need.

Over Both the Short and Long Term

Short term communities tend to be much better suited for a DIY environment, for a few reasons. Most importantly, the shorter the length of engagement, the less need to ‘manage’ such things as community engagement and panel health. Further, short-term initiatives tend to have more defined, concrete goals. These types of communities, that are 1-3 months in length, have a much better chance of success with a client managing them on their own – if they have experience in both qualitative and quantitative research.

But here’s where self-management of communities really gets sticky: If a community is slated to last a year or more, has a long list of sometimes uncertain goals, and is expected to remain active and engaged, this is where we enter the realm of community panel and where significant panel management expertise is needed.

For one thing, it’s critical to keep community members engaged over a long period of time. A manager needs to interact with them through newsletters, discussions, surveys seeking feedback and a whole range of other engagement tools. Running that kind of on-going engagement program takes time and specific expertise. Panel management, consisting of health reporting, replenishment, incentive management, and database administration is often the ‘black box’ of community-panels, where researchers in the brand corporation or even most market research agencies do not have this type of expertise.

Understanding Community Members from the Inside Out

New technologies in the arena of passive measurement have now given us the ability to track community members’ movements online, giving us a deeper understanding not only of what they do, but why they do it. We can now gain a better understanding of panelists’ motivations and emotions. But it takes very specialized expertise to correctly use and interpret the data from this technology. It’s certainly not something a client would necessarily be prepared to use on their own. Not even the traditional market researcher has the depth of knowledge required – this is where data scientists are required.

What Has Always Been Our Role

Bottom line, clients have always brought us into research initiatives because they’re apt to be wearing many hats already and don’t have the time to develop all the skills necessary to manage their community. Nothing in that regard has changed. Despite the advent of the DIY Age, they still need our help and support – and we’ll be there every step of the way.