November marks nine years since we launched our first online consumer community with Communispace, in an attempt to create an ongoing dialog with consumers. It seems like a good time to look back at where we have come from and what we have learned over the last nine years. First, through the lens of hindsight we can respond to the protests of nine years ago, the loudest of which was, “You can’t do research on the Internet!” Second, we were told, “Nobody will participate.” And finally, since we view our business as emotionally based, we were told, “You can’t capture emotion on the Internet.” It’s easy to look back and then consider where we are now and see the shortsightedness of those who doomed our experiment. Today, everybody does research on the Internet. Consumers expect to be able to participate and be heard, and will whether you invite them to or not.
If companies are not actively listening, shame on them. Finally, we’ve had no problems capturing the emotions of our community members (some have even been asked to leave because of inappropriate emotional responses). An unexpected learning over the years has been the degree to which the community has provided a platform for the members to bond with one another in a manner we never anticipated. The communities have become something akin to the backyard fence for sharing ALL aspects of their lives with each other freely while we listen. Another observation from our nine year journey is the unexpected melding of qualitative and quantitative approaches using the communities. While we have always been clear with our business partners that the communities provide us with inspiration and insights, and not quantitative rigor, over time those two domains have begun to blur.
When qualitative exploration can be easily combined with quantitative observations, both approaches become more meaningful. Finally, we did not foresee how much the needs of our business would accelerate, and we have become heroes with internal and external customers because of the incredibly short term time frames relative to traditional approaches. As we look at challenges today, we did not anticipate the legal morass we would be in, as a private company trying to experiment with co-creation and innovation in our communities. I expect we’ll look back nine years from now and see those objections overcome. Bottom line, today’s connectivity has done just what we envisioned the Internet doing nine years ago, and that is breaking down the barriers that have existed between corporations and the people they are trying to serve. Here’s to the developments of the next nine years.