Consumer Collaboration: Get it right, Get it going, Make it sustainable

Managers know that collaborating with customers makes good business sense. Over the past years, consumers have turned into contributors and volunteers, having become a world full of problem solvers who are creating billions of dollars’ worth in value without even being paid for it. So, companies continuously search for ways to tap into this Consumer-Innovator, to benefit from key insights and ideas for better decision-making. As a result, many collaboration initiatives arise but few are sustainable.
Most initiatives are designed to give an instant boost of ideas but die a quick death. Only 1 out of 10 companies succeeds in managing consumer collaborations that tackle more objectives than merely idea generation, such as developing concepts or launching new products. This shows there is a lot of unused potential in the collaboration space.

But how can you develop these initiatives into sustainable collaborations? Based on a recent InSites Consulting study among 735 participants of 11 ongoing Consumer Consulting Boards (also known as online research communities), we identified 3 steps to make your consumer collaboration a real success in the long run.

When consumers become your part-time employees

A famous example of a sustainable collaboration is the GiffGaff community, where consumers are running parts of the business such as answering questions in the community or helping to promote the company. Companies like GiffGaff do one thing fundamentally differently: they treat consumers as if they were their part-time employees. They take consumers behind the scenes, so they understand the questions and challenges for the brand. And this is the tricky part….How do you treat consumers as if they were part-time employees of yours, so that your collaboration becomes sustainable and grows over time?

1. Get it Right #purpose

Employees who believe in the company purpose work harder, act smarter and add more value. Just like employees, consumers are more engaged when they feel the purpose of the collaboration and know what they are fighting for. Our study shows that 90% of consumer collaborators are motivated by the community purpose, making this the number 1 driver to keep on collaborating. Unfortunately, too many initiatives lack that big purpose and are set up for unclear reasons or for the wrong ones. When the underlying motivation to start collaborating is just the opportunistic desire to make more money or to look better, you are bound to fail simply because the reason to collaborate is not mutually shared between all participating actors.
A company that found a shared purpose for their collaboration is De Lijn, a bus company in Belgium. Their purpose is to make public transport future proof for the younger generations. Such a bigger purpose does not only motivate consumers, it also guides internal stakeholders on how to use the collaboration to answer their daily business questions. There are plenty of techniques to align on the bigger goal and identify the right business questions. For example, for Telefonica we invited the global team to an online platform to complete exercises such as a SWOT analysis. This gives you the right input to align everybody on the overall purpose of the CCB and to detect the right business questions.
After collecting the answers on these questions, the trick is to match them with the right collaboration activity. For example, in our Danone CCB, we launch Deep Dive weeks to collaborate on bigger strategic questions such as identifying new insights when eating yoghurt. Next to that, 48h challenges are shorter activities to find quick inspiration and answer the internal stakeholders’ urgent questions. The third stream in the community generates continuous bottom-up feedback through activities initiated by members. By mixing these different streams and communicating the goals, big or small, the collaboration is used to the rhythm of the company which enables us to keep the sense of purpose in everything we do.
Community engagement

2. Get it Going #engage

Once in a while, employees need to be surprised in order for them to stay motivated. For example, a friend of mine works at Google; he is used to choosing his lunch from 5 types of pasta and 10 types of salad, he can even make his own (non-fat) ice-cream(!). While this is nothing new to him anymore, I think it is awesome – I guess anything can become the new normal. The same goes for our collaboration initiatives: we can gamify all we want, but sooner or later it will become the new normal. How do we deal with this?

Our study shows that 3 out of 4 consumers want to keep on collaborating because it’s a fun and exciting activity. So, in order to keep the collaboration going, we mix different activities with the right level of intensity to keep the participants’ attention. We do this, for example, by mixing top-down activities initiated by the moderator (e.g. discussions, diaries, idea storms, games, battles, collages and video testimonials) with bottom-up inspirations initiated by consumers.
Next to the type of activity, the intensity varies from challenging to more relaxing weeks, because you can’t expect everyone to play along all the time. Our study shows that, on average, members prefer 69% challenging and 31% rather relaxed weeks of collaboration.
Activities are also mixed with gamified techniques, such as badges and the secret room. This is a special room, which opens when a new milestone is reached such as completing a Deep-Dive week challenge. The more experienced a member becomes, the more important this intrinsic motivator will get. New members prefer a monetary reward that is 33% higher than what experienced members expect. Therefore, to make your collaboration sustainable, prevent such a gold rush effect by setting the money reward within range and keep stimulating curiosity with new play elements.
Engagement mix
Engagement and stimulating curiosity are at least as important for a company’s internal stakeholders as they are for consumers. Report back with findings not only in standard presentations, but through surprising techniques as well. For example, invite them to play a quiz game to test their knowledge on the consumer or organize a speed date event to introduce managers to their consumers. By using engaging techniques to involve the right stakeholders, we can better trigger meaningful actions and engage them in the long run.

3. Make it Sustainable #impact

Employees believe that good decisions can originate from anywhere. Just like employees, consumers also embrace this principle and want to have a voice in and a meaningful impact on the company. Our study shows that 84% of consumers are motivated by the idea of having an impact on the brands they love, making it the second most important motivator in collaborative settings. However, many initiatives fail to effectively communicate the results of collaboration efforts. This causes a collaboration hangover and keeps the collaboration from becoming sustainable. To prevent such a powerless feeling, we need to trigger all relevant company stakeholders to make decisions, by playing on their hearts, minds and actions. For example, for eBay Classifieds’ 2dehands, the community collaborated on the renewal of the classifieds platform. Next to sharing weekly bite-size reports, we organized an Advisory Day with members from the community, to bring the results to life and define actions together. Afterwards, the community members were the first ones who got to access the beta-platform and experience their impact firsthand.
When these results are communicated to consumers in a tangible way, members see the impact of their own efforts. A great way to share this form of feedback is by giving them their own Wall of Fame, visualizing the achievements of the community. This form of feedback gives members a proud feeling and motivates them to keep collaborating in the long run.

Get your party started (and ditch the hangover)

Everybody loves a good party but hates a hangover. To make your collaboration sustainable and avoid feeling powerless, we must treat members as our part-time employees. Give them the right purpose aligned with the business, keep them engaged and empower them to impact decision making. This is how you set the right conditions for sustainable growth. What are your best practices to grow collaboration initiatives over time?

Eager for more? Get your free download of 10 rules to avoid a collaboration hangover

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