How To Mine Your Online Community For Powerful Insights
The equation is simple. If you want more support for the community, you have to show the community is driving more value.
The common mistake is to equate value to activity and trying to attract more members to drive more activity.
Having undertaken in-depth interviews with almost 70 people for my book, I feel fairly confident to say that there is a far more effective option. You don’t need more members, you need better systems to capture and use the value you have already created.
The Insights Matrix
Online communities are rivers of powerful insights. We usually let these insights wash away because we don’t have good systems to capture and use them.
This, in turn, means our communities aren’t generating anywhere near the value they should be. Which, in turn, means were’ not getting the support we need to build the incredible communities we want to create.
If we can better capture and use these insights, we can solve these problems.
We can divide these insights down into the four distinct categories we see below.
|Members||Aware||Ideas and opinions
This includes ideation, co-creation, surveys, polls interviews, asking for ideas and feedback.
e.g. asking customers what they think about a product.
This includes problem posts, voting on problems (or ‘me too’) posts.
e.g. finding out what customers are really angry about.
|Unaware||Sentiment And Qualitative Data
This includes tracking mentions and popularity of topics. It involves identifying the words and language members use.
e.g. waiting to see what your best customers say about a product.
This includes click-through rates, conversion rates, attribution, landing page data.
e.g. tracking what people are most interested in about the product.
These insights are categorized by whether:
a) they are solicited by the organization.
b) our audience knows they’re generating insights.
Solicitation matters because asking someone what they think gives you a very different type of insight from a furious member complaining about a problem.
Audience awareness matters because members have a tendency to lie or struggle to explain what they really want. Fortunately, their clicks don’t lie.
You’re probably capturing at least one type of insight today, but you can immediately bring more value to the table if you start capturing multiple types of insights.
1) Ideas and Opinions
Any time you ask members for feedback, you’re going to get their ideas and opinions.
Ideas are useful both in themselves and also to validate or challenge existing thinking, identify great talent, and get a range of options to choose from. If no-one else can come up with a better solution to a problem than you have today, you can probably move on to the next thing.
In practice, this falls into two buckets. Insights generated through a dedicated platform and those sought after through more traditional platforms.
The dedicated platforms include:
- Ideation platforms. In an ideation platform, members are invited to submit ideas and vote on the ones they like best. This usually involves a platform like BrightIdea, Spigit, Charodix etc…
- Competition platforms. In a competition platform, members are set a challenge and invited to work together to come up with the best solution. Good examples here include Kaggle, Topcoder, 99designs.
- Co-creation platforms. In a co-creation platform, members collaborate with each other to develop a bigger project. Many open-source platforms can fall under this banner. Other common examples might include Forth and platforms like Jovoto and others. Though, in practice, outside of open-source its rare for members to refine and update each other’s ideas.
You can find a bigger list of platforms here. Pricing ranges from a few hundred dollars per year to low-six figure sums for larger efforts which require high levels of customization.
These platforms are essentially efforts that align the goal of the community to a single type of insight. It’s more effective for that purpose but limiting if you want any other kind of insights.
This leads us to the second category of ideas, those sought after on a more ad-hoc basis without a dedicated platform. This includes:
- Surveying community members. You can ask members a range of questions about their opinions on products, their problems, or what they would prioritize. SurveyMonkey is probably the simplest tool.
- Running a community poll. You can run a poll and get immediate feedback from members on a single question. Most platforms have this as a native feature today. Getting feedback from most members on a single question. Otherwise SurveyMonkey and Doodle are quite simple options.
- Interviewing community members. In-depth interviews give you deep, qualitative, data on members. This can help you build profiles, better understand the problems, and appreciate how people conceive the problem. I personally use Skype with SkypeRecorder for these. I also transcribe each interview in real-time with a few pre-set questions to begin.
- Initiating discussion questions. The easiest way to get feedback is to use the community what it is there for, asking questions and getting responses. This gives you a quick and simple understanding of what your participants (not to be generalized to your community) want.
Capturing and using these ideas and opinions:
There are a lot of different ways you can make this work for you without building a dedicated platform. The easiest might include:
- Set a competition to solve a problem your marketing/engineering teams are struggling with. Have a small prize for the best response (or top 3 responses). Be sure to check the law on competitions.
- Ask members to review upcoming content before it’s published (I’m doing this with my book). Find out what they like about it, don’t like about it. Does it make sense? Is it relevant? Does it read well? What were their main takeaways?
- Ask engineers what features they would like feedback on and run a poll or survey on those issues. Solicit questions from your colleagues on a regular basis to run past the community. Find out how many ideas they want, what format they want them in, and when they want them.
- Get snapshot responses to any question raised in meetings that would benefit from quick feedback.
- Ask members what they would most like to change about your product/service and feeding that information back to your colleagues.
- Highlight the roadmap and ask members to prioritize what order they want these items fixed in a survey.
You can develop plenty of your own ideas here too.
Be sure to find out exactly what feedback about your product, PR, and marketing teams would most love to see and set questions, polls, or surveys in the community to gather that feedback.
Complaints are often more powerful than ideas because they reveal what members really care about.
If someone takes the time and energy to write a complaint, you can be sure the problem is important to them. Solicited ideas might reveal preferences, but complaints highlight what will influence purchase decisions.
