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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.

Crowd DNA online communities director, Sabrina Qureshi, advises that an adaptable community is a future-proofed one...

Online communities bring a wealth of great content and insight to clients in timely and agile ways. But, all too often, after a few months or a first year of great success the community can lose its way. There is an abundance of reasons why this might happen; key champions leaving, day to day owners changing, company strategies developing, or initial objectives being fulfilled. Client and agency teams sit around twiddling their thumbs trying to work out what to do – or, worse still, let the communities dwindle to a slow death.

This is a real shame as usually the hard work, such as creating a look and feel, building engaged members and selling it into the business, is already done. This should be the time to reap the rewards of the well-oiled machine!

Without clear objectives, a community can’t survive, but we know that needs can change. So there’s a requirement to think about communities as shape shifters. They represent a long-term relationship, but one that’s adaptable and fluid. They can morph in line with a brand’s strategy, to continue to be a relevant source of insight.

It’s incredibly simple to do this; here are some tips:

- Let go of the original objectives (if you need to): If these are no longer fit for the business, don’t be afraid to relinquish them. They will only hold you back.

- Brainstorm with everyone (regularly): Maybe the objectives were specific to one team within the business, but how else could the rest of the business use the community to help support their decisions?

- Mix and match: Review who you are talking to – is this still the group you need? Do you need to expand and include other target groups, or maybe you want to focus in on a particular group?

- Ability to flex: Make sure you have the right community solution from the start, one that allows you to be flexible later down the line, from a tech and expertise perspective.

We’ve worked with brands whose original community objectives were focused on deep profiling and behavioural understanding. Once those initial objectives were achieved we identified that there was a developing need to explore the wider cultural trends across the markets the members were in, in order to feed more broadly into the innovation and product development teams. This simple side-step focus allowed us to keep the community relevant for the client, and therefore keep engaging the members in important topics and activities.

An online community has the potential to benefit the entire business, from UX designers, to marketing and R’n’D. But fundamentally, you need to make sure that it fits with the future strategy of the brand to help distribute knowledge and understanding in key areas.

Speak to Crowd DNA to find out more!

Crowd DNA's Lucy Crotty charts 30 years of comms evolution at IKEA...

We’ve worked with IKEA on some really interesting projects recently and raise a glass in celebrating their 30th year in the UK this month.

IKEA is a special brand in the marketing and advertising world, constantly admired by the industry and public for delighting with their creative ideas.

As we know, these great ideas don’t fall from trees – there is an awful lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. IKEA positioned itself as a disruptor in the 90s, crashing into a world of chintz and challenging the British public to embrace a new version of taste and ‘homeliness’. A bold, risky move and a rebellious stance that informed the brand’s communications strategy for the next five years.

In the noughties, as IKEA became part of the normal British home, it didn’t need to – or perhaps couldn’t so easily – flex its rebel credentials. But rather than just settle for familiarity and functional attributes, IKEA have always gone deeper to understand emotional brand benefits. They realised that when people buy into IKEA, they buy into possibility, an incredible insight that has moved them from selling affordable furniture to selling lifestyle solutions. IKEA is all about cool stuff to create a better everyday life and through this brand purpose they have moved into a charming creative territory of The Wonderful Everyday.

When a brand has a clear purpose, exciting, creative things can happen. IKEA has never just sold candles – it sells imagination. Stay tuned for an upcoming Crowd DNA Rise event on the theme of purpose.

Catch us at the MRS day devoted to discussing and debating social media behaviours and trends on February 8, 2018...

Our head of insights and innovation, Dr Matilda Andersson, will be presenting at the event; furthering our recent agelessness work and looking at the role of social media in forging cross-generational communication.

Social media is often described as the new bus stop or park bench: a space for teenagers to hang out with each other, away from their parents. However, Matilda will be proposing that social media can also be important for bridging gaps between generations, bringing them closer together. Her insight is grounded in demographic trends, which show the gap between young and old decrease as Gen Z grows up faster, millennials delay adulthood and Gen X and Boomers live in very different ways to their parents.

More info here

Agelessness Report

Nice things from Crowd DNA to download here!

We recently ran a London breakfast event exploring themes around agelessness, and what the implications are for brands and marketers. We’ve a PDF to share on the topic also, covering ground such as leveraging cross-generational interests, influencer strategy and age-agnostic design. Oh yes, and a playlist of related tracks, too.

Check out the PDF here


IRL With Clients

Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell on how we get out on-the-road with stakeholder teams, immersing them in the lives and culture of people…

We’ve been on an impressive roll running client immersion sessions recently. In the last month alone this work has taken us to South Korea, China, Argentina, India, South Africa and Indonesia; as well as out and about on Crowd DNA home turf in New York, Amsterdam and London.

When set up carefully, there’s something incredibly powerful about this type of work (sometimes we call them immersions, other times safaris, consumer meet-ups, road trips or similar; we should probably fix that). Rather than listening to, reading about, or watching what we have to say, or peering from behind the glass in a viewing facility, the client is truly getting in there with people and with culture.

The benefits of this might sound obvious, but it’s incredible how often the potential for these sessions is overlooked. You can’t really sleepwalk through them, and that’s key. It requires client teams to lean in. There’s sometimes even a sense of friction to begin with, of people being out of their comfort zone, but that’s a useful ingredient. Played right, this leads to true alertness and receptivity to what’s going on around you.

There’s not really a one-size-fits-all method for this type of work. Sometimes we might just be connecting with ‘regular’ consumers; at others we will include influencers and experts; or base it more around visiting stand-out locations than interacting with pre-recruited participants. They can be all wrapped up in a few hours, or take place over a number of days. So yes, we’re big believers in custom design over off-the-shelf solutions. But nonetheless we thought it worth trying to get down a few notes on what we think are the important factors:


Planning does make perfect in this field. All participants – the public and client stakeholders alike – need to be given the right level of detail on what will happen and what’s expected of them. Sometimes we’ll produce a project intro video, talking through the plan. We also create profile packs so clients have good background info on the people they’ll be meeting – the more context and anecdotes they have, the easier it will be to start conversations.

