The Power of Authentic Communities

People have long been talking about the importance of ‘insight communities’.

There are the obvious advantages, like reach and speed. If you were to conduct traditional in-person research then cost and distance would be a challenge to engaging certain people. By going online, you remove these barriers and enable quality interactions with anyone, anywhere. Similarly, when put up against traditional in-person research, online methods (and in particular community research) can give you answers to questions in quick time.

But it’s the generation and value of ideas and insight that can be gleaned from real interactions among an engaged group of like-minded individuals that’s the power play here.

In short, authentic communities.

Why? Well, there’s a big difference between an online community that’s been assembled for the purpose of a specific research project versus a naturally occurring online community of users, opinion leaders, practitioners etc. coalescing around a subject they’re all passionate about.

The former is somewhat forced (albeit still useful) and is likely to rely on extrinsic motivations like cash and prizes to get people to behave and respond in a way that – let’s be honest – they might not otherwise.

But the latter is powered by intrinsic factors and a genuine shared agenda – the most powerful of all – which can result in epic discourse, new ideas and thinking, and, when analysed, qualitative and quantitive insight aplenty.

So why are some online communities – like Culturise’s soon-to-be-launched Conscience – so effective at delivering insight? In the best cases, it comes down to the following:

Natural cohesion

The people you want to study and understand are to some extent already ‘communitised’; hanging out with their friends, peers and cohorts. They are talking amongst themselves, already sharing views, events, experiences and ideas. So as a researcher there’s no need to disrupt them, just provide a platform, seed interesting content around an agenda they care about, listen in and on occasion ask questions, but abide by the rules to ensure you gain acceptance.

Since the community is naturally cohesive, you don’t need to exert additional force to get them to talk about the things they are interested in.

Co-creation

OK, it’s a term that’s been much used and abused over the last 5 years, but the practise of co-creating value in an idea or a product or service is something that authentic online communities support well. The reason for this is that their asynchronous nature enables idea layering, rapid feedback and ongoing interation much easier than before. Messaging systems, for example, let you share outcomes with ease, and get feedback on them. By using multimedia, visual ideas can be shared, discussed, developed in quick time. The possibilities are endless, and all involved are seeing what’s happening and sharing the value along the journey.

Convenience for those involved

The majority of community interactions are asynchronous, that’s to say they are not in real time. The interactions members make are on their terms – when and where they want them to happen. But thanks to messaging and notifications, they continue to flow with great fervour.

Immersion

Courtesy of mobile phones, most community interactions take place on the go, anywhere, anytime, even on the loo! The community will be connected around the clock, with members contributing 24/7 from all manner of locations. For insight seekers, this is gold because it means you can listen and observe people interacting in a natural environment and fully immerse yourself with their digital – and even physical – surroundings if you aim to.

Genuinely Rewarding

And finally, the most important point of all. Sure, it’s rewarding for the researcher since they are getting quick, valuable insight with which to make better decisions. But Dub’s own research tells us that when done well, and executed naturally, online community-based research is genuinely rewarding for participants.

They feel more trusted, better engaged, and motivated by a common cause.

They feel it’s not just a research game, but something genuinely important.

They feel they are collectively contributing something meaningful to issues they really care about.

And right now, with all the sea changes we’re seeing in society, that seems more relevant than ever.

Stephen Cribbett

stephen@dubishere.com