Insight from online communities: 2. Focused discussions

Yesterday we wrote about how to maximise the insight gained from profiling data in online communities. For the second in our series on how to get insight from online communities, we’re looking at how to make the most of the core of most online communities – discussions and forums.

Most communities have some form of discussion area. This may be in a traditional forum, or may be focused on media, features or other pieces of content. But the basic concept of allowing community members to discuss, debate and share ideas is a critical part of an online community. These are the spaces in which people will probably spend the most time in any online community they join and are the parts that get most involvement early on. It’s easy to see how and where to contribute and  existing discussions encourage people to add their point of view.

Whilst it’s great to allow discussions to grow and develop depending on the interests of the community members, it’s important not to overlook the power of this simple tool for insight. Many brands and organisations enjoy being able to watch how people discuss things. What their opinions are and how they express them. What language they use and what they choose to discuss. How they interact with other members and how they discuss things with each other. Forums and discussions can offer a vibrant source of insight and with a little bit of focus can be even more valuable.

To gain maximum insight from discussions and forums it is best to build them as part of a larger research process and series of activities, something that an online research community is ideal for. However, any online community can make the most of its forums and discussions from an insight perspective. It’s about how you frame and focus the discussions that go on and the four points below will help maximise the insight benefits you get:

  1. Keep your discussions focused at first and build them round issues that are of specific interest to your brand or organisation. Community members find it easier to join conversations if it is obvious where they can add their opinions and so focusing on the issues of most interest to you will help them take part and help you gain insights where they are needed most.
  2. Provide a space for people to discuss any other issues, and mark it specifically as such (one of our communities has a ‘Juice Bar’ specifically for this). We don’t want to discourage people who want to participate and can gain a lot from knowing what people what to discuss organically. Sometimes the best insights come in areas you couldn’t predict.
  3. Make sure the brand or organisation responds to people in the forum. The best insights often come when you iterate ideas with community members. They suggest something and you tell them what your reaction is. They then respond, and it is this response which starts to yield real depth of insight you wouldn’t have got otherwise.
  4. Think of ways you can use discussions for innovation or co-creation. Thinking of a new product? Start a discussion about your ideas and see what the reaction is.

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