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Three Reasons You Need an Online Community Right Now

man laying on couch engaging in online community with computer

Let’s be frank. There have been moments over the past year when consumers have acted differently than we might have expected. Who would have thought that after the ship Ever Given got stuck in the Suez Canal, most people would … laugh? Who would have guessed that of all of the items that could have been caught up in the ensuing supply chain disruption, boba would be one of the key items to command headlines? Who would have thought meme stocks, like Gamestop and AMC, would send shock waves through the financial markets and rally retail investors to ‘stick it to the man?’

The events of the past two years have changed consumer attitudes in both obvious and less obvious ways. These changes have forced us to question, and reposition, our ‘gut instinct’ for how consumers will respond to new information.

Online communities, and the ongoing research they allow, are uniquely positioned to help brands understand and connect with consumers quickly, deeply, and strategically. If you’ve been thinking about quicker, more effective ways to reach your consumers, here are a few reasons a community could be the right fit for you.

Reason #1: Online communities can help you, today

With a custom online community, you’ll have the ability to get setup and running quickly. Once your key objectives are defined, your target audience is determined, and your community partner is selected, you can go from the idea of a community to a live community in only a couple of weeks.

Once your community is live, you can start talking to your consumers. Saw the news today about a competitor brand and want to get consumer thoughts? Tap into the community. Want to expand upon the knowledge you’re receiving from a tracker? Tap into the community. Have a product concept or marketing campaign you want a quick opinion on? Tap into the community. Just ran a segmentation and want to better understand each segment? … I think you get the point. Communities can help!

Real Life Example: One of our clients recently set up a community a few days before a board meeting. In that meeting, they were going to determine whether a product concept should be launched as a Limited Time Offering.

Unsure of whether the concept idea would resonate, how it would be interpreted, and if it would fit their brand, we jumped into action to get some answers. Within four days, we recruited consumers from the community, fielded an activity, wrote a report, and presented the findings to leadership. The product feedback was so helpful that instead of releasing as an L.T.O., the product has been greenlit for full product launch on the condition that changes will be made based on the consumer feedback.

Reason #2: Online communities are ‘always on’

Since communities are ‘always-on,’ you see them in different lights and in different moments, continuously growing your knowledge of who they are, what they believe, and how they act. This allows for you to run more effective iterative work where consumers provide constructive feedback that builds over time. And, with an online community, you can be agile and run research at any point in the day and get responses when consumers are ready (or by a specified time that you desire).

The best part? Building consistent, meaningful relationships with consumers not only benefits your organization by allowing you to make better, more intuitive business decisions, but it also benefit your customers by understanding and delivering on exactly what they need and want.

Real Life Example: We ran a year-long study on a community for a beauty client and we checked in weekly with consumers to get thoughts on the products they use. We were able to map out where they spend, when they spend, why they spend, and what motivates them to purchase different types of products. This longitudinal view allowed us to better understand the types of products desired throughout the year, what issues they were having with existing products on the market (white space innovation!), and what they were willing to ‘splurge’ on in order to get what they wanted, needed, and valued.

Real Life Example: We ran a two-day innovation workshop with clients and consumers, aimed at creating new product ideas. At the end of the first day, we emerged with five product concepts. That night, we launched a survey to our community members to provide feedback and build on the concepts so we could gut-check them before we launched into our second-day refinement process. The information we got from consumers helped us improve the concepts and better align them to the needs of the consumer as well as what they value in that brand.

Reason #3: Online communities let you get to know your customers – like, really get to know them

An online community takes away the “one-and-done” aspect of a lot of traditional research and allows for iterative approaches that build over time. At the core, community research creates consumer closeness by facilitating comfort, collaboration, and active listening.

  • Comfort: Online communities are a naturally safe space where members can open up and feel comfortable providing more natural, reflective, and honest responses without the fear of a “researcher” watching through the glass and judging.
  • Collaboration: Two brains are better than one, right? Online communities encourage collaboration by giving consumers the ability to start their own conversations, comment on each other’s posts, brainstorm ideas together, and more. When consumers have a vested interest, they’re willing to collaborate and do more complex tasks in order to improve the brand they love (or hate!).
  • Active listening: A properly set up community encourages organic dialogue from consumers. We pick things up from natural, member-initiated, conversations that we possibly wouldn’t have discovered from planned research activities. These conversations and learnings are often the source of breakthrough moments and white space opportunities.

Getting to know your consumers is a crucial component to making sure your business can adapt to all of the changes the world throws your way. The brands that are able to tap into consumer’s everchanging sentiments, from the good to the bad to the bizarre, will be better suited to pivot and tailor their offerings in the long run.


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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