My first company invented insight communities. Now I think it’s time for the next wave.

1 August 2022 | 7 min read | Written by Andrew Reid

Insight communities remain one of the most useful  tools in the market research toolbox today. According to the 2022 GRIT Insights Practice report, 65% of research buyers and 62% of research suppliers use communities today — remaining one of the most popular tech in the insights world. 

The concept of an insight community is a solution I’m very familiar with: my first company, Vision Critical (now called Alida), introduced insight communities in the early 2000s. Today, hundreds of global brands use insight communities (sometimes called "market research panels") to reach at-the-ready pool of customers who have agreed to provide feedback and answer surveys.

When I left Vision Critical/Alida and started Rival Technologies over four years ago, it was with the goal of bridging the gap between how people live their digital lives and how market research is conducted. Working with early adopters of our mobile chat survey platform, we’ve heard time and time again about major concerns on insight communities. While companies still get a lot of business value out of communities and panels, many forward-looking market researchers are realizing that this is a tool that can use a major overhaul.

The issues with most insight community platforms:

Too slow
Many insight community vendors  still rely heavily on emails to recruit and engage research participants. Unfortunately, email is a channel that’s falling out of favor with many people. Many of us in the business world spend the first few minutes of our working day looking for things we can delete immediately in our inbox. Most Gen Zs only maintain an email account so they can sign up for various apps and services but otherwise pay very little attention to this channel.

If we want more immediate feedback from customers, we have to look beyond emails to reach and engage community members.

Over-reliant on recall
Because community activities are sent via email, those that respond to surveys do so usually a few days after a survey is deployed. This is problematic given that human memory is not very reliable. Most people can’t remember what they did a week ago—or even a couple of days ago. Relying on recall means the feedback you are getting is at best incomplete—and at worst inaccurate.

Too clinical—and too long
The typical approach to community-based or panel research is to bombard participants with surveys that are too long and too boring. Worried that customers will never participate in surveys again, our industry has the habit of asking all possible questions in a burdensome and tedious 20-minute survey.

Surveys sent to insight community members are typically overly formal, using clinical language no one would ever use in real life.

This approach flies in the face of consumer behavior: when communicating with others, people typically use micro-moments throughout their day to quickly answer a message, leave and then go back again later to send another message. These leave-return-leave-return cycles happen many times in a day, but they are usually very quick and effortless for people. In contrast, 20-minute surveys are onerous, time-consuming and not fun at all.

Surveys sent to insight community members are also typically overly formal, using clinical language no one would ever use in real life. The result is a user experience that’s off-brand for many companies. More crucially, this stodgy and clinical approach puts people in test-taking mode, which inhibits a more candid conversation. If we want community members to provide their unfiltered feedback, there needs to be a mutual exchange of value—and that should start with a user experience that fosters trust and honesty.

Hard to set up and manage
Insight communities have developed a reputation for being a pain. Many enterprise market research platforms still require a few weeks—sometimes months—to set up a new insight community and a related portal. In today’s dynamic and hyper-competitive landscape, the idea of waiting weeks to start engaging with your customers just seems wrong.

Insight communities have developed a reputation for being a pain.

Talking to a growing number of Rival customers, we heard these issues again and again, and we knew we were in a position to help address these. Many people at Rival and our sister company Reach3 Insights have spent the last two decades pioneering community-based research approaches. We wanted to use our collective research pedigree to examine the traditional insight community model from the ground up and re-engineer it for the mobile era.

Community 2.0: A re-imagining of the insight community model for the mobile world

Community 2.0 from Rival is a solution purpose-built to provide the fast, iterative and ongoing insights global brands need to win in today’s mobile-first world.

A complete re-imagining of the conventional insight community, Community 2.0 allows you to quickly engage—and re-engage—key consumer groups in-the-moment to capture both predictive quantitative data and emotive qualitative context in one seamless experience.

This iteration of community-based research addresses the biggest shortcomings of traditional market research panels, while helping insight leaders take advantage of the opportunities provided by advancements in mobile technology.

Reach the right people

Getting sample is still one of the biggest pain points in community-based research. And it’s not surprising why: you can’t unlock quality insights if you’re not engaging the right people. But many consumer groups—Gen Zs and certain segments of Millennials, for example—are notoriously difficult to reach through panels and other traditional sample sources.

