Choosing a Research Community Platform

03.22.21

The research community landscape is no exception in the exponentially digital era we live in. When it comes to the platforms that house these online environments, there seem to be new players and features surfacing all the time. That said, as integral as the technology by which you learn from customers is to your community’s success, it can feel impossible to decide.

With such a wide array of options, how do you go about selecting the right platform for your needs? This happens to be one of the most common research community-related questions we get from clients. So, in this guide, we’ll look at a few key considerations that will set you up to make the most promising platform investment—one that enables your community to live up to its name and forge meaningful connections that inspire customer-centric decisions.

How involved will you be in the servicing of the community?

Do you have the research chops, bandwidth, and desire to be involved in the daily activities of your community? If so, you’ll want to focus on the research and engagement aspects, while spending little time and brainpower getting up to speed on the technology. In this case, you will be best served by a platform developed by a technology-focused firm. These organizations tend to specialize in user experience, intuitive platform design, and providing training on how to untap their full potential so that teams get out the gate quickly.

On the contrary, if you plan on having a research firm service your community, then the technology is a lesser concern from the perspective of your user experience. Research firms tend to have a preferred platform they are proficient in, which may be technology they created themselves or purchased from another organization. You’ll want to look to the provider’s research and engagement expertise, which will be their most important assets to you.

What types of activities do you anticipate?

The activities you put forward in your community are among the most important considerations when identifying the technology that will give you the greatest ROI. While most platforms can perform basic qualitative and quantitative activities, some lean more heavily in one direction than the other. If your primary methodology is quantitative- or qualitative-only, consider a platform that specializes over one that can do it all. Start by thinking through the objectives of your community and what methodologies make the most sense to meet them. If you are looking for a servicing partner, this is something they should be able to determine with you.

Which platform integrations do you need?

Is your team planning to deploy surveys using a specific software? If so, you’ll need to ensure the research community platform you select can seamlessly integrate with it. Beyond surveys, some platforms allow for various integrations that enable advanced activities such as eye-tracking, emotion recognition, and virtual shopping, to name a few. These integrations may or may not be important to you, so think carefully about your intended activities, the platforms it will take to conduct them, and the broader community platform that will work well with them.

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What are your organization’s technology requirements?

Considering your research community will exist within the context of your organization’s digital landscape, and the broader online world, taking a step back to ensure your platform adheres to technology policies is critical. Knowing your security requirements will help you narrow down the playing field right out of the gate. And such stipulations may be intimidating to wrap your head around, but not to worry. You won’t have to understand what it takes to comply with requirements, only what requirements exist and if the platform meets them. Common considerations include:

Data center location: Most modern platforms leverage cloud data centers, which are backed by physical computers. And many organizations have requirements as to where these brick-and-mortar data storage places are located. If this holds for your business, a platform provider will be able to specify where, exactly, data within their technology is stored so you can ensure your data is saved in an approved region.

Security certifications: Does your company require all technology purchases to meet a certain security certification such as ISO27001?  If so, ensure the platform you pick has such credentials. Some providers list their security certifications on their website; others do not. So, ask about this during your conversations with prospective partners. There are many types of security certifications and most of them sound foreign. Again, don’t worry about understanding what they all mean—just that they are met by the platforms you consider.

Accessibility: Ensuring your research community platform meets accessibility requirements means giving individuals with disabilities a voice—that they, thus their valuable perspectives, aren’t excluded. While many organizations require this, not all do. And if yours does not, aim for a platform that honors accessibility requirements anyway, as inclusive insights are key to true understanding and customer centricity.  To learn more about web accessibility click here.

How much does it cost?

Of course, finding technology that fits within your budget will be fundamental. But platform costs vary greatly from provider to provider, and several factors can further complicate pricing. Read our blog here on factors that could influence cost: What Drives the Cost of a Research Community?

A research community can be a powerful tool through which to gain consumer understanding and fuel organizational decision making. It’s also a large investment in both time and money. As such, you don’t want to get the architecture wrong. It should empower learning and engagement—not serve up barriers. Take the time to carefully consider these questions, to streamline your platform selection experience and arrive at the right technology for your needs. Then be sure to explore the other key aspects of “community building” because technology is not the only important consideration.

Read our blog on picking the right research community partner based not only on your technology needs, but through the lens of research, socialization, and industry knowledge here: When Considering Research Community Partners, Take These Four Factors into Account.

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