Researching a new community – proof of concept and motivation

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(Sarah Hawk) #1

I’ve had conversations with a few people lately who are researching their audience (or potential audience) either to prove their community concept, to establish the values of their audience, or to figure out what motivates them.

Research is an incredibly important part of any community building effort.

I’d be interested to hear how people go about the process. How do you solicit research subjects? How do you approach them?

cc @Jpress and @JordanTompkinsNCI


(Jordan Tompkins) #2

Hey Sarah – I’ve been thinking about this a lot too. My process is going to be different from yours because my community already exists and I’m trying to evaluate what is and isn’t working, but the easy part (for me) is coming up with research questions and interview schedules. That’s my background.

What type of community do you want to study? I think that you’ve already got a solid idea of what you want to know, now you just need to think about the questions you can ask that will reflect that information. I suggest doing informal (semi-structured) interviews. Personally I think these are best because they’re going to give you “how” and “why” answers more than surveys. Usually for that I come up with 3 questions and try to get people to answer those questions as thoroughly as possible (What would make you want to be part of a community of practice?..what else would make you want to spend time working in a community of practice?..etc.). I think general questions are better, and I think it’s important to really consider what you’re trying to answer with a question, so you ask the right one.

If the audience doesn’t exist yet, I’d look for the closest personal/professional connections I could, explain what I was doing, and ask if they would mind spending a few minutes answering questions. In my experience, people want to help you help them, you just have to make sure you’re not eating up too much of their time. If the community already exists and you have metrics available, I would analyze those first and then come up with the qualitative questions.

I’d love to hear about how other people do this as well!


(Sarah Hawk) #3

Thanks for your thoughts Jordan. I’m thinking about undertaking a survey with my audience in the near future and your input is valued. Is there a specific reason for using 3 questions? Is that an optimal number?

Unrelated to my own quest, but out of curiosity:

Is this relevant if they’re not your target audience though? That’s the clincher – how do you find those guys?


(Jordan Tompkins) #4

You’re very welcome. The reason I said three questions is because if you were doing unstructured or semi-structured interviews you’d want to have as few questions as possible so they could really spend time elaborating on their answers. A survey is going to be different. I’m definitely no pro there…

I think you need to have some idea of who your target audience is–which I’m sure you do even if you haven’t directly articulated it. I would still interview people who might KNOW people who you really want to interview. You’re mainly interviewing them to find other people to interview. Does that make any sort of sense?


(Sarah Hawk) #5

Got it. That makes sense re interviews.

The purpose of this topic was initially to start a discussion around how others find potential audience members to interview as part of a community concept research project, because I’ve had the conversation with a few people that are at that stage presently.

I called you in because of your solid research background, but then I confused things by going off on a tangent about my own survey. Apologies! As it turns out, your advice is perfect so it was worth it.


(Jordan Tompkins) #6

I’m glad I could help :slight_smile: I’d still like to hear what other people think!


(Robert Hopman) #7

I’ll just join in here, because I’m part community manager, blogger, and startup software marketing practitioner. It’s fascinating to me that a lot of startups have similarities with building new communities. I’m currently finishing up my last startup projects and moving more towards the direction of a community I’m managing and some SME in the software industry.

The thing with new communities is risk. You want to keep that to a minimum, while validating your idea or at least see if people feel a similar excitement around a topic. Usually excitement is a good starting point for a community. The key thing to remember is retention. I see this with startups, but even more with communities. You want people to stick around. And if they stay or leave you want to know why.

Best tool that I know to measure this quanti- and qualitatively is this one: http://survey.io/survey/demo

I would reframe it as the community/market fit survey. Especially in Question 2 when doing research and you can already show them your vision / community idea… people should be: Very disappointed. Because then you know that you’ve hit something interesting.

Then regaring your question: Approach people via their preferred channel with a simple question. I use twitter & fb.

Then get them on a 10 -15 minute skype call.

This seems like a lot of work. It is. It will never be easy.

But the information you will get is the best there is.

Additional information via the mom test, really good way to talk to people and keep things moving: http://www.slideshare.net/robfitz/how-to-actually-do-customer-development-and-not-waste-your-time