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3 ways how community members become co-researchers

There will always be a gap between what a consumer is sharing and how a researcher understands it. This disparity is either created by a culture, generation and/or knowledge gap. These different gaps make it difficult for a researcher to put things in the right perspective. Here, community participants can help us out. By becoming our co-researcher, they can find more and new insights that would otherwise not have been captured. Customers feel empowered and honored when they are asked to become co-researchers. In this blog post series, our experience with co-researchers is illustrated in 3 case studies from Campbell’s, Air France and KLM and Philips.

Co-researchers bring down the wall

The new buzzword in the research industry is collaboration. Today, many consumers are willing to collaborate with brands in Online Customer Communities. In order for collaborations to be really successful, it’s key that there’s an equal relationship between all parties and consider each other as true partners. In Online Customer Communities, we consider the participants as equal partners. We empower them to start their own discussions and enable them to share (un)solicited feedback. However, the roles are still separate: we are the researchers, they are the participants. For successful collaboration, we need to challenge these traditional, distinct roles and examine the convergence of the roles of a researcher and participant.

What would happen if we bring down these walls and turn participants into researchers? Our recent case studies prove that community participants are not only perfectly capable of taking on the role as co-researchers, it’s also a way to close culture, generation and knowledge gaps. These studies illustrate 3 ways how community members become co-researchers: by moderating, analyzing and fine-tuning our conclusions.

Participants as ‘co-moderators’

MROCs allow us to build an ongoing connection with our participants. After the introductory period, we have gained their trust and participants know their way around in the community. Even members that were not familiar with communities before, learn quickly how the community works, what the role of the community manager is and what is expected of them. Without introducing the official role of a ‘co-moderator’ we already see some members start behaving as moderators in the social corner (i.e. the room to talk off-topic and start new discussions). This already shows there’s potential for empowering participants to be part of the research team and become actual co-moderators.

How to collaborate with co-moderators. There are various ways to introduce co-moderators into the community. We have identified two types of co-moderators: ‘by role’ and ‘by mission’.

1. The role as co-moderator: The co-moderator task ‘by role’ is endorsed as another moderator in the MROC of a specific room (i.e. social corner). The co-moderator is encouraged to start discussions by themself, moderate, summarize and report back to the moderator. In the community “Come dine with me” that we ran for Campbell’s, the co-moderator took his role very seriously and started completely new topics in the Lounge.

“I really enjoyed being a co-moderator, it really felt like I was playing an important role and that I was being heard. Thank you for asking me to do that, I would love to do it again”Co-moderator in Come Dine With Me community

2. The mission as co-moderator: The co-moderator ‘by mission’ tries to complete a secret assignment. Instead of being ‘responsible’ for one room, the mission for this co-moderator is to join an already existing discussion and stimulate the conversation to keep the topic active. After, as in the case of the co-moderator “by role”, they summarize the discussion and report back to the moderator. In the community we ran for Campbell’s, we asked participants to join the discussion “Your ideal restaurant experience” to find out extra insights to understand the total restaurant experience. Also for this role, the co-moderators were positively surprised.

“I accept the challenge and look forward to reporting back to you with my findings. Should be fun!” Initial reaction from the co-moderator by ‘mission’

Come dine with me

Why you should work with co-moderators? In a brand-new study with Campbell’s, we observed that working with co-moderators increases the general engagement of the MROC. The conversation can be even more open as it is peer to peer, speaking the same language. Also the findings are summarized from a consumer point of view, not that of a researcher’s, thus bringing another mind and a different perspective to the analysis process. Using co-moderators also reaffirms to all participants that the MROC is about listening, sharing and collaborating together.

Working with a co-moderator ‘by mission’ helps to keep the discussion relevant and dynamic. Plus, the questions are posed from a peer’s point of view, which helps to close the participant-researcher gap. Where co-mod’s by mission only ‘poke’ discussions on topic level, co-mod’s by role go one step further. They take over a whole forum (e.g. social corner) and collaborate with the members on a structural level, resulting in closer P2P relations and increasing the social glue of the community.

Overall, co-moderatorship is perceived to be very rewarding for both the co-moderator and other participants.

“How interesting that you used a couple of the other members to help you and ask us questions too. It’s a great idea, they know where we are coming from, and they understand what we are talking about so it’s easier to talk to them” A ‘Come Dine With Me, Australia’ MROC participant talking about a Co-moderator

Our experience with co-moderators already shows there are more opportunities for collaborating with participants as co-researchers. In the past year, we’ve done several studies to further explore the potential of co-researchers in the analysis-phase. In my next blog post we’ll continue our story on co-researchers, illustrated by 2 cases of Air France and KLM & Philips.

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