When Considering Research Community Partners, Take These Four Factors into Account

03.10.21

An online community is a significant investment. Done right, it is a strategic tool to forge deep understanding of your customers so decision makers across your organization put strong plans into action. And because finding the right partner is fundamental to building success, with so many choices, how do you determine the partner right for you?

As one of the initial community providers to market, we’ve seen it all. We’ve helped clients across industries along their journeys, whether launching a community for the first time or seeking to optimize an existing one. And we’ve experienced, from the other side, the key role a harmonious collaboration plays in ensuring a research community brings an organization closer to its customers, and vice versa.

When exploring research community partners, embrace these four key considerations to guide you toward addressing your organization’s unique needs:

1. Platform Technology

Platform technology is often one of the first things companies think of when looking into launching a new community. However, it is critical to remember that this is one piece of the puzzle, and it isn’t a one-size-fits-all matter.

How will you and your team engage with the technology on a daily basis, and what is the internal user experience?

Determine if you’ll be accessing the platform yourself, and if so, how often and how in depth. If you plan to be a primary user of the platform, you need to be comfortable with it, its functionality, and the user experience. If you prefer to lean on a partner to lead community execution, look to them for technology recommendations. Be sure to probe into why and how the platform they recommend is best suited for your objectives. 

What is the member experience?

Beyond your own user experience and that of your teammates, consider how the technology will enable a positive member, or customer, experience. Whether or not the community is branded, building an environment that is congruent with your brand’s desired customer experience is an important best practice to ensuring members feel valued and are willing to share their perspectives with you.

What types of activities does the technology enable?

One of the most important aspects of building a community is conducting research activities. So, spend time envisioning how members will be leveraged. Through quick, straightforward surveys? More involved, dynamic engagements? A blend? Planning out how participation will come to life will help inform the capabilities your platform should come with.

Community platform technology has come a long way. Getting it right comes down to who the users will be and how they will interact with it. By carefully considering the factors above, you will be able to determine how much weight the technology aspect holds in your community partner decision.

For more detailed considerations about research community platform technology, see our blog post here.

2. Research Skills

Considering the ultimate goal of a research community is to gain understanding, research prowess is key. And since volume, depth, and type of insights can vary widely, it is important to define the kinds of insights you’re after. Doing so will lead you toward a vision of the research support you will need, which will inform the role your partner should play in research.

What types of business questions will the community inform?

Research communities can be used to answer a wide variety of business questions, from point-in-time to longitudinal, and quick gut checks to deep emotional understanding. The more sophisticated your insights goals are, the more comprehensive the research strategy will need to be.

What level of activity do you expect?

Once you know the nature of the learnings you hope to glean, you should have a solid sense of how often you’ll need them. With a minimum recommendation of monthly engagement, upwards to multiple activities every week, the frequency of activities within your community can demand more research than your team is staffed to handle.

How involved will your team be in the research process?

Spend time thinking about what you want your team’s role to be in the research. Beyond bandwidth, consider skillset and internal stakeholder needs. Conducting the research on a community alone can be a full-time job, leaving little space to do the important work of engaging internal stakeholders to understand new research topics or ensure insights are being utilized by these teams. If internal departments require a lot of managing, consider a partner to expand bandwidth and ensure your team stays focused on the strategic application of insights. 

Be clear on how you plan to leverage the community and discuss this with prospective research partners to understand if and how they can best support your bandwidth and skillset. Enlisting a true extension of your team that aligns with the volume and complexity of research you’re planning is critical. Even if you intend to lead research execution yourself, it may still be worthwhile to explore potential partners’ research aptitude. Should you ever run into a bandwidth issue, you will have the right type of partner to fall back on. 

For more detailed considerations about community research partners, see our blog post here.

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3. Socialization

Insights are futile if not put into motion. Hand in hand with research considerations, think through how insights garnered from the community will be socialized. Who will use them? What are the anticipated use cases (e.g. education, inspiring action/change)? How will they be shared? As an example, your C-suite audience may need the most poignant takeaways while R&D would benefit from the nitty-gritty details to inform development.

What level of human interpretation and analysis is necessary to uncover the insights?

For more straightforward questions, the data itself may provide clear answers. However, more often than not, data requires digging, interpretation, and translation to become digestible and actionable. 

What tools will make uncovering insights more efficient?

Whether you or your research partner are diving into analysis and socialization, ensure you understand the breadth of tools available to aid in the process. Explore which ones are relevant to your community use cases. For example, automated and real-time dashboards allow for immediate access to quantitative data, in-activity note-taking functions aid in summarizing insights in real-time, while qualitative activities fields, video and text clipping tools flag great consumer responses that can be easily digested during reporting. Finally, data cross-tab tools allow for on-the-fly data manipulation.

How do your stakeholders best consume insights?

Different individuals, teams, and functions are bound to have different learning styles. Thus, catering how you deliver insights from the community to resonate with your stakeholders is key. Consider the importance of data visualization, writing styles, level of detail, and design capabilities through this lens and honestly assess your internal capacity to bring insights to life in meaningful ways.

Understanding the skills and tools required to ensure insights are shared in ways that fuel outcomes will help you ascertain the extent to which your internal team can contribute and what you’ll need from a partner. 

4. Industry Knowledge

Every industry is unique and an effective research community embraces the nuances of your sector. Honoring industry-specific factors has implications for how members are recruited, how research topics are conducted, and how results are analyzed. 

What level of experience within your industry does your partner have?

Whether you’re planning to lead the community or lean on a partner to lead, understand their comfort and experience working with your industry and audience. A big part of that is knowing the extent to which they keep up with evolving practices and trends. 

What impact does your industry have on member touchpoints?

Depending on your organization’s industry, your research topics and/or member engagement strategies could require in-depth industry understanding and, in some cases, the use of specific terminology. To create a positive member experience, ensure that whoever is leading these initiatives is knowledgeable and “speaking the right language.” 

The importance of your partner’s industry knowledge won’t only depend on the dynamics unique to your industry. It will also hinge on the role they play in the community and your bandwidth to ensure industry standards are met through knowledge sharing.

All in all, critically think about how actively involved you plan to be in your research community. Ensure you’re finding the right partner to complement your involvement and provide the skills that you need.   

Download our worksheet to capture notes as you’re evaluating and comparing potential research community partners:
Research Communities Partnership Evaluation.