Customer Inside 3.0

How are Insights Teams Using Communities Today?

Communities are crucial platforms of insight generation. They allow insights professionals to directly connect with their customers and unearth impactful data which inform pivotal business decisions.

Blend this dynamic industry with a context of business uncertainty, and it is fascinating to see the evolving ways in which insights professionals are harnessing the power of communities. According to the 2021 Grit Report, COVID-19 had a huge impact on research methodologies, with online methods and IDIs taking the lead over in person.

Of the 100 professionals we spoke to, 75 had used communities on several occasions. And almost 90% of that group said that communities had met their expectations.

And expectations are high. Many insight professionals are investing significant amounts of time and money in communities and plan to continue to do so. They had real success stories under their belt.

Keeping the customer “in sight”

While every practitioner we spoke to was essentially using communities to keep close to the customer, actual application varied dramatically.

Interviewees referred to their communities as spaces for:

Of course, as the demands on insights teams and the nature of business intelligence has evolved, so have the community models at buyers’ disposal. The type of work, the composition, the infrastructure of the community ecosystem — they’re yours to determine and should be designed to fit a specific clients’ needs, ambitions and challenges.

But to cut through the potential complexity of unlimited options, here are four models typical of the landscape today.


Several separate communities, aimed at different ages, segments or geographies, that allow you to aggregate quantitative data across all.

The Bench:

Smaller group, engaged less frequently, but with a focus on unlocking stories and driving customer closeness.


Separate panel (or CRM) and community. Results can be integrated in analysis and reporting, but they are separate entities.

Mission Command:

Master panel sized group from which smaller and temporary communities are built and recruited.

Where we see our online community unexpectedly add value is as a Trojan horse to market insight in the organization. This has helped us move ourselves from reactive unit to a source of strategic value.”

Insight Manager, Hospitality

Always-on customer insight:
A “Trojan horse” for the insight department

One of the most interesting things practitioners told us was that they were using their online community to help achieve their departmental objectives. Many insight professionals grapple with the challenge of elevating the influence and impact of insight within their organization. Most are familiar with the notion of evolving the role of the insight department from reactive supply function to a source of strategic, consultative value creation.

While a community can be seen purely as another way of doing research, some practitioners are taking advantage of the ongoing, people-focused nature of a community, and their extended team of external consultants, to achieve this aim. Consistent and timely access to real customers can create a movement that grows over time, and relying on a consistent supplier team can free up precious time to dedicate more hours on increasing customer intuition across the business. Seen as a permanent hub for engaging customers, a community can become a platform for spreading the message of the insight department and the voice of the customer. This is harder for a series of unconnected ad hoc projects serviced by different team members to accomplish.

For 20 years, C Space has championed the use of communities as critical insights resources. Today, communities are more valuable than ever in leveraging the potential of real-life, continuous engagement between company and customer. By connecting with people, we make business more human, leading to customer-led growth and solutions for our clients.

While our stakeholders are pretty engaged with research and insight, most people are here because they love cars. That’s why they work here. But everyone is interested in people — whether it’s what their neighbors are up to, what’s on their Facebook newsfeed or the draw of reality TV.”

Consumer Insight Manager, Automotive

Revised and Updated for 2022

Customer Inside

A buyer’s guide to online insight communities and how to make the most of them

The online community category is still young and its constantly disrupting itself. Unprecedented growth leads to an explosion of new terminology and technologies – innovative tools and emerging methodologies appear almost every day. Whether you’re an experienced user, or a newcomer, navigating the current context can prove challenging. What technology? What method? What audience? What types of research? 

With this in mind, we’ve updated Customer Inside, our practitioners guide to online communities.

This report was informed by three separate pieces of original research:

  1. 85x interviews with senior insight leaders from different sectors, around the world – conducted over the course of five years.
  2. 2x global surveys, collecting the views and perspectives of more than 200x insight practitioners and their experiences of using online communities, every day.
  3. Regular Client Connection co-creation workshops, with over 75x client practitioners.