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Enhance Your Online Community Through Stakeholder Engagement

“We’re not sure how to utilize the community well …”
“We’re not sure how to engage the internal organization …”
“We’ve covered the main topics we wanted to cover …” 

It’s not uncommon for an online community to work really well, and be utilized often, at the start and then get tricky to maintain as time goes on. Think about it: when you finally got your community set up, you had loads of business questions that needed to be answered. Now, the initial buzz has started to simmer as you’ve tackled many, if not most, of those objectives. 

Keeping momentum and maintaining contact with internal stakeholders is fundamental to getting the most out of your online community. If you feel your community is being underutilized or you’ve run out of topics to explore, that means it’s probably a good time to think about who your internal stakeholders are and how you can engage them to unpack their needs.  

Make your stakeholders an integral part of your process  

Within any organization when we get busy at work, we reluctantly end up putting the blinders on to focus on what’s in front of us. If your job isn’t to maintain an online community, and qualitative market research is just an input to your day-to-day, it’s easy to forget about the tools you have at our disposal. It’s important to schedule regular meetings with stakeholders to discuss their needs, share insights from the community, and to reassess their business priorities. 

  • Actively Share Work: Sometimes it’s easier for people to understand how great a community is by seeing the results from the community, not just talking about the possibilities. Actively sharing work not only makes the collective business more informed on what’s being researched, but it also helps bridge knowledge gaps between teams and can spark ideas and questions that will help move the business forward. 
    • Real Life Example: One of our clients’ businesses is particularly siloed as business units span multiple states and cities. By sharing the work we’re doing/have completed, we were able to connect a couple of business units that were working on similar initiatives and consolidate efforts. This not only made the initiative run more efficiently, it also saved the business money on market research costs as there were now no duplicate efforts being made. 
  • Stakeholder Interviews: Empower your partners to meet with the folks you engage with on a day-to-day basis. It can feel like a lot to gather everyone together to understand their needs, but your market research partner can help by interviewing stakeholders, understanding their needs, and recommending market research solutions that can help tackle their questions. Do this regularly, as it will allow your partners to be in-the-know on what’s important to the business and how needs have shifted. 
  • Summit Meetings: Sometimes underutilization happens because internal teams are unaware of the existence of a community, are unsure of how to use the community, or don’t know what the community can help them achieve. Holding a meeting once or twice a year to show off the community, discuss new tools and methodologies, and discuss the impact will often get the gears turning for your colleagues. For example, we structure our Summit meetings as a “50/50 split between you learning about us and us learning about you” — meaning, half of the day is dedicated to our capabilities and previous work and the other half of the day is dedicated to discussing your strategic plans, your goals, and how you typically think to reach them.  
    • Real Life Example: This past year, during a renewal of a long-term community, we set up a Summit meeting with stakeholders to kick off the year — a two-hour lunch and learn followed by 1 hour breakout sessions with business units. We discussed the key pieces of work from the previous year, updates to our technology, and then met with stakeholders to hear their needs/goals for the year. Afterward, we distributed qualitative market research approaches to each business unit that we felt could tackle their needs — a great way to show how the community can be a valuable input and get new stakeholders on board. 

Empower your qualitative market research partners to be an extension of your team  

  • Discuss Your Business: Sometimes, underutilization happens because business needs and objectives aren’t shared transparently with market research partners. We stand by the idea that insights can’t be developed in a vacuum and that, by understanding the context of the world around you and your business, your market research partners can generate ideas for tapping into the community. So, empower your partners to become experts in your business and have conversations about the business often.  
    • Real Life Example: With a few of our clients, we schedule time on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to discuss industry news. It helps ground us in our clients’ business, develop market research ideas, and add context to the projects we have going. This ensures our market research is agile and rooted in the present. It has been a game-changer for most of our clients. 
  • Adopt Push & Pull Research: The role of your market research partner is to create and maintain a two-way dialogue with your consumers and recommend topics for qualitative market research that could be interesting and insightful to your business. They should keep track of industry trends, your earnings reports, your products, your competitors, etc. In doing this, they can: 
    • Push: take current events, news, product launches, etc. and get them in front of your community members so they can better inform your team on what is working in the world. This helps uncover topics that may not have been explored with a traditional market research brief. 
    • Pull: with an engaged community, you can set up ‘evergreen’ rooms or discussion topics and encourage members to keep you up-to-date on the trends and things consumers seeing in the world. This can include interesting advertisements, cultural trends, and social/political movements, and other buzzworthy topics. This is a great way to utilize the community while keeping a finger on the pulse of where your brand should be asserting its influence. 

Being transparent with internal stakeholders and your market research partners will unlock community insights and capabilities that can push your brand in new, innovative directions. Once you understand the needs of your stakeholders, and they understand what online communities can achieve, you will be able to breathe new life into your community and keep engagement high. After combining your partners, stakeholders, and consumers into one ‘super brain,’ there won’t be a need to dwell on the question, “well now what?”  

About the Author

Sean has over 10 years’ experience in consumer insights, strategy, and consulting. Through creative research and great storytelling, Sean focuses on empowering clients to empathize with their most important asset, their consumers. He has worked globally spanning industries like CPG, food and beverage, and tech services & products. Sean has a degree in Business at Babson College, with a double major in Branding and Economics.

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