Customer Inside: Getting the Most From Online Communities


Jonny Wooldridge is an Associate Director at C Space and co-author of the new report, Customer Inside: A practitioner’s guide to online insight communities and how to make the most of them.

Online research has experienced explosive growth in the last decade. Online communities have gone from unproven experiment to accepted mainstay. This growth brings new providers, new technologies, techniques and terminology.

From a client’s point of view, consider the increased spending on online-based market research communities. According to the Market Research Society (MRS), spend on online research increased 15 percent from 2008 to 2012. At the Insight Innovation Exchange (IIeX) Europe 2016, Jane Frost, CEO of the MRS, predicted further increase in online qual – to match and complement the rise in big data. Some smaller brands even allocate their entire research budget to online communities.

Yet, alongside this newfound confidence, there is also uncertainty and confusion. While some veteran practitioners and progressive users of online communities are truly pushing the boundaries, others don’t even know where to start.

Unlike more traditional qualitative and quantitative research approaches, little commonly-accepted terminology or best practice exists. Much of the jargon is interchangeable and overlaps. It’s hardly surprising. The space has evolved and grown so quickly. Which is part of what makes working with online communities so exciting.

But, you have to feel for those organisations just starting out. Many are getting their fingers burnt and learning by trial and error.

And what about the veteran researchers? The ones innovating at the edges, trying to realise the full potential of communities for brands? Are they waiting for the research industry to get the basics in order? No. They’re already trialling new approaches, trying to meet the changing needs of the insight department – and pushing their partners to achieve more.

Bringing Customers Inside…

Our new report, Customer Inside: A practitioner’s guide to online insight communities and how to make the most of them is a co-created perspective on online communities in the research industry. Designed with input and guidance from the MRS, as well as original research with more than 100 client-side practitioners, our findings offer useful insight for practitioners at both ends of the spectrum.

Customer Inside deliberately focuses on the long-term communities brands are investing in, rather than short-term digital qual or ‘pop-up’ communities. It paints a picture of the current online community landscape, best practices, and common client pitfalls – with recommended steps you can take to avoid them – and offers a perspective on future areas of opportunity.

We also share some of the trickier challenges many organisations are grappling with. For each, we give examples of how client-side practitioners, including those from Orange, Zurich Insurance and Spotify, are turning challenges into opportunities.

…To Create Better Business Results

While the report is aimed squarely at insight, marketing and innovation audiences – and the use of online communities within that context – it’s not an academic text or a book of methods and techniques. Our focus is helping other professionals align, achieve better business results and create Customer Inspired Growth at their organisations.

Although we spend time talking about the challenges of effectively running online communities, on the whole the report paints a positive picture. The idea behind communities has never been more relevant. It’s hard to find a C-suite perspective that doesn’t point to the need for greater customer centricity, or the need to reposition insight in a more strategic role. Everyone seems to agree that the future of brands exists in creating incredible experiences for their customers. Meaning we need to combine our increasingly intelligent use of data with an equally in-depth emotional understanding of our customers.

Customer Inside argues that brands should see online communities not as a new way of doing existing types of research, but as an opportunity to change the conversation with customers to something more authentic, useful and impactful. An opportunity to bring the customer, and customer insight, inside a business in an unprecedented, ongoing way.

We hope that you enjoy the report and that you find it relevant and useful to your work. We welcome your questions, comments and feedback – because, as researchers, we are all responsible for building the future of our industry.


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