Online insight communities as catalysts for inclusivity

By reflecting the full spectrum of human experiences, online insight communities fuel more authentic and resonant brand strategies than traditional research approaches.

Group of diverse people giving an high five
Group of diverse people giving an high five

Sarah Van Oerle

04 April 2024

4 min read


Last month we celebrated International Women’s Day. This year’s theme was all about #InspireInclusion, imagining a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. Working towards such a diverse and inclusive world rests on all of our shoulders, including us as brands and insight professionals. We need to ensure that diverse voices are heard and represented in our work. Such an inclusive approach not only enriches research outcomes and insights, but also allows brands to develop more authentic and resonant strategies. Online insights communities have shown to function as such a catalyst for inclusivity, here’s how.


Empowering underrepresented communities

Online insight communities serve as platforms for empowering underrepresented groups in society by giving them a voice in the research process. Through targeted recruitment strategies and community engagement activities, we can ensure that individuals from diverse backgrounds are heard.

For instance, a leading beverage brand sought to immerse executive leadership in the lives of low-income audiences. To do so, we set up a community, focused on deep immersion, resulting in a documentary video that humanised key research themes. Following this, we organised a set of ‘Consumer Connect’ sessions, where we paired members of the leadership team with real consumers for face-to-face conversations. In a final immersive workshop, we brought to life how these people live day-to-day, how they feel and what they’re up against. Shedding light on this underrepresented group and their struggles was an eye-opener for the leadership team, where it empowered them to promptly act on relevant solutions to address these challenges.

Another example is how communities can amplify women’s voices. Historically, women have been underrepresented in decision-making processes, leading to a lack of diversity in products, services, and marketing campaigns. Award-winning and bestselling author, Caroline Criado Perez, refers to this as the ‘gender data gap’ in her book ‘Invisible Women’. From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces and the media, Perez reveals how in a world built for and by men, half of the population is systematically ignored.

Health tech company Philips put forward the objective to: “Amplify the voices of underserved communities, women and children”. Through its novel innovation approach,  ‘Continuous Learning’, Philips achieved this goal. Half of their continuous learning initiatives focus on empowering these vital voices. Their projects range from offering pregnancy resources to Medicaid beneficiaries in the US to making effective oral care engaging and fun for kids.

Similarly, Mithra, the biotech company, wanted to better understand women’s experiences across different life stages. By engaging women from diverse backgrounds and regions, we captured a comprehensive view of female health, solidifying Mithra’s position as a trusted specialist in women’s healthcare.


Breaking taboos

Another powerful aspect of online insight communities is their ability to facilitate discussions on taboo topics. By creating an environment of confidentiality, we empower individuals to speak openly about sensitive issues such as finances, mental health, sexuality and cultural identity, leading to more nuanced, inclusive and rich insights.

In Mithra’s community we touched upon several sensitive topics such as sexuality, contraception, vaginal health, the impact of female cancers and menopause. By creating a welcoming, trustworthy community, guided by a local moderator, women felt comfortable sharing their challenges, resulting in more than 40,000 on-topic conversations, 94 video testimonials and more than 1,500 pictures.

Another example is how the financial service provider Manulife sought to keep the finger on the pulse of its Millennial and Gen Z consumers in the Philippines during the pandemic. Leveraging its online insight community, Manulife explored topics such as financial health and mental well-being. These conversations led to the development of initiatives aimed at empowering young people to cultivate financial resilience amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic.


Bridging boundaries of time and place

When working with online insight communities, there are no limitations of time and place, enabling you to connect with diverse populations regardless of their location or mobility constraints. This flexibility allows you to engage with individuals from rural or remote areas, as well as those with limited mobility.

For one of our pharma clients, we explored the patient journey of people living with MS. Traditional research would pose numerous logistical challenges, whereas the online community allowed these patients (and their caregivers) to share their experiences from the comfort of their homes, guided by a skilled moderator. Through sharing videos, patients could vividly illustrate the daily challenges they face in their own environments, such as climbing stairs, and demonstrate the impact of treatments. This direct window into the homes and lives of these people allowed our client to gain a deep understanding of their experiences and develop relevant solutions and treatments. But this extends beyond health research. During set-up and recruitment phases, it’s vital to consider how the online convenience of an insight community allows you to tap into a broad and diverse sample of the population, ensuring that your research reflects the full spectrum of human experiences.


As brands and insight professionals, we need to ensure that every individual’s story is heard and represented in our work. Embracing inclusive research methodologies, such as online insight communities, we not only enrich our understanding of diverse experiences but also empower underrepresented groups to share their stories. Online communities allow us to break taboos, bridge boundaries of time and place and empower individuals from all walks of life to contribute to a more inclusive and equitable world. It’s about creating meaningful change and driving impactful outcomes for all.



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