Engaging. Responding. Creating.

Mike Stevens of Vision Critical explains how organisations are connecting directly with their customers through online communities

Sponsored by Vision Critical


A storm is brewing in the market research industry and the client-agency dynamic is changing forever. Initially led by early adopters in media, retail and membership bodies, organisations of every kind are now talking directly to their customers, or their members, consumers, citizens, shoppers, users and viewers.

Online communities enable clients to maintain ongoing two-way dialogue with large groups of people. Clients listen through surveys, chat, qualitative discussions, or immersive techniques such as sharing diaries, scrapbooks, videos and imagery; and respond by sharing exclusive content, results from research projects and decisions they plan to take about the organisation or brand.

Online portals, email communications and face-to-face events all play their part in creating the social glue enabling this radical new approach to generating consumer advocacy.

Here are four examples of organisations using communities to change the way they do business.

CBS Outdoor offers advertisers extended engagement with urban dwellers across the UK with their network of advertising sites across the London Underground, buses, National Rail and Westfield shopping centres. So, for CBS Outdoor, it is critical that they understand the urban audience better than anyone else in order to attract advertisers.

The work.shop.play community panel of 6,000 city dwellers has become an indispensable resource for developing insights into this valuable audience. Members participate in three or four short surveys, online discussions or other activities each month; they receive feedback on studies and are rewarded with prize draws, discount vouchers and offers. “We know our members have busy lives and no patience for boring research, so we make all our surveys visually immersive, maintain a tone of voice which is fun and engaging and we have great content in our online portal,” says Gemma Proctor, research manager at CBS Outdoor.

Insights from the community are used every day to respond to briefs from advertisers and are consistently used to gain a deeper understanding of consumer behaviour. Gemma adds: “Our community panel was even showcased as Website of the Day by Pocket Lint (a consumer tech and gadget site). How many research communities can say that?”

Gemma Proctor, research manager, CBS Outdoor

Discovery Channel UK manages 12 TV properties reaching an audience of over 11 million people every week. The Discovery Viewpoint community panel of 3,000 viewers helps shape programming decisions across the entire portfolio of channels and shows. Recruited via on-air promotions and social media, the membership profile of the community has a young, female, composition to help provide insights for Discovery’s lifestyle properties.

‘Start of Series’ reports give fast diagnostics to refine on-air promotions; new show concepts are explored in a combination of qualitative discussions and surveys and broader studies explore topical issues and trends. This summer also saw an extended series of engagements on the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“We’ve created a sense of exclusivity around our community,” says Lisa Clark, research analyst at Discovery. “Members really feel like they’re part of something special and that helps enormously with engagement. We get over 50 per cent response rates to every invitation we send, so we can turn things around very quickly if we need to.”

Global Radio’s brands – including Capital, Heart and XFM – reach over 19 million listeners every week. The Speakers portfolio of communities – seven individually branded online portals – allows Global’s insight, programming and ad sales teams to do research at breakneck speed.

“On occasion, we’ve had results from a survey back the same day,” says Rob Tuffin, panel manager at Global. “Once, someone asked us in the morning when people have their roast dinners on a Sunday, as we were planning a cook-along show for Classic FM. We asked and had results by late afternoon.”

Lisa Clark, research analyst, Discovery Channel UK

The community panel has been used to develop creative for spot ads, measure the impact of campaigns, test new physical products and even gain near real-time feedback on live events.

“We know we can rely on the insights we get from our community,” says Tuffin. “They are our listeners, as they are registered with the brands – so they tend to be more passionate about us than externally sourced samples.”

Originally formed in 1903, the Institute of Directors (IoD) is the UK’s longest running organisation for directors and professional leaders. With over 40,000 active members, the driving purpose behind the IoD is to foster responsible and dynamic business practices.

IoD launched its community panel, Policy Voice, in 2008. Initially, the objective for the community was to simply expand their existing telephone market research programme. However Policy Voice quickly became its principal research tool, allowing the opinions of members to be collected systematically, heard and represented accurately in government and public forums.

Rob Tuffin, panel manager, Global Radio

“It is no exaggeration to say that Policy Voice carries our members’ views into Downing Street, into Parliament and onto the front pages of the national newspapers,” says Mike Harris, head of policy development at the IoD. “Directors by nature are an incredibly time-poor community – these men and women lead businesses, charities and public sector organisations – so real-time access to 3,000 engaged and willing community panel members gives us quality insights in a way we never thought possible before.”

Mike Harris, head of policy development, IoD

Members are engaged, with more than 1,000 responses achieved for every study and this is key to demonstrating influence and sharing this information back. Select community panel members are invited to exclusive monthly ‘Business Barometer Breakfasts’ with the IoD director-general; and the high-profile media coverage frequently given to community panel surveys guarantees that members know their voice is heard. According to one member: “Policy Voice lets me have more say in what matters to me than my vote in a general election.”

Customer engagement has long been a mantra for the marketing industry; finally, through online communities, true customer engagement has become a reality. The two-way nature of the relationship a client has with the customers in their community means they not only get a fast and nuanced understanding of what customers really want but they are brilliantly placed to respond with ideas, products and services that will further engage their audience.

Mike Stevens

Vision Critical
1st Floor
1-7 Boundary Row

T 020 7633 2933
E mike.stevens@visioncritical.com
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