The 3P’s of online communities

How online insight communities can serve as your brand’s ‘human-centric operating system’.

A person typing on their phone
A person typing on their phone

Angie Deceuninck

06 March 2023

3 min read

What started as an efficient way to access consumer feedback two decades ago is now a method used by 60% of insight leaders. Online insight communities, or should we talk about “research communities”, “online discussion boards”, “bulletin boards”, or “insight ecosystems”?

There still exists some confusion around the methodology due to a lack of a common language and shared best practices. So, let’s get some clarity on what an ‘online insight community’ is (not) and what it can do for your brand.


What’s in a name

An online insight community is a dedicated, closed online space that connects 30 to hundreds of people who share a common interest or characteristic. Unlike panels, the focus is on connection and collaboration, it is monitored by a dedicated moderator and serves as a hub for a wide diversity of research activities. Insight communities are highly flexible in terms of duration, ranging from short-term collaboration to solve a one-off business problem to a few months of iterative collaboration, or even ongoing communities.

For instance, our ‘My AXA Café’ community has supported financial-service company AXA Philippines since 2017, helping the brand differentiate and build relevance with the young and dynamic Filipino population. With over 40 studies launched, the community has been the ‘go-to’ channel for agile customer feedback, directing decision making across various teams within AXA Philippines. Building on this success, a similar community model was launched in Hong Kong in 2018.

On the other end of the spectrum, we set up an ad hoc online insight community for Nike Hong Kong with a mix of fashionistas and sneakerheads to understand the impact on the local sneaker culture. Engaging with these youngsters over the course of three weeks provided Nike a 360° view of their consumers, fueling the brand with relevant insights to reignite the local sneaker culture.

Online communities support brands in becoming more consumer-centric by bringing internal stakeholders closer to their audiences and fostering holistic human understanding, empathy and intuition – ultimately fuelling strategic and tactical business decisions. Here’s how:


1. People

It all starts with them.
At the heart of our insight communities (no matter the size) is a diverse and intimate group of people who are both ‘interesting’ and ‘interested’.

  • ‘Interesting’ is about defining who is interesting for your community’s goals and objectives, such as specific brand consumers, or category-leading & passionate consumers.
  • ‘Interested’ is about finding those who are eager to collaborate. Rather than just show up, we want people who actively contribute and share their experiences.

Give them a seat at the table.
We embrace community members as equals, build meaningful relationships with them and bring them closer to stakeholders.


2. Perspectives

We listen to what people mean, not just what they say.
The power of consumer collaboration lies in embracing diversity and engaging with the right people for the right challenge. Using a mix of ‘think’, ‘feel’, ‘do’, ‘make’ activities, and collaborating even beyond our technology platform (for example by sending people on missions) provides human understanding.

There is not one view.
People can’t always express what drives and motivates them. To achieve this, we need to zoom out and bring in fresh perspectives (e.g., semiotics, cultural intelligence) to put people’s daily lives in the context of changing culture.


3. Partnership

We don’t just help you understand what matters, we help you act upon it.
Just as community members need continual nurturing, so do internal stakeholders. We build true partnerships to help you become more consumer-centric and turn insights into strategy and action. This starts by clearly defining the community purpose and aligning it with specific business goals. From there we develop a roadmap for stakeholder engagement to fuel consumer empathy, inspiration and intuition.


So here it is – online communities are more than a platform or a technology. With a focus on connection and collaboration it be your ‘operating system’ towards more human-centric decision making.

Let’s connect

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