FEATURE25 September 2012

Community breakthrough

Four executives from InSites Consulting make the case for empowering community participants to become co-researchers. Part one of a two-part feature.

There will always be a gap between the information a consumer shares and how researchers understand it. Whether cultural, generational or knowledge-based, these gaps might make it difficult for researchers to put things in the right context. But research participants can help us close the gap. By becoming co-researchers, they can help us uncover insights that would otherwise have been out of reach.

Today, many consumers are already collaborating with brands within online customer communities. We empower them to start their own discussions and enable them to share (un)solicited feedback. However, the roles between researcher and researchee are still separate and distinct. For truly successful collaboration, we need to start down the path of convergence.

Participants as ‘co-moderators’

MROCs allow us to build an ongoing connection with research participants. After an introductory period, we have gained their trust and participants know their way around a community. Even members that were not familiar with communities before learn quickly how the community works, what the role of the community manager is and what is expected of them. And even without formally introducing the role of ‘co-moderator’ we often already see certain members start behaving as moderators in those parts of an MROC where respondents can talk off-topic and start new discussions.

Clearly, the potential is there but there are various ways to introduce co-moderators into a community. We have identified two types of co-moderators: 

By role
The participant is endorsed as a co-moderator within the MROC, perhaps within a specific community room. The co-moderator is encouraged to start discussions by themselves and to moderate, summarise and report back to the moderator on discussions that take place.

By mission
In this instance, the co-moderator is given a secret assignment. Instead of being ‘responsible’ for one room, the mission for this co-moderator is to join an already existing discussion and stimulate the conversation to keep the topic active. After, as in the case of the previous example, the co-moderator summarises the discussion and reports back to the moderator.

In a study with Campbell’s we observed that working with co-moderators increases the general engagement levels within an MROC. The conversation can become even more open as it is peer-to-peer, with consumers speaking the same language. Also the findings are summarised from a consumer’s point of view, not that of a researcher’s. This brings a different perspective to the analysis.

Overall, co-moderating is perceived to be very rewarding for both the co-moderator and other participants. One participant told us: “How interesting that you used a couple of the other members to help you and ask us questions too. It’s a great idea, they know where we are coming from, and they understand what we are talking about so it’s easier to talk to them.”

Anouk Willems and Thomas Troch are senior research innovators, Annelies Verhaeghe is head of research innovation and Tom De Ruyck is head of research communities at InSites Consulting

Click here for part two

5 Comments

9 years ago

Hi there! A very interesting line of thought to address an equally critical challenge i.e. the gap between collated data and inferences drawn from the same. Since I have been part of MR industry as a user as well supplier...I can easily relate to this. Co-creation has been in practice for quite some time now. However, getting help from respondents themselves in de-coding the research data is something not much heard of. What are the main challenges do you people confront in the process? And how different would it be from things which are already happening on social networking platforms? Would love to be part of some real life session. Ajay

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9 years ago

Hello, Thanks for sharing this experience. Quoting your starting argument "There will always be a gap between the information a consumer shares and how researchers understand it" My observation is that the subjects being researched are all knowingly taking part in a MROC rather than having come proactively together to form a community with a given 'customer' purpose (e.g. talk about sports shoes). With the above in mind, it seems to me that the motivation of the MROC participants will define the 'gap' you rightly mention in your starting argument (a gap which might be widen by the subsequent interpretation by researchers). It would be interesting to see if the information shared by an MROC on a subject (e.g. sports shoes) is the same information shared by participants of an online community that includes the said subject in their discussions. I'm curious how a co-moderator might be of more or less relevance for the researchers in the two scenarios. Lucas

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9 years ago

Hi, interesting article, thanks for sharing. From your experience with getting the participant's point of view for an overall discussion, do you feel that those members should get compensated for their efforts? Generally we try not to emphasize incentives. However, in this case it seems as though that would depend on how much time and effort that those particular members would be required to provide in order to produce the insight that is beneficial. Thoughts? Thanks, Erika

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9 years ago

From an insider perspective I say that this is a very interesting example of triple-exploitation. Not only consumers usually pay a premium price for goods produced by brands that invest in market research, not only they are paid very little for their very precious contribution to online research, they now also have to co-moderate the communities? What next? Send them to China to work for free to the next IPad?

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9 years ago

@Ajay Thakur: thanks for your enthusiastic reply! We’re currently still experimenting with co-researchers. We have plans of organizing a webinar about this next year. If you send me your contact details (Anouk at insites-consulting dot com), we’ll keep you posted on this. @Lucas Borja: That’s an interesting thought! The bigger ‘natural’ communities (as we call them) often work with co-moderators. Would be interesting indeed to compare both. I think we could learn from the natural community approach of co-moderators. @Erika: Thanks for your reply! In my opinion, I think it’s all about balance; if the co-moderator contributes a lot to the community and the goal of the community, they should be made special. That doesn’t mean it should be a monetary reward, but a company visit for example or any other brand related activity would be appreciated by the moderator. It’s important that the co-moderator is not driven by this ‘extra’ incentive, otherwise you’ll get the ‘gold rush’ effect. @anonymous: good question..what is next? Consumers in the boardroom :-)?

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