When ‘insight communities’ aren’t right for you

What are insight communities?

Insight communities have been one of the big success stories of the last few years in research. The notion behind them of course is that consumers who have opted into an actively-managed long-term ‘community’ of like-minded consumers will be more engaged and provide more relevant, collaborative and in some cases quicker marketing feedback than would be feasible through more traditional methods such as focus groups and surveys.

All fine and good, except ……

Insight communities simply don’t suit some organisations and some research problems. Here are some that come to mind:


1. Stakeholders. Stakeholders are by definition not a community and they never can be since stakeholders are all vying with each other to protect their own ‘stake’. Furthermore, some of these stakeholders are businesses which compete with each other, so collaborate is the last thing they would do.

2. Non-customers, disengaged customers, and lapsed customers. If you want to see where disruption is coming from, it’s probably a good idea not to focus exclusively on your own customers.  You need to hear occasionally from your non-customers, lapsed customers and just those who are disengaged. 

3. Infrequently-purchased products and services. Insight communities work best for branded products which are reasonably heavily marketed. Community members give feedback on concepts and marketing material for example. Communities do not work so well when the product or service is purchased or used infrequently, and when little active marketing occurs, because any engagement is either infrequent or inauthentic. 

4. High net worth consumers or other very niche target segments. The way to research very valuable or very niche target segments is to personalise the research approach and method. I have seen someone try to recruit people with incomes in the top 5% of the population to a community, when what they should probably have been doing is inviting them to take part in individual interviews using whatever method (phone, web, face to face) suited the person best.

5. One off tasks.  Sometimes all you want is feedback on one specific issue or understanding of one particular market segment.


Three techniques we use instead of insight communities


 1. Ad hoc online qualitative.  Sometimes called ‘consulting boards’ or ‘over time bulletin board groups’, these last from 2 to 5 days generally.  They can be used for concept testing, product testing, ad testing, pack testing or just to understand your target market or stakeholders better and can involve a whole mix of methods including scrapbooks, diaries and mobile. Moderating this kind of ‘online qual’ is art form that we have described elsewhere. 

2. Opt-in surveys.  People are not survey fodder. I can’t bear the idea of bombarding people at work or at home with online surveys that they have never asked for. It’s not just rude, it’s also ineffective.  Some argue that insight communities are an answer to this, but as described above communities are not suitable in all cases. We therefore have now gained considerable experience with opt-in surveys, where our participants are our guests, not our enemy. 

3. All other methods.  Don’t forget how powerful one-on-one interviews can be for qualitative insight, as too can traditional face to face groups when used in the right way.



At Susan Bell Research we specialise in the thoughtful design of mixed-method research projects tailored to meet your very specific research objectives. 

Tags: Qualitative Research , Stakeholder Surveys