We work hard to get the mix of locations just right. You want to be going to the places that the target audience in question really does go to and/or to the cultural hotspots that will change thinking and present powerful new stimulus. This takes meticulous upfront research and attention to detail.

You’ve got to be realistic, too. While there might be ten good spots to head to, if time doesn’t allow for it, don’t do it. There’s no point turning the whole exercise into a needlessly frantic dash about town – and people need reasonable time to share learnings and talk between each interaction. Oh yes, and it’s worth knowing exactly where you’re going – getting lost in Kyoto, Mexico City or Helsinki isn’t a crowd pleaser.

Not too much planning!

So all of this planning is essential, but you also have to leave some gaps in the process. The serendipitous moments along the way are often where the magic happens. If the client wants to check out a different store than the one planned, or has struck up a particularly good conversation that warrants more time, you need to build in scope for such things to happen.

Don’t write a discussion guide – this can hinder the experience of actually meeting people on their own terms. Instead, arm the clients with provocations about the topic of interest as conversation starters. These could be false facts, quotes from previous waves of research etc. This type of stimulus is great if conversation starts to slow down, but, as not too prescriptive in form, also doesn’t limit clients from feeling they have the license to go off-script.

Setting the tone

These projects are about experiencing an environment with all senses truly switched on, not just having a conversation. Tell clients to observe and take note of the spaces they find themselves in, body language, relationships between people, media, music, food, what others in the space are doing.

Encourage clients to be interested, curious, flexible and to have fun. It’s not always going to run perfectly. There will be awkward conversations, silence and even some boredom – but mixed with laughter, fun and great interactions. Let the consumer lead where possible and allow them to be the narrator of their world.


If you’re dropping into a distant city with a bunch of clients, looking to immerse them in how people and culture works there, sufficiently deep expertise in the topic matter is vital. This might well come from previous waves of secondary or primary research that you’ve conducted. It can also come from working with on-the-ground contributors – people who can articulate the details of the experience and unlock scenarios that may otherwise be out of reach. For instance, we might work with local lifestyle journalists and bloggers, or even independent tour guides who specialise in showing people an alternative view of a city.


Everyone will need a way to gather, disseminate and reach conclusions around the wealth of material they are exposed to. We’ve recently had great success setting up WhatsApp groups in these types of situation. Our client stakeholders get to share images, videos and noted insights as they go in a fluid and low friction fashion. Better still, we can use the channel for logistical purposes, following where everyone is and, for instance, whether it’s time to advise a particular team that they’ve probably downed enough shots in that location and should move on!

We also arm teams with Polaroid cameras in some cases – of course, people can take pics via their phones, but it can be useful to achieve a focus on what’s important by limiting the number of shots available to them. We might give them budgets to buy items as they go – inspiring and surprising material that they can then share and discuss later.

Something ultimately needs capturing out of all of this fine work. Talking over findings, post-day, at dinner, can be the way – though be mindful of burnout. It can often be just as beneficial to share the findings over breakfast, as the start of the next day – people are fresher and it primes everyone for the next set of adventures.

It’s the job of the stakeholders to gather and share ideas. But it’s ours to collate them and author, or co-author, the take-outs. The final record of this type of exercise varies – a blog, film or booklet; a simple Google Docs round-up; a workshop session to feed ideas into the innovation pipeline – but it’s vital that there is an end product.

We’d love to discuss ideas for how to make a project of this kind work for your team. Email if you’d like to chat and hopefully we can take you some place exciting.

Meet the CrowdStars

Introducing CrowdStars, our network of thinkers, influencers, creators and culture-shapers...

There are times when the answers to the most pressing questions will not come from consumer research, but from connecting with experts. CrowdStars is our global network, comprising of a diverse spectrum of credible and intelligent minds who bring context, rigour and sparkling new dimensions to our strategic thinking.

Our CrowdStars network consists of over 200 experts, based in 35 markets and embraces fields as varied as academia, psychology, anthropology, design, health, beauty, retail, media, tech, food, celebrity, sport, family, music, fashion and relationships.

We work closely with the CrowdStars network to shake up conventional thinking within businesses; to get to deeper levels of understanding and the breakthrough ideas that offer strong, commercial advantage.

CrowdStars Amanda Rijff & Suzanne Noble
CrowdStars Amanda Rijff & Suzanne Noble

Applications for CrowdStars are diverse, but include:

- Immersive workshops and co-creation sessions, bringing experts and client stakeholders together

- Transferable learnings from out-of-category experts to spark new ideas and innovations

- Expert interviews and roundtables to dig deeper into key themes

- Future forecasting reports

- Use of blogging, mobile and online community platforms to connect with experts remotely

We’ve worked successfully with CrowdStars experts for clients in the tech, alcohol, FMCG, beauty and entertainment categories. Please do get in contact to hear more about how CrowdStars can work for you.

Here’s a short film we made about CrowdStars:

Our next Rise breakfast event in Amsterdam sees Crowd DNA's Joey Zeelen set about reframing masculinity...

Date: September 27

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, Sarphatistraat 49, Amsterdam

Brands are increasingly taking political, environmental and social stands. Many are addressing female aspirations and feminism with great effect.

But what are we doing about men?

This session explores changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials. Looking at the tensions that have evolved around male identity, we’ll help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women.

Join us for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Judith Lieftink if you and/or colleagues would like to attend.

Watch the trailer below: