Research Community: Build Meaningful Interactions with Younger Audiences

Written by Dana Cassady • Posted on June 10, 2016
For interesting results, mix teenagers with a dash of alcohol in an online research community, garnish with lime (or the branding of your choice). Recently, the team here at Recollective supported that kind of cocktail community and it highlighted several key advantages of communities and online qual in general. Namely:
  1. The Safety of a Virtual Environment
  2. The Value of Familiar Surroundings
  3. Respondent Attention Retention
The community ran over 2 weeks with 20 participants. It aimed to establish a comprehensive understanding of recently of-age participants’ relationships with various liquors and how these associations influence their in-store decision making. Though these advantages were particularly evident given the unique variables at play in this study, these benefits can be found and exploited in a wide variety of industries and with a broad set of research objectives, regardless of the community’s size and scope.

1. Safety of a Virtual Environment

Complexity and depth of responses to questions are essential if we hope to go beyond just cataloging sentiments and actually derive actionable insight. Because this alcohol related study was targeted at such a transitionary period in the participants’ lives, it’s easy to imagine that the feelings or (lack of) experiences an individual might be willing to divulge would vary considerably depending on the venue hosting the conversation. A certain degree of posturing, censoring, or equivocating might be expected when exploring relationships with alcohol in a community of young people. What we saw manifest was that the community served as a virtual barrier, protecting respondents from the fear of being shamed for or made uncomfortable because of their contributions, without losing the benefits of social collaboration. Essentially, the community created a safe space for participants to discuss possible concerns surrounding a product most often associated with the absence of concern and hesitation. Similar benefits are routinely observed in insight communities involving health care, finances or anything else that could be closely tied to a person's self-worth, life experiences or identity. Ultimately, the safety of the virtual environment provides mechanisms that facilitate conversation and allow ideas to become fully formed.

2. The Familiarity of Surroundings

The respondents involved in this particular study have had access to social media since they were pre-teens. Many people in this demographic are comfortable expressing themselves and certain aspects of their lives through online communities. Indeed, their lives are not just expressed though these communities, aspects of their lives are these communities. The online communities many of us occupy and participate in -- twitter, instagram, facebook -- offer a space for ideas to grow, spread and gain traction. It is quite normal for common voices to gain traction and have a social, possibly even political, impact. Trending hashtags are a paradigmatic example of this phenomena. Hence, when we contribute to a community we are aware of this potential; we feel like our voices can have an impact. This potential impact increases our stake in the engagement while also driving our desire to engage. An online research community harnesses this phenomena in a way that other research tools, namely surveys, cannot. A traditional survey might even alienate younger respondents by separating them from the influence and validation of both their peers and the study facilitators. A study designed using a community based platform such as Recollective places respondents into environment that is familiar to them, a place where they both expect and receive validation by engaging. This environment prompts more meaningful contributions because it bolsters respondents’ stakes.

3. Retaining Respondent Attention

When dealing with any population (and teens in particular), we can expect attention spans to be about 20 minutes. Unfortunately many live focus groups exceed this time limit and despite what a researcher might promise, even IDIs and surveys often exceed this concentration threshold. Response quality suffers as a consequence. So how can we expect quality responses beyond 20 minutes in a single sitting session? The solution is simple and was demonstrated in the alcohol study perfectly: take the work and break it down into multiple, shorter sessions thereby maximizing a participant’s focus during each visit. This has the added benefit of enabling participants to manage their own schedule to find the time each day when it makes most sense for them. In the alcohol study, daily activities never exceeded 15 minutes which ensured additional time was available for socialization and follow-up with moderator probes from earlier activities.

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