Failing to see the community as volunteered market research

I’m constantly hunting down community things, sometimes in my searching I StumbleUpon old skool gems.

This is one of them from an article dated 2008. It’s about stupid mistakes to avoid in online communities.

(It’s actually pretty surprising how we feel all information on the internet is there forever, however the reality is content frequently disappears. It seems harder and harder to come across classic articles/blogs.)

Failing to see the community as volunteered market research

I can understand how companies can miss the first three points, because some of these lessons come from experience. But I cannot fathom how businesses miss the to-me-obvious fact that anyone who plays in your sandbox is a free focus group participant.

This is particularly evident in technical support forums where the marketing people dare not tread (and where, I suspect, the tech support community moderators are just as happy they don’t). However, if you see a lot of messages posted by customers who cannot figure out a product feature, you do not need to do a major research study to determine that the feature should be fixed. In fact, that’s a perfect place for the boss to step in, the way that, in CompuServe days, Pete Petersen did during the development process for WordPerfect 5.1 (“Here’s a screen shot of the way it’ll look; does this work for you?”), and the way Philippe Kahn responded to Borland’s customers (including starting a thread that, bless the man, he titled, “Bull merde”). The benefit to the boss is that he, too, can be in-tune with the customers’ mindset.

My favorite example for this market research point is ancient, from the early days of the Web. A hosiery company slapped up a forum and was surprised to see how many people had things to say about pantyhose. But they were even more surprised to see a discussion thread in which several men explained what they wanted from the company: pantyhose designed for guys. (Nothing effiminate about it, they said; they just found pantyhose more comfortable than socks. Except women’s legs are differently shaped, so could the company create a new line for them?). As far as I know, the company never complied (and I note that they no longer have a forum—Ha! Cowards!); but this is market research no one would have gained otherwise, because nobody would have thought to ask the question.

One warning, here: Do not overgeneralize. One visible complaint or comment does not mean that every user feels that way. One complaint is the beginning of a conversation, and an opportunity to ask the community members, “Is this true?

And why am I sharing this? Mostly because I got a little excited at seeing Community Discovery ideas in action from 2008.

There are so many potential hidden gems in the conversations that we enable as community builders. We must ensure we are keeping an eye out for them and not letting potential opportunities pass us by.

:heart: I’d love to hear examples of community conversations that have be turned into something bigger…