A Shift to Longer Duration, Online Research Communities

Just before the new year, Ramius quietly celebrated the first anniversary of our Recollective software’s commercial launch. That first year was an incredible learning experience for the Ramius team and we continue to gain a tremendous amount of feedback from our customers and prospects on each and every project. Everything that’s been shared with us contributes to improvements in the software, supporting services and helps us to envision how to innovate Recollective into a vital online platform for research and insights in the months and years ahead.

We’ve seen a shift over this first year in project size. We initially found a typical study involved approximately 50 participants and most often lasted for one or two weeks. As the year progressed, the typical number of participants remained at a similar level but we found the study duration extended to one month or longer. On many occasions we also saw that Recollective was being used in a sequence of projects. Sometimes, this involved numerous phases of online qualitative research, all done on Recollective. Other times, Recollective served as the online qual platform in a study that preceded or followed quant work. We also saw a number of very large continuous communities launched on Recollective, used by agencies to provide their brand clients with as-needed consumer insights.

We were interested to understand this shift and whether it was as a result of the platform maturing, the market evolving or simply our customers becoming more comfortable using Recollective. 
Not surprisingly, after looking at all the projects we completed and talking to many of our Recollective customers, this shift appears to be a result of all of those reasons.

At launch, the platform was most easily understood and categorized by researchers as being from the bulletin board family. Accordingly, early projects were often designed as short bulletin board studies. As the year progressed, we saw research designs incorporate more activity-based approaches as researchers learned how to take advantage of Recollective’s activities and tasks engine for immersive research exercises.

Towards the latter part of year one, our market research agency partners were able to pitch and win more community-oriented engagements with their clients based on Recollective. When asked, they indicated it was partly due to there being more community-projects available and their confidence in the platform strengthening with more features to want to conduct longer studies with increased participant engagement.


The typical nature of a 50-participant, 2-week Recollective project involves something like insight needs for a client’s innovation and product development processes. The business functions are involved in generating and gathering ideas to develop into a new product or service and will have questions that research can help answer at various times.

It’s a familiar pattern: an agency is commissioned by their client and conducts a study. The agency debriefs the client with findings and the client integrates the new insights into their thinking. Later, as new questions and budget emerges, the client commissions a follow-on project with new questions. Sometimes, a follow-on project may integrate a survey along with Recollective’s qualitative capabilities. Essentially, this kind of project maps directly on to a common process for satisfying marketing research needs by hiring agencies to answer questions via small projects.

A specific Recollective example is a case where our agency partner worked with a global telecommunications company to conduct studies of the lifestyles of its target consumers — the data was useful to the business team as the product concept was being developed. Later, a follow-on project was done to have these same consumers test and give feedback about the actual product but this time feeding back to both product managers and also the marketing team.


To provide an example of how a similar end-client can use a longer-term study, we can stay in the telecommunications industry. A Recollective partner used the software to power an online community / sounding board which was established with 400 US-based customers following interviews and focus groups.

The business focus of the longer duration online research community was to inform its business decisions about streamlining customer service systems and processes. For example, the community was consulted to:

  • identify areas where systems and processes could be improved
  • ensure consistency and excellence at points of customer contact
  • provide insights to help develop new customer support tools, systems and processes
  • test and optimize customer communications

Some key advantages of moving to a longer ranging community approach included:

Ideas from internal and external sources
A continuous community approach supports a customer-centric business. While we saw small projects commissioned to understand a consumer segment or to test product concepts, the community approach is being used even earlier and throughout the various product development process stages with customers being involved early on to suggest product ideas and improvements.

We’ve seen studies that involve panels representative of target consumers to recruitment of samples from among communities of passionate and enthusiastic customers (and, in the example mentioned, customers who were detractors).