Complaints can also act as an early warning system to any upcoming problems and avoid PR disasters. They also give you a great opportunity to correct bad strategy mistakes and turn unhappy members into satisfied participants, if not eager advocates.
However, the number of complaints received via customer support tickets or calls usually dwarfs those received by the community. But the community typically contains an organization’s most dedicated fans/supporters.
A community shows what your best customers are upset about. If you lose your best customers, you have a major problem.
Many communities are launched as a customer support channel, this means they host only complaints. Others try to focus on the positive aspects of the product, but often become overwhelmed by the negative tone of discussions.
Capturing and using these insights:
- Setup a place in the community for member complaints and share this link with the people that need to see them. This also separates the positive community discussions from the negative.
- Tag or screenshot each complaint (or the biggest complaints) and compile these into a simple briefing for engineers or product managers at the end of the week.
- Find out from colleagues what complaints they want to be immediately escalated internally and train your staff/volunteers on what to do with these complaints.
- Report which areas/features get the most complaints.
- Respond quickly (where legally possible) to every complaint that’s received within the community and demonstrate a positive approach to trying to solve the problem.
You want to develop your own system for tagging, screenshotting, or having a place for members to post complaints. Evernote is the simplest, but far from the only solution. Most platforms will either let you ‘tag’ a discussion or add a note to these discussions. This lets you pull these complaints in a query.
3) Sentiment and Qualitative Data
Every day your audience is giving you great insights in both their sentiment and the choice of words they use. Each of these has different benefits.
Qualitative data (or sentiment) is great for analyzing how much people care about a complaint they have posted. It can help prioritise which complaints to focus on. For example, a large number of members might be mildly irritated by a feature most used, but a smaller group might be furious about a less used feature. You might want to prioritise the latter or risk losing that smaller group of customers.
Alternatively, you might notice members no longer speak about a product or the company as positively as they once did. This portends a major problem you should raise at the next company meeting.
Finally, how a member describes a problem is very useful. You can find out exactly how members talk about issues and describe problems.
This can be passed on to copywriters, marketers, your PR team, and anyone involved in writing anything members read. When you start using the exact words members use, you get a better response (as well as SEO benefits).
Capturing and using sentiment:
- Run your community logs (or URL) through a sentiment analysis tool to either track positive/negative sentiment broadly or towards a particular product. There are plenty of social media focused tools that do this, but a few others like blockspring and Haven will either let you build your own or do this for you (note: I’ve never used Haven). You can also track mentions of specific words that might be associated with positive or negative sentiment.
- Capture the titles and words members use to describe their problems and feed this data back to the people that write the FAQ, help center, and marketing copy. This helps them ensure they’re using the language members best understand.
- Track which topics are most popular within the community and share this information with people who provide this data. See which discussions have the highest level of positivity associated with them.
Word of warning, sentiment tools are addictive. Make sure you know what you’re looking for before you use one.
Behavioral insights are usually the most powerful (and the most overlooked).
It’s one thing to track what members say, it’s another matter entirely to track what members do.
Behavioral insights are relatively easy to setup and use. You can use Google Analytics and other simple tools to easily see what pages most people arrive on and make inferences about what got them there. If most people are arriving at a discussion about ‘cheap conference venues in London?’, you might want to create content about the topic.
You can also see which categories (or topics) are rising and falling in popularity. Your colleagues can then devote more time to creating content or product features within these categories and devote more time to creating content or product features within those categories.
Click data reveals trends and shows what’s rising and falling in popularity. It can tell you exactly what members are doing and help you personalize activities for your members. It also helps you to optimize for key topics.
Capturing and using behavioral data
These systems can become considerably complex, but at their easiest you can usually do the following:
- Ensure each discussion is not just placed within a category, but properly tagged. Track and report the popularity of each tag (by visits and comments) to identify possible trends and feed these trends back to colleagues.
- Track the top 50 landing pages to the community each month. This reveals what members (and, most often, newcomers to the topic) are searching for. Your marketing team can create more content around these trends to capture newcomers.
- Use Google Analytics to check where members are visiting from (geographic region as well as demographic data). This might reveal the need to translate your product content or sell the product to new regions. It might at least identify possible favourable markets.
- Track where members arrive from. High-volume websites might indicate opportunities for referral/partnership programs.
- Track visits from specific devices or on multiple browsers. This may show a need to cater the product or material to those browsers or devices.
This is far from a definitive list. Start with something simple and expand gradually to add greater depths of insights.
Your colleagues might not act on a single data point, but if the information proves credible it becomes a powerful and invaluable asset to have.
Pros and Cons Of Each System
Each of the options above have various pros and cons.
|Ideas and opinions||
|Sentiment and language||
Download Our Reporting Sheet
Once you begin collecting your insights, you will also want to share them more broadly than just the immediate person in need. This is why you should prepare an insights report to share around at each meeting and email to a broader group at the end of each month.
This covers the summary, the key takeaways in each of the four areas above, next steps, and insights implement.
Make sure everyone is aware of previous insights which have been implemented as a result of the community.
You can download our worksheet here:
Getting great insights from your members to your colleagues is the most effective way to increase the value of the community. But you need to work at both ends. You need to find out what insights your colleagues most need and develop systems to capture those insights.
Your success (and the success of the community) depends not on how much activity you generate or how many members you persuade to join, but by how useful your colleagues find the community.
If you collect a lot of great insights they can use, you will quickly win them over and build the kind of community you want to create.