The Engagement Cookbook: the recipe to set your community participants on fire

Our exclusive Smartees Webinar series for our Global Community Moderator Network were born at the end of last year. As we are continuously on the look-out for additional best practices on how to run our Consumer Consulting Boards, we set up a collaboration program with our Moderator Network to index community ‘do’s and don’ts‘ from all around the world. The first series of topics we discussed resulted in a 911 guide for sensitive community situations.
When asking our moderators afterwards where they think the main differences lie for running communities in different cultures, they reconfirmed that it has everything to do with how to engage participants (how to manage the expectations of the participants, which incentives to use, how to use gamification techniques…). The moderators had a lot of interesting stories/experiences to share and compare from the different communities they ran in their country. Let’s take a look at the recipe for success and the local ingredients to be used in order to be able to set community participants on fire around the globe.

1. Playing on the right reasons to participate

The participants in a Consumer Consulting Board are contacted before and during the project through several touchpoints: invitation letter, confirmation mail, mail with the link to the community, kick-off session, recall, several newsletters…. All chances to increase engagement and motivate them to the fullest extent. While everything before the kick-off session is predefined, the first moment of contact with the moderator during the kick-off session is crucial. What could be the moderator’s role from that moment on?

  • Kick-off session: more than only a practical update: creating trust and an open, honest and positive atmosphere in a way that suits the culture of the country;
  • Recall by phone: connecting personally and possibility to answer questions (more important in technologically less advanced markets);
  • Newsletter: important to focus on the common goals and interests of the community members;
  • Moderation: continuously show appreciation, keep on motivating the members and also give feedback along the way (different styles and levels apply depending on the region);

“Making sure people feel valued is key. For example, you can give them examples of how other participants in previous projects had their ideas taken on and how they really made a difference” Moderator Tom

2. Offer the right (mix of) technologies

Technology usage and the level of adaption of certain devices in a specific market can have a big influence on conversation guide and moderation. In developed countries, it is not an ‘or’ story, but rather an ‘and’ story. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of different technologies enables us to focus on different tasks and output:

“You need both, but you need to understand how best to use them. Mobile is NOT a replacement for computer and tablet is a computer, but they are all access points for a great community. Don’t make one mutually exclusive of the other.” Moderator Pam

In developing countries, we need to take into account the two following elements:

  • Leapfrogging: a big part of the population skipped a step in technology adoption (e.g. from no Internet straight to mobile Internet), resulting in large groups of ‘mobile only’ users
  • Blurred usage: it is not because people have a smartphone that they can use it as we would like them to use it or that they have a good Internet connection all the time

3. Adding fresh ingredients to the conversation guide

The conversation guide and the main questions are often already set up by the internal team and the client. Still, the role of the moderator is crucial.

  • Moderators include a cultural buffer: moderators use the basics but always add their own toppings. One culture loves structure, the other likes a lot of probing. For example: in Argentina, Canada and the US participants like to be addressed by their first name, it makes them feel special. However, in Germany participants find this approach too intrusive, they attach great importance to their privacy. As a moderator, it is important to keep an eye on the approach in the conversation guide and to discuss this with the team.
  • Also keep an eye on the social corner: engaging here will make them come back for more. Moderators have a connection with what is living amongst the participants and can also communicate this back to the client and the team, suggesting extra topics.

“I once had a community with mums about feeding their children and it was a non-stop of interaction. Similar women and cooking habits… it went on and on and women exchanged recipes and cooking tips… So it looked like they were personally getting more out of the community than just the incentive money. When you have a personal stake, you’ll be interacting like crazy” Moderator Annalaura

4. Add ‘gamification spices’ according to the local taste

Using gamification techniques in qualitative research works. Basically it has two main goals:

  • Insights: thinking harder and getting more out of the results. We receive seven times more on-topic arguments compared to a non-gamified community. Participants who are challenged to give creative answers also provide us with more context. The increased emotionality in the posts also allows us to understand them better.
  • Intensity: increase the participation on several levels:
    a. Question level: rephrasing the questions into challenges, for example, makes it more fun to answer them
    b. Individual level: granting personal badges (for example the ‘Creative Genius’ badge) when a certain task is completed rewards the participant intrinsically
    c. Group level: by challenging different groups in a community, participants start to encourage each other to post more
    d. Community level: all working together towards a common goal increases the group feeling

While the first one is mainly achieved through a battle of arguments, activity boosting evolves mainly around gamified interactions. And what is the role of the moderator? Motivate participants to come back to the community again and give us more input! In other words: the moderator should create an urgency to come back in his/her moderation. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep the task on track
    Gamification boosts the activity, but should still focus on the goal of the topic. With in-depth moderation we hope to dig deeper.
  • Everyone involved!
    While the strong voices might take the upper hand, the quiet ones also matter of course! Up to the moderator to engage these participants as well.
  • It’s still about fun!
    Participants might become too competitive or take things too personally. Moderator Marie came across such a potential situation, but through good moderation she managed to turn the situation around:

“Funnily enough I have struggled with country vs country competition lately on a community as the UK has such a mixed and transient community, not all UK born, not all English as first language, so asking them to compete against other countries – some of which are their birth country – felt a bit odd, so I went with the ‘yay Team UK’ approach (vs ‘your country needs you’) and tried to step it back. Same issues I think can impact regionally, people move around too.” Moderator Marie

5. Adapting the moderator’s role and style to the cultural expectations

The role of the moderator depends highly on the context. The empowered consumer is sharing his opinion online and offline and is also requesting a new approach: are we shifting from old-school (distant, guiding) to new-school (open, engaging) moderation?

“Well, I guess I try to be old- and new-school at the same time. Engaging/ approachable on a personal level, but never sharing my personal opinion on products, usage, etc.” Moderator_Silke

Moderators feel that the two should be combined, depending on the context of the community. Not all subjects are suited for new-school moderation and not everyone is that open to an engaging moderator who acts like a friend. German participants for example tend to be more old-school: they focused more on the job, giving very comprehensive answers. The moderator is an expert and a leader and the focus on the ME is important for them. This stands in contradiction with more Southern countries such as Mexico and Brazil, where focusing on the WE is more important and the moderator should be on the same level as the participants. If they do not feel part of the team right from the beginning, they will not fully open up and share personal stories.

What did we learn today?

To summarize: what are our basic ingredients for a good recipe for participant engagement? Playing into the right reasons to participate is a task the moderator can already do from the beginning on, by being there at crucial moments such as kick-off session, recall and of course, community. Using the right technology is also important: knowing the limitations will enable the moderator to probe for the right output. Moderators can also have their influence on the conversation guide, by adding their own local spices and being the gatekeeper – after all, the moderator knows best. The same goes for gamification: the moderator is the one in control. By keeping a close eye on atmosphere and output, the moderator makes sure our gamification strategy delivers what we expect. And last but not least: we should all be aware that the moderator’s role and style have to adapt to the group, not only on a general level (e.g. old-school vs. new-school moderation) but also on a cultural level. The combination of all these elements should lead to ultimate moderator engagement and thus also to participant engagement.
Participant engagement leads to better output. But of course that alone is not sufficient. We want to answer all of our clients’ questions nd craft these answers in a way that they have an impact. A thorough analysis, building a story and good reporting are challenging tasks, but probably represent the area where the moderators add the biggest value. In the next wave we will talk about analysis and reporting. This will end and complete our circle: after going in-depth into moderation, engagement and reporting, we will have a good overview of the most important attention points for our moderators. To be continued!

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