The good news: these hard-to-reach groups are active on social networks and messaging apps. If you can get their attention and give them a compelling reason to participate, there’s a good chance they will.

Because our insight community platform is mobile-first, recruitment through social media and web advertising is easy. For example, many of our clients have used TikTok, Instagram Stories and Discord to seamlessly invite followers to a recruitment chat. This tactic has proven to be effective in building a more diverse group of consumers, including Gen Zs, gamers and other hard-to-reach groups. 

Of course, you can still use traditional sample sources if you need to. We have an amazing customer success team who will work in consultation with you to make sure you're using the right mix of recruitment tactics.

Conversational and on-brand

With Community 2.0, rather than sending surveys, you send chat surveys (or simply "chats")—conversational surveys optimized for mobile web browsers. Everything about chats—from the user interface to the language and tone used—are designed to mimic a conversation you’d have with a friend or a family member. Our approach uses plain language, asks direct and meaningful questions and iterates on ideas by learning and following up in shorter engagements.


Robust and sophisticated

Chat surveys let you create truly engaging experiences for research participants without compromising the need for sophistication. Community 2.0 is backed by a robust market research platform that allows you to run rigorous quantitative studies and collect rich qualitative feedback (with selfie videos, photos and open ends). This insight community solution also includes a range of reporting capabilities, including dynamic interactive deliverables and mobile topline reports.

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Videos that tell a better story

Our approach to open-ended questions is to give participants the choice on the format they want to provide their input with. Depending on the community, 10% to 20% of research participants choose to send a video rather than a text response.

Video feedback is powerful because it lets customers tell their own stories in their own words. With a Community 2.0, it’s easy to capture selfie-videos that help punctuate rigorous quant feedback and provide rich context on what’s really driving consumer behavior.

Many clients we work with have told us that video reels from research communities have captured the attention of executives and helped build credibility and visibility for the market research team.

Lightning fast and in-the-moment

Community members are notified of new activities through mobile notifications instead of email. This capability is powerful because 90% of text messages are read within the first 3 minutes. Unlike emails, SMS notifications are noticed and acted upon by people right away. It’s not unusual for communities on the Rival platform to get hundreds of responses within a few minutes. In one example, our customer Vancouver Canucks saw a 33% response rate within the first 6 minutes of a chat being deployed.


This ability to reach people in-the-moment enables research teams to provide the fast, robust feedback companies need to make the right decisions in an agile and nimble way.   

On-demand with immediate ROI

Many of the insight communities we build for our customers are set up for long-term use. A global media brand, for example, has a community of mostly African American women that provide ongoing feedback on programming. The NHL’s Vancouver Canucks has a community of fans they engage with during live games.

But some communities are purpose-built to address specific business issues. REVOLT Media & TV, for example, quickly built a community to capture feedback about a specific event. Over three days, attendees were sent a series of chats through mobile notifications asking them about their experience. In another example, a major CPG player built a community specifically set up to get insights on e-commerce optimization over a few weeks.

While many companies still get a lot of value from long-term communities, some brands would get more immediate ROI from more short-term, pop-up communities. With this insight community solution, both options are possible.

Backed by a world-class customer success team

We realize that not all companies have the same research needs. To that end, Community 2.0 comes with a broad spectrum of research services. For companies that prefer to be more hands-on, Rival has a Customer Success team that provides a unique combination of market research experience, account management expertise and technical skills.

For Fortune 500 brands that prefer to work with a full-service consulting agency, our award-winning sister company Reach3 Insights is available.

Data privacy and security compliance

Security and compliance is a core foundational element of our insight community platform. Rival has both SOC 2 Type 1 and SOC 2 Type 2 certifications. In addition, Rival Technologies is ISO27001:2013 and HIPAA/HITECH certified as part of Rival Group Inc.

Insight communities for a rapidly changing world

With so much uncertainty in the world right now, businesses can’t afford to make decisions based on gut instincts alone. This is the time to be data- and insight-driven. By connecting you to your customers in-the-moment, insight communities are an invaluable tool that can help you navigate these unprecedented times.

Curious about Rival's unique approach to community and research panels? Connect with our team—we're happy to answer your questions. 

Note: A version of this article was first published in July 2020. This has been updated with new information. 

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Written by Andrew Reid

Andrew Reid is the founder and CEO of Rival Technologies, the pioneer and leader in conversational market research technology. He is also the founder of Alida, formerly called Vision Critical.

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