Everything you need to know about online communities and social listening analytics

Communities247 / Listening247

Online Research using Communities and Social Listening

Two newer forms of market research are Online Communities and Social Listening studies. While they are entirely different techniques, they do collect similar types of data – mostly, that is, significant amounts of text. Let’s start by defining what each of these techniques covers.

Definitions of these types of research

An online community (often called MROC, market research online community) is typically a group of people in a closed network that can communicate through an online communities platform.

The community usually has a moderator who will lead or guide conversations, exercises, polls around a given topic, brand or subject matter. The community may exist for days, weeks or months and offers participants a chance to share opinions and media, such as images or videos.

Online Communities - how to run successfully
Social Listening - what works best

Social listening is the monitoring and analysis of your brand’s social media channels, harvesting any content that is in the public domain. The text that is collected is then analysed to provide feedback on your brand and its competitors.

It is worth pointing out that over 1000 companies are offering this type of research. The range in the depth of the analysis and its accuracy is far wider than other types of research with the cost per project varying considerably to reflect this variation.

Online Communities and Social Listening programmes can work well together and provide even greater depth. Each of these techniques is explained more fully below.

Online Communities

Online communities (often called MROC – market research online communities) offer a modern way to exchange information, opinions and media with a panel of respondents. They have the potential to provide a rich source of data whereby participants can offer insights that you may not find through questionnaires and quantitative research.

The depth of data that can result from a community and the emotions that go with that information can provide valuable insights to providers of products and services – often, these are insights that may not come to light from quantitative questionnaires.

By arranging a variety of activities, it is possible to engage an audience and get valuable feedback.

Working with an online community
Online communities - activities

Activities that an online community (MROC) may undertake

A moderator will control the tasks that the community undertakes. These include:

  • Wall conversations
  • Polls
  • Bulletin boards
  • Chat groups
  • One-to-one interviews
  • Photos
  • Video diaries
  • Surveys

Where to start with online communities

If you are new to managing online communities, it makes sense to start with a small project for just one or two weeks. Running a community is like any other group activity or forum in that interest levels must be maintained, so that you can maximise respondent engagement. Additionally, an online community needs to have a clear purpose and commitment to its success from all involved.

The importance of the platform you use

The platform you use must offer a wide range of activities. Some participants will respond well to some activities; other participants will prefer other tasks. Also, keeping the community engaged with interesting and varied activities is essential. Our platform, Communities247 has all the above activities as well as gamification tools to reward participants and maintain a high level of interest.

Where to start with online communities
Managing online communities

The administrative side of the platform

The platform that participants see and use has to feel comfortable to communicate with on any device – some of your participants will prefer to use their smartphone, others will prefer tablets or laptops. However, the side of the platform that the participants do not see is equally important. The admin part of the platform should have a complete set of tools to manage participants. It should be easy to find which participants are less involved and to interact with participants one-to-one, if necessary, to keep them engaged. Being able to add and remove panel members easily becomes particularly important where you have a large panel of hundreds or thousands of participants or where you are managing several communities.

Getting the most from your community

Getting the most from your community is a skill, like any other research skill. It takes time to find the right balance of activities and the right way to keep a community engaged. Communities come together for different reasons and with different levels of interest. Some topics induce more commitment, such as a community that centres around an interest or a hobby. Some communities will thrive if there are product offers, discounts or some monetary reward for participation.

Ensuring the Success of Online Communities

Online Communities can fail. Facing up to the challenges of running a community is important. In our experience, there are eight common reasons for failure. These need to be considered carefully:

  • The community needs a purpose
  • You need to put in the effort and not be neglectful – participants will notice more quickly than you might think
  • Build trust
  • Be brave – find out what people really think about your client’s product or service
  • Give something back to the community whenever you can
  • Keep the community engaged
  • Vary the activities
  • Make sure you use a platform that can service these needs

Get these things right and your chances of success will be significantly higher – watch our webinar.

Measuring the value of Quantitative Research vs Online Communities

Comparing Quantitative Research against (mainly) qualitative research from an Online Community is difficult. It is fair to say that a badly-managed community will show more obvious signs of failure than a badly-managed quantitative survey. However, a comparison is difficult and where an Online Community can score is in a unique set of ways:

  • You can get detailed feedback
  • You can get unexpected insights
  • Online Communities are more likely to share privileged information
  • In a large community, it is a chance to engage more closely with customers
  • Cost-effective
Measuring the success of your online community
Considering participants in online communities

Considering how the participants view your Online Community

Trying to imagine how panellists see your Online Community is easy to forget, particularly with a long-term community that may have functioned well for two or three months. The benefits for participants are:

  • They can ‘speak’ when they want to and not when they have to.
  • They can consider and respond thoughtfully to the views of other participants
  • It is easier/more convenient
  • It is harder to shout down individuals
  • They build a higher affinity with the brand or the company
  • They can feel that they are making a difference

It’s the moderator’s responsibility to ensure that none of these benefits is blocked or hindered.

Successful communities: the moderator’s role

The most successful communities thrive with good moderation and an engaged panel of contributors. With smaller online communities, it is vital to keep a ‘personal touch’. A good moderator should be able to build a rapport with the members and make them feel at ease. Effectively, the moderator is there to make sure the research objectives are met as well as working with those contributing the research data.

The moderator’s role in meeting the research objectives

The moderator has several roles to play in meeting the research objectives. These include:

  • Providing the framework for the activities that take place
  • Following schedules, while understanding the need for some freedom
  • Ensuring that guidelines are clear
  • Ensuring that participants are respectful to each other
  • Probing to get the most from the participants
  • Taking an interest in the wellbeing of participants
  • Identifying and communicating with panellists who lose interest
  • Ensuring that there is some variety
  • Remaining neutral in discussions or disagreements
  • Asking open-ended questions more often than closed questions
  • Ensuring a smooth onboarding process when new members join

Of course, to add to this, the personality of the moderator will have an impact. The ability to share a joke, to break the ice and to make the community work will be akin to other social and communication skills.

Small Communities vs Big Communities

Most market research online communities comprise a group of about 30 to 75 participants. Most online communities take place over six months to one year, although some focused topics work well in time frames as short as one to two weeks. An online community of up to 100 participants is considered a small online community. The moderator will feel that he or she knows a large proportion of the participants over the duration that the community comes together. Large online communities have their place in market research. However, the activities will tend to be more focused, collecting photo or video diaries, opinions and quantitative methods, such as polls or short surveys.

Maintaining Online Communities

There will always be an attrition rate for online communities, which means that monitoring the commitment of participants is essential and taking time to find replacements when necessary. Some members will contribute for long periods while others may only have a shorter-term interest.

The difference between big and small communities

Social Listening

Social Listening and Social Media Analysis is a way of measuring the popularity of a brand from social media channels. You can also analyse the topics that are being discussed and the emotions that posters are showing. The technique can provide a more rapid response to changes in public perceptions than traditional market research surveys. Watch our webinar on this topic.

Why use Social Listening?

High-quality Social Listening feedback works well in several ways:

  • Monitor what is being said about a brand
  • React to positive and negative posts
  • Evaluate past and present campaigns
  • Benchmark share of voice with competitors
  • Compare brand image with competitor brands
  • Produce in-depth research analysis
Social Listening - the advantages

Choosing the right Social Listening platform matters

Before exploring Social Listening too far, it is essential to understand the market and the companies that provide this information. Over 1000 companies are operating in this space ranging from those providing high quality and highly informative feedback to those that are offering little more than brand mentions on social media. It is not only the depth of the insights that matter but the accuracy. So, let’s look at the key differentiators:

  • Depth of data
  • Accuracy
  • Cost

a) Depth of data

At the bottom end of the market, there are companies offering counts of brand mentions on social media or something similar. These may have some value if you have launched a new campaign, but they do not give you any indication of success/failure or any other insights. Our Social Listening platform, Listening247 operates at the other end of the spectrum. It provides brand mentions data by channel for your brand and its competitors, but goes a lot further. The text analysis tools provide:

  • Sentiment analysis and Net Sentiment Score
  • Emotion analysis
  • Analysis of topics and sub-topics
  • Access to individual posts
  • Ability to combine Social Listening data with Online Communities data

No other platform can match this depth of analysis.

