Proving the ROI of the community is a common, but tricky challenge. Thankfully, many of our interviewees had lessons to share.
Build high impact habits
Approach the setup of your community in the right way and proving the ROI becomes easier.
DEFINE THE COMMUNITY’S STRATEGIC PURPOSE
Simple, but a good place to start. You can’t measure your online community’s success unless you define its purpose. What is the strategic reason for its existence? The more you can align the community’s activity with a specific, valued organizational mandate, the better.
This could be increasing NPS via improving customer experience, informing expansion into a new market or plugging insight into product development to drive increased market share. This might be too simplistic, however, if your community needs to support several types of business impact. But, try to avoid generic purposes like “enhanced customer centricity,” unless you have some measures beneath to give substance.
A clear purpose “gives you permission to say ‘no’ to the wrong kinds of briefs. Prioritise the briefs that will have the most impact.” Senior Strategic Insight Manager, financial services.
The more you can align the community’s activity with a specific. valued organisational mandate, the better.
We designed three questions around a simple view of what role ‘insight’ should play: better understanding of the customer, better decision making, delivered in a cost-effective fashion.
Head of Research and Insight, Travel
PLAN IMPACT-TRACKING FROM THE START
Imagine you’re setting up an online community for the first time in your business. It’s an exciting route to your customer that your brand hasn’t had before. Department stakeholders are clamouring at your door. In this rosy picture you might not be under immediate pressure to qualify or quantify the impact and ROI of the community. Eventually, you will be.
Any ongoing business commitment will be questioned at some point. The overwhelming advice from interviewees was to start planning how you will track impact right from kickoff. It’s easier to track impact stories and stats as you go along, as part of an organized plan, than to leave it to the end of the year. Believe us. We’ve been there.
SIMPLIFY COMPLEXITY FOR BETTER FEEDBACK
We all know that customers have a limited time span when it comes to surveys. Agencies and insight departments have thrived on their ability to simplify complexity and make questionnaires engaging. Do the same when you’re looking for regular stakeholder feedback.
One interviewee has a very simple way of measuring the effectiveness of every piece of insight work. At the end of every project, stakeholders who have commissioned or requested the work must answer three questions:
1. Do you feel you better understand our audience as a result of this research?
2. Did this research help you make a business decision?
3. If you invested your own budget in this research, do you feel you got value for money?
That’s it. Over time, it helps them quantify perceived stakeholder impact.
Going a step further – why not create an equivalent of NPS for your insight department? One of our clients has already built this into the feedback system for his communities. Across the 6 global markets covered by his communities he is able to see which stakeholders are most likely to recommend the community to their peers. If they’re not as happy as other markets, he can find out why and fix it. Plus it makes pretty useful ammunition for tricky budget or procurement conversations.
If you don’t have an always on insight platform, you can’t release your team to do consultative work
Former Vice President of Growth Analytics, Market Insights and Customer Experience, Technology
RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO PROMOTE THE COMMUNITY ON COST-SAVING ALONE
Your insight and marketing departments are under pressure. Budgets are being squeezed. Anyone who demonstrates cost-effectiveness is a hero. That may sound familiar, but resist the temptation to position the community purely as a cost-saving tool.
It’s true that many of our interviewees had calculated impressive aggregated cost-savings via online communities compared to traditional qualitative research approaches.
However, if you see the community as “cheap insight” you run the risk of de-valuing it in your business.
No-one wants to use bargain basement insight to inform their biggest strategic challenges. If you want the community to be able to help your insight department play a strategic role, not just a reactive “cheap alternative” role, don’t promote it purely on cost.
Cost savings can be an important benefit. But it won’t always lead to business change. A more nuancedmessage is to quantify “both the positive value and impact it has helped you create, not just the money it has saved you”, Head of Segmentation Research & Insights, Technology brand.
TURN INSIGHTS INTO AN INTERNAL AGENCY
When customer insights operate apart from the rest of the business, it creates a disconnect. Customers have less influence on decisions made in other departments and as a result insights become less valuable.
A former VP at a global technology company, found a unique solution: turn insights into a consulting agency.
He combined customer experience, research, insights and data analytics into one integrated service. It’s designed to make insights and data about IT buyers more accessible to every “client” – that is, departments like sales, R&D, and marketing. And, it moves at the fast pace internal audiences require.
Team members serve as consultants; they’re trained to look at data, synthesise it and find the insights that matter. “You can’t just have data,” he says. “You have to have the data and the consultative [ability to] connect the dots to tell the story.”
Since consultants can’t be everywhere all the time, the team built a self-service platform that employees can access for insights, content and research. There’s also an Account Health Index that gives a quick snapshot of each account’s performance and flags issues that demand immediate attention.
Building an internal agency isn’t without its challenges, however. One of the biggest, he says, is conditioning your company and your clients to think of you differently. “You’re not a go-fetch, desk-side research firm,” he asserts. “You are an agency.”
What existing systems does your business have and how could you build a measure of the influence of insight into them?
Five ways to measure ROI
To determine which measures are applicable to your business, here are five different ways to think about the potential impact of your community, and how to measure it:
Use a combination of qualitative feedback and quantitative metrics after each project to measure impact on stakeholders.
• Do you better understand customers than you did before this project?
• Did this project help you make a more informed business decision?
• Would you recommend the community to other business stakeholders with a similar insight need?
• Did you feel you got value for money?
These can be aggregated and tracked over time, allowing you to measure perceived value across audiences and projects.
Estimate the savings created by projects that prevented a failed launch.
For example, a piece of communications with irrelevant messaging that was averted.
As one respondent noted: “We would have invested £X in this product that we learned would not have been successful in market due to insight.”
“The planned comms which received highly negative feedback during research would have reached X million customers. We estimate that unchanged this could have caused a 0.5% reduction in NPS.”
Estimate the extent to which the community has affected revenue-producing activities. This can be highly valuable in driving sales meetings or for product or service launch.
• Estimate revenue created by new products, etc., that community has affected.
• Ask stakeholders to quantify significance of impact of community work on business initiative.
• Build use of insight into tracking systems, like Salesforce.
This is not an exact science, as clearly other factors influence success or failure, but it is still a useful measure.
Decisions aren’t made on reason alone; we’re emotional creatures.
Plan some exciting, high impact stories on topics that you know matter to the wider business or to the audiences whose support you will need in retaining the budget for the community.
These could be communicated at annual shareholder meetings, internal or external awards. You essentially want stories to reach the C-suite.
Quantified measures are important in justifying the value of the community, but you also need stories to convey its worth. And impressive stories help capture hearts and minds.
Estimate the aggregated cost saving your community has made through efficiencies of scale over the year.
• Estimated saving vs traditional methodologies.
• The speed that projects can be turned around in the community also represents a cost saving, as the business is able to make decisions/act faster upon the insight.
Some C Space clients have estimated annual research cost efficiencies of approximately 40% vs traditional methods.