User research? Just ask your community

Build a product obsessed community. Then tap into them

Nick Reynolds
Apr 10, 2017 · 5 min read

Need to know what to do next? Ask your product community.

Need to fill your backlog with design tweaks? Ask your community.

Need some cash for the next phase of your product? Ask your community.

Not got a community? Create one.

People are used to surveys, focus groups, and emails asking for feedback. They’ve had these for years. Since the arrival of app stores, the rise of UX professionals, and the digital maturity of businesses on the rise, users are becoming more involved in shaping the products they use. They now expect the best experience, and they are willing to help you out, so you can help them out.

So why oh why are we as professionals, not evolving our methods of gaining insight?

Businesses aren’t capitalising on their loyal communities for product research. The methods being used are sometimes overkill and archaic.

Let’s take Monzo as an example. They are a startup bank with the aim of creating a seamless banking experience through your smartphone.

Monzo have managed to build one of the most valuable, product loyal communities I have ever seen, in such a quick time. Apple took a decade to attract fanboys, wheras Monzo has in just a year. Monzo is capitalising on this community in some very useful ways:

  • An open community forum - there are a wealth of discussions here, from new feature ideas, ways to make the current design better, the community answering other user’s questions and business strategy chat. Traditional ways of getting these insights: focus groups, surveys, ignoring your customers complaining on Twitter/Facebook.
  • A transparent product roadmap - The business making all their users aware of what they are working on now, and what is to come in the future. Traditional way: not telling customers anything, until they get an update.
  • A very active slack channel - similiar chat to the forum, but more focussed. Developers chatting about how they are using Monzo’s API, to product evangelists discussing other startup banks such as Starling, Tandem and Atom. Traditional way: people slagging off your product over Skype.
  • An extraordinary ideas board - A public Trello board where the community can put all their valuable ideas to solve their own pain points, which can be voted and commented on. Traditional way: those “what to do next” bullet points ignored by C-level execs in that research insights document you just presented to them today.
Monzo Extraordinary ideas board

What can we deduce from this? Monzo have gained a hell of a lot of insights, without actually dedicating much time, money and resource to research activites.

What to do next? What are the main pain points to solve in our users lives? Just look on the extraordinary ideas board or on the forum.

Damn, we need 10–15 people to test this new feature and get some insights. Just ask on Twitter. There is about 50,000 willing to do it for free.

Want to validate a design before you prototype or build it? Post on the forum and ask for feedback. Imagine traditional banks doing this?! Life would be better for all I think ;)

Very impressed with this. Sharing work in progress designs with the community for feedback

Compare this to an experience I had recently.

I needed to do a card sort with 12 loyal users. Got the budget, did all the prep, told the “insights team” what kind of people I needed. Now, the 2–3 week process starts of sending out survey invites to see “who is interested”, analysing the responses, and filtering out who we want. We then send out the actual invites to those people (with some boring corporate guff in the invite), offering a mere £25 in return for their time.

We recruited 20 people (you know, contingency)..5 people showed up.

With my day rate, the cost of the incentives and the cost on the business for the insight team’s work, that 5 people equates to a loss for that business. (I know, I know, any insight is good insight. But it introduced risk.)

If I could of used a super-community technique mentioned above, or one of many not mentioned above, I could of got have easily got at least those 5 people without that extra business expense.

These methods aren’t the silver bullet for research. They are merely ways of making your community work for you and your product in the background, meaning you can glean golden nuggets of insights every day of the week.

One for the product backlog?

All of the above are some head ramblings I have had recently. I guess, the point I am trying to make is, I see so many businesses jump into thinking they need carry out huge research pieces with multiple researchers, weeks of workshops etc, when essentially they could gain equally as valuable insights from methods such as this. With less risk and business expenditure. And once your community is up and running, it self governs. It’s like a tree that keeps giving you fruit. All year round.

Some key takeaways

Be transparent and get them excited. Tell your users what you are working on now, and in the future. And how it can benefit them. Don’t keep it a secret!

Provide the platform. Give your community the tools to be able to communicate in these ways.

Don’t govern your community. Let your community discussion grow organically, don’t send in an army of company ambassadors or customer support reps.

Keep feeding your product backlog with community insights.

This is my first Medium post, and is a bit of mind dump. I am always looking for new ways to improve my research and product design toolset.

Hopefully it can stir up some discussion around ways these methods can be carried out, and if you’ve seen any companies doing this successfully, feel free to share them!

If you enjoyed this article I would be very appreciative of a💚 and a share :) You can also follow me on Twitter for more ramblings..

P.S. Yes I am a Monzo Fanboy

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