Depth of data from social listening projects
Reliability of social listening data

b) Accuracy

The accuracy of data provided by companies offering Social Listening data varies considerably from 30% to 90%. This information might be surprising to some users of social media analytics, yet low-level text analytics can range from simple word counts through to skilfully programmed text algorithms that are checked and verified. Our Listening247 is positioned at the high end of the market, providing the highest levels of accuracy achievable.  Our methodology is explained in more detail below. If you are more familiar with other quantitative market research data, you may be concerned that 90% accuracy is lower than you might expect. This is understandable, but we would make two points:

  1. No market research is 100% accurate – respondent error, interviewer error, data processing errors, ambiguous questions, small samples will all contribute to inaccuracies. Social media data will use text that has been posted – the range of inaccuracies is limited to typing errors, ambiguous posts, humour/scepticism etc., misinterpretation by text algorithms. Typing errors and humour/scepticism are rare, making no significant difference.
  2. The sample size for Social Listening studies usually runs to thousands of posts – and, sometimes, hundreds of thousands of posts.

Additionally, the data we generally deliver data in a dashboard. The dashboard allows you to drill down into the individual posts to verify or make spot checks on the quality of our data analysis.

c) Cost

The depth of analysis and the accuracy that we provide in our Social Listening platform does have one negative impact – and that is the price! Our methodology requires a high level of skilled work, which will provide you with the highest quality of data. If you are new to social media analytics, you might want to try a cheap alternative, but if you are serious about the importance of monitoring your brand’s online presence, message and image, we would only suggest you consider the Listening247 platform.

We do, however, a low-cost option. This is achieved by using a generic language model to carry out the text analytics. This reduces the time we spend programming for market buzzwords. The accuracy drops slightly, but the cost is about one-third of the full cost and still exceeds the quality of almost all other competitors. Talk us about this!

Cost of social listening

The methodology

Our methodology uses traditional market research techniques and modern machine learning capabilities.

Stage 1: Harvesting data

The first stage is to harvest data for your brand and the competitor brands you wish to explore. First of all, though, we need to check that there is sufficient data for your brand and its competitors.

Stage 2: Identifying wrongly recognised brands

The next stage is to identify any brands, sub-brands or other data that text analytics might wrongly identify. For example:

  • Dove chocolate – Dove soap
  • Delta Airlines – many other lesser known brands
  • Apple Computers – apple, the fruit – Apple record company
  • Eos cameras – Volkswagen Eos
  • Plus many local brands that could be wrongly identified

Stage 3: Eliminate wrongly identified brands

Eliminating wrongly identified brands is achieved by using powerful text analytic programming techniques to evaluate the content and reject it if it is relevant to the brand you are researching. In some cases, a high percentage could be referring to the wrong brand if the system is not programmed to reject irrelevant data. Cheaper solutions will not have this filter.

Stage 4: Code data

The remaining data is coded for topic, sentiment and emotion. Emotion analysis provides compelling insights, which other platforms cannot offer. The technique used is similar to the coding of open-ended questions on traditional market research questionnaires.

Stage 5: Programming of coded data

The coding is fed into our text analytics engine using a computer programming language.

Stage 6: Verification process

A larger sample of data is then run through the programmed solution so that it can be checked and refined as necessary. This process is repeated until the accuracy reaches a minimum of 85% accuracy, although 90% is typical.

Stage 7: Machine learning

Our text analytics engine uses machine learning techniques and artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically code and segment the data, maintaining the high level of accuracy that the Listening247 achieves.

Stage 8: Reporting

We usually deliver data in a PowerPoint presentation and an interactive dashboard. We can provide this reporting for any frequency.

When does Social Listening work?

Social Listening studies with high quality data work well when you want to monitor the online conversations about your brand and its competitors. It gives you a chance to ensure that you are portraying the image you intend to and to evaluate campaigns. Watch our webinar.

Are some languages or different product fields a problem?

A common question we receive is whether any languages present problems. We have successfully worked in a wide range of languages and in many different product fields. We use speakers of local languages to code the data (see Stage 4 above). We can also handle multi-language projects, monitoring, for example, English and Spanish.

Social media network connection concept

Social Listening and Online Communities Projects Together

It is possible to combine Social Listening projects with Online Communities projects where you are researching the same product field. This approach works well. Not only we will offer you a discount for commissioning two types of research with us, but we can use the same text analysis engine to process and report the data from the surveys saving yet more costs.

As far as we know, no other platform offers this service and these benefits.

Social listening and online communities combined