From standalone projects to continuous insights
Business units can gain insights faster when they have a ‘sounding board’ of customers to poll compared to the normal process of initiating a new study project (e.g. write business requirements and RFP, select agency, agency recruits, runs study, reports, etc.). Quicker feedback empowers the business function with insights to make better informed decisions, potentially getting to market faster and reducing rework.comm

Research as engagement
In a longer ranging community, insights which resulted in something being actioned by the company help the participant feel that their opinions mattered, bridging the gap between marketing and research by strengthening loyalty and encouraging positive word-of-mouth promotion.

Technology provides a high degree of flexibility by allowing for multiple methods over longer time frames
Modern online research platforms allow for a variety of methods to be used to gather insights. For example, using the social features in Recollective, we’ve seen participants begin interacting with one another in discussion forums and raise questions not even considered by the end client. Then, with more time to interact, researchers are better able to design and execute follow-on activities to test and confirm insights gleaned from discussions and earlier exercises, adding to the overall value delivered to the client.

Of course, these are just some of the reasons why researchers continue to increase the time and participant numbers for their online qualitative studies. We’ll continue to monitor this trend and will share more examples with you as we continue on in Recollective’s second year!

Recollective Tips & Tricks: Fun with Summary Statistics

Often one of the first things participants see when they login to a Recollective study is the stats bar on the summary page.

To admins this bar gives a high level look at the status of the study. You can see what percentage of your participants have logged in, how many total study visits there have been, the number of completed activities, comments and ratings, and the number of discussion posts.

To participants this bar tells them about their own activity in the study. They can see how many activities they’ve completed, how many times they’ve logged in, the number of ratings and comments they’ve made and how many times they’ve posted in discussions. If they have any overdue activities we’ve highlighted this section in red in the hopes of alarming them into completing them!

Feedback indicates that both admins and participants love this feature. It helps admins to take the pulse of the study and it gamifies the study for participants. It’s amazing how many participants strive to get their bar up to 100%!

Despite it’s popularity with admins and participants alike, in my opinion this feature is underused. The default is to display stats for the entire duration of the study, however this can be updated to display stats for preset date ranges (eg. past 7 days, past 30 days, this month) or if this doesn’t do it for you, you can create a custom start date to begin the stats on.

These options are particularly useful for longer duration studies, however they can be applied to shorter projects as well. Since we know participants respond well to the stats bar, it could, for example, be reset every week or even every day. This will engage your participants as they strive to reach 100% completion each time it is reset. As a best practice, and to avoid an influx of support emails, I recommend letting participants know when and how often the bar will be reset.

Have you had enough of summary stats yet? I didn’t think so. Here’s a couple more stats bar tricks for you.

The Disappearing Stats Bar

Do you love the stats bar but are afraid it may be distracting, confusing or create unnecessary concerns for your clients? We completely understand and have built in a permission to hide it from all client accounts assigned to the study. To make this change edit the study settings in the side panel and make sure the View summary tab statistics option is unchecked.

Now that it’s hidden from your clients, the next inevitable question is: what about the participants? Don’t worry, we’ve covered this as well! If you’d like to hide it from your participants there are two easy ways to do so. The first is by selecting the Summaries button in the right corner of the summary tab and choosing the Hide Statistics option. The second is by selecting the action menu next to the summary statistics section header and choosing the Hide Section option.

Both of these options will hide the summary stats from your participants, your clients (if they’ve been given permission to view them) and even from you. If you’d like to bring them back follow the same instructions, but select either the Show Statistics or Show Section option in these dropdown menus. Although every other section on the summary tab (summary header, current activities, recent responses and topics for discussion) will behave in the same manner, there is one difference with statistics when they are turned back on.

Once re-enabled, there is a link next to the section header that will save this option for your participants. This means if you’ve hidden the stats from your participants you are able to temporarily turn them on so you can check the pulse of the study, but be confident that participants won’t notice this momentary change to their summary page as well. Clicking the Save as default for participants link will enable the stats bar on your participants’ summary pages. If you do not click that link then whenever your page is next refreshed the stats will disappear.

Did we miss anything with the stats bar? Can you see any areas where it can be improved? Add a comment to let us know what you think.