In the sphere of Customer Insights, we often hear the terms ‘panel’ and ‘community’ used interchangeably. But are they the same thing? In our experience, the answer is no.
A panel is a system where your customers or consumers can opt-in to respond to requests to provide feedback from time to time. The key ingredients in a panel are:
- An opt-in capture and management system – a legal framework tied to a system that tags people as being willing to engage for feedback including unsubscribes
- A tool to target people in the panel – if you want people with dogs to provide feedback on dog food, you can selectively reach out and engage them to get feedback, perhaps with a traditional survey
- Insights – not just tools to run the surveys but also report on the size and health of your panel
A community is a far more engaged audience where most of the feedback is through a dedicated online platform. A community includes all the features of a panel but is itself a fully featured platform possessing a suite of tools where you can engage with your audience safely behind a secure login.
Rather than sending tasks to the panel members, you invite your community members online and everything happens in a collective environment where people actively engage and feed off each other. This is a big step up from a panel.
“An online panel suggests that you’ll be using it solely for survey research. While an online community is more involved – discussions, community building activities, as well as surveys.” – Forrester
Reason #1 – Cost & Time Savings
Compared to doing ad hoc research, you can save $1,000’s by maintaining a trusted community rather than organising a panel every time you need a question answered. You will also save all the time and effort that goes into set up, handling dropouts, finding new participants etc. For example, we save one of our customers $1m+ on ad hoc research costs every single year via management of their online community.
Reason #2 – Interaction
What’s the best way to kill motivation for your customers (or even your employees)? Let them believe that all their feedback is going nowhere and doing nothing. With a community, you can easily report back to your customers how their opinions are helping shape your brand and products. Showing participants that their voice is heard provides positive reinforcement to engender more positive engagement. Achieving this ‘virtuous circle’ is the proof point on the very best communities.
Reason #3 – Iteration
Within a community, there is a continuous building of content and feedback where your depth of understanding of participants increases over time. You can go back in time to find related material and further iterate your question positioning in the present day, facilitating ongoing optimisation.
Reason #4 – Potentially large volumes of Qualitative Data
Results are directional and usually biased toward a sub-population of a researcher’s target market. Community research should not take the place of statistically sound, representative quantitative research, but it should be used for idea generation, ethnographic exercises, or getting a quick pulse on a certain type of consumer.
Reason #5 – Belonging
This is the obvious but important one. Being in an environment where people can share with others that listen and care is desirable in almost any social setting for humans – customers or not. Allowing your customers to share views and ideas and having them validated gives them a sense of ‘community’. Heck – even if you’re the type of person who always makes sure their disagreements are heard – all data is good data, and your business can use this to improve.
The Evolved Group Communities:
Key insights tools in the communities we build include:
- Unlimited traditional surveys
- Quick polls on a range of topics where results are shared with members
- Profiling tools and methods to build knowledge of your community members – i.e. learn iteratively about them over time
- Chat-driven AI moderators to drive engagement and create a sense of belonging and participation
- Discussion forums to share open-ended opinions and experience across the breadth of your community base
- Facilitation of competitions with a GiftPay integration
- For one of our FMCG clients, we decreased average survey length by 20%, whilst also achieving 30% more data
Beyond the technology, a well-credentialed community team will actively manage engagement and strategically position and develop topics for group discussion. They will be able to convert strategic business questions into the right task that will answer the questions.
Communities are powerful because they provide fast and deep feedback on topics in a way that traditional research methods, including panels, cannot.