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Online communities: put the best in to get the best out. Recruitment tips from our online communities director, Sabrina Qureshi...

Recruiting people to take part in research can be hastily brushed over in the planning stages of project design, if left in the wrong hands, but it’s one of the most important aspects to get right – and never more so than with a community. Think about the members of a community as vital ingredients of a cake (bear with me) – if you put the wrong elements in, or even an imbalance of measures, your cake just isn’t going to work. Get it right, and you’ll be able to tap into a highly engaged, always-on group of people; to build up a rich picture of who they are, and follow them as their tastes and choices change based on the cultural influences around them; rely on them for honest advice and opinions. That, in insight terms, is a jolly good cake…

Recruiting to communities isn’t straight forward. There’s a few things to consider, especially to keep the community going long-term.

Define who, but stay flexible

Go back to the objectives of the community to help guide who the members are. If you get this bit wrong, not only do you risk annoying the members with irrelevant content, but you won’t get what you need out the other side.

If you’re thinking long-term, will this target audience be able to answer a majority of the research topics (at least 80%), or will you need to speak to different groups over the course of a year? If the latter, maybe consider shorter communities where you define the audience each time.

Reflect the global footprint of your brand by bringing in the voices of markets that are of most strategic importance. Make sure the tech you’re using and the community team can appropriately support this, and have the ability to engage members in the language most comfortable for them, getting to truer and more accurate insights.

Variety is the spice of life, so don’t be afraid to bring in different voices to your community for short periods of time, or specific projects. We sometimes tap into our CrowdStars for expert opinions, or bring in a separate group of non-customers to take part in a few projects and then let them go.

When getting into the nuances of cultural trends, you don’t need to limit the group to your customer; rather, you might want to concentrate on those who are ahead of the curve. For innovation, you might want a group of trusted advisors who are invested in the brand, so current customers are great. Supplement with dips of non-customers along the way, so you don’t lose the wider market view.

The value exchange

Once you know who to target, think about why those people might want to join your community. What are they going to get out of it? Especially for long-term communities there has to be a strong sense this will be mutually beneficial – a few Amazon vouchers won’t suffice. Appeal to the needs of that audience and think about what your brand can offer:

- Time poor execs might answer some activities if in return they get advice on sales techniques

- Trendsetters might be swayed by exclusive content and early bird access

- Mums might appreciate a community of like-minded individuals to chat to socially

- Adventure seekers might enjoy being part of one-off experiences

One surefire way to lose members is through unaligned expectations. If you want people to commit to one hour a week, let them know upfront. Part of this is also about gathering individualised information on your members at the sign-up and tailoring the experience to their needs. Some people don’t want to send in videos every week, but others are happy to take part in three surveys over a few days.

Onboard and connect

Once you have your members recruited the focus is to keep them there – and enthusiastic about taking part in the community projects. Plan an intro stage, no matter how short the community is live. Get to know your members personally and encourage them to get to know each other. Intro tasks are engaging for members plus a great source of foundational, scene-setting content to share back with internal stakeholders.

Once things have got going, we usually plan a variety of engagement activities which help to keep members interested, encourage responses and reduce drop off – but that’s a whole other blog post!

Recruitment isn’t a one-time affair

You’ll have to appreciate that not everyone wants to, or can, stay on a community forever. The aim is to keep as many people there for as long as possible, and make sure they have a good experience along the way. Keep your recruitment plans up to date (your community managers should be able to help), and make sure they are varied and consistent. Apply as many ongoing recruitment sources as you can, and as a brand, do an audit on the communication platforms you can use.

Ongoing recruitment techniques include:

- setting up a Twitter account and tweeting about updates, prizes and encourage sign up

- using Facebook to identify the profiles you want to speak to and contact them directly

- asking members to refer their friends or family via their social network and give prizes to those who succeed

- broadcasting the impact the community members have on the brand on public platforms such as your website

As with most aspects of a community, keep reviewing. Does the audience continue to fit with your research needs, strategically and for each project that is allocated to the community workstream? Ideally you should be able to rely on your community management partners to proactively advise on the audience and provide creative solutions for mixed audience projects.

For more information on starting a community please get in touch.