What is an insight community?

An insight community is a way for brands to conduct ongoing, primary research with their customers and consumers. Insight communities enable real-time, continuous engagement with community members in a safe and secure online environment. 

Community members are deeply profiled and are highly engaged in community activities and results. An insight community should offer a route to actionable, agile insights while maintaining, and even improving brand-customer relationships.

What is insight?

As Jonathan Dalton of Thrive astutely puts it, insight is neither data nor observation. Data forms the foundational building blocks of observation. Trends, commonalities and correlations can be extracted from data; these are observations. So if data is the foundation of observation, and observation is the ‘what’, then insight is the ‘why’.

Merriam-Webster define insight as ‘the ability to understand people and situations in a very clear way’, as well as ‘an understanding of the true nature of something’.

Translating this into the world or market research and understanding, insight aims to provide a way into the mind of customers and consumers. A way to experience their motivations first-hand, and see what drives decisions, opinions, and values when it comes to engaging with brands in their day-to-day lives.

What is agile insight?

Roddy Knowles of Feedback Loop provides a clear and concise description of agile insight in his LinkedIn article, ‘What is Agile Research and Why Should Insights Teams Care?’.

What is actionable insight?

Not all insights are created equal! Some discoveries might be valuable information to have, but might not be possible to act on in the immediate, near or distant future. That said, actionable insight is the holy grail of all insight. Actionable insights are meaningful findings we can base strategic decisions on and use to inform product innovation for pricing and new product development, further market understanding and more.

You can read more about actionable insight in Thematic’s blog on the topic here >

What is an insight community?

An insight community is a way for brands to conduct ongoing, primary research with their customers and consumers. Insight communities enable real-time, continuous engagement with community members in a safe and secure online environment.

Community members are deeply profiled and are highly engaged in community activities and results. An insight community should offer a route to actionable, agile insights while maintaining, and even improving brand-customer relationships.

What are the components of an insight community?

An insight community will differ from platform to platform. Each provider has its USPs and areas of strength, but there will be consistent elements across each platform:

  • Platform
  • Community members
  • Rewards and incentives
  • Staff resources & consultancy
    • Insight consultancy
    • Community managers
    • Survey scripters
    • Front-end development & design
    • Back-end development & admin
  • Reports & outputs
  • Socialising data resources
researchbods insight community


A platform is required for all insight communities, and this comes in the form of software, usually provided in the ‘as-a-service’ model. Platforms are usually browser-based in order to avoid the need for users to download or install anything.

Community members

An insight community platform is useless without community members to engage and derive insight from. Community recruitment, engagement and maintenance can be tricky and requires constant oversight from someone close to your community and who understands your brand. Engagement from community members should be encouraged, nurtured, and incentivised.

Rewards and incentives

Membership participation is usually incentivised by offering cash rewards or Amazon vouchers per form complete, or entries into prize draws for larger prizes (using branded rewards is a good idea!). Engagement can also be driven by ensuring you keep members updated on the outcome of their feedback! What changes were made based on their poll responses? How has their input impacted brand strategy or actions? This is a great way to encourage participation while strengthening brand rapport with community members.

A screenshot of ResearchBods community insight platform, Ex-plor

Staff resources & consultancy

An active community needs care and attention to ensure smooth sailing when it comes to launch, project execution and maintenance. To achieve these tasks effectively, specialists are needed!

Insight consultancy

Data collection and community activities are just the beginning! Generating actionable insights requires insight managers with a knack for taking a varied and lateral approach to picking trends out of the noise. It is a specialised skillset and so brands often choose to take advantage of the services of the experts found in agency and platform provider teams.

Community managers

A community is a living and breathing ecosystem. They’re comprised of real people with values and wants and desires. Because of this, communities sometimes need help keeping on the straight and narrow. Community managers help to keep the peace and moderate interactions between members.

Survey scripters

One question does not a survey make! Scripters are required to program the logic and routing of surveys. This work then needs to be tested to ensure surveys work as designed and required.

Front-end development & design

Insight communities are important touchpoints between brands and highly-engaged groups of their customers. Because of this, a community must embody a brand’s values and visual identity. Through creative and innovative front-end development, an insight community can become a powerful engagement tool for brands.

Back-end development & admin

From a development perspective, insight communities and research communities are comparable to a small-scale social media platform. Each deployment of a community might be different, even If using the same platform. This might be due to tools already used that need to be integrated or custom development needs for projects.

Reports & outputs

An often-overlooked yet essential piece of the puzzle is the ability to report effectively on data, observations, and insights. Data visualisation can help highlight trends and anomalies in data, making it more useful and more likely to result in actionable insight. Reporting methods and tools also help to communicate findings to senior management and key stakeholders.

Socialising data resources

One step further than reporting; socialising data refers to communicating it meaningfully to stakeholders and the wider business in a way that really allows them to understand results and implement positive change. Simple and clear visualisation is often a highly effective way of achieving this. Branded infographics, animations, and videos can help to tell a story and align feedback with company values and goals across teams and departments.

Learn more about how you can gain agile, actionable insight on your customers using ex-plor…

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Why use an insight community?

  • Improve customer experience (CEX)
  • De-risk strategic decision making
  • Drive innovation
  • Enhance marketing & comms

Improve customer experience (CEX)

CEX is a broad field and covers all aspects of your customers’ impressions and opinions of your brand. Do your customers have an affinity for your brand? Do your brand values resonate with your customers? Do your purchase journey and customer service touchpoints create an easy and pleasant experience? Importantly, would your customers purchase from you again, and if not, why not? Insight communities are perfect for answering questions such as these and digging into the answers. This allows brands to diagnose issues and identify potential improvements to be made to the customer experience.

De-risk strategic decision making

Strategic decisions, particularly ones that pivot or change previous methods always carry an element of risk. Many aspects of this risk can be mitigated by gathering feedback and insight through a community. Find out ahead of time whether a new direction that directly or indirectly impacts customer experience is likely to be a success, or to see resistance. Insight communities allow brands to inform decisions with actual data so they can be more confident in their growth and evolution plans.

Drive innovation

Sometimes the next step for a brand to take isn’t totally obvious. Whether adding products/services, launching ESG initiatives, or otherwise, looking to those who interact with your brand can help generate ideas and inspiration. Qual research methods are often a great domain for ideation. Insight communities are perfect for engaging customers in this manner and driving product innovation.

Enhance marketing & comms

Find messaging and imagery that resonates with your audience. Talk to them in their language, on their terms, and generate a rapport between your brand and your customers. Insight communities can help you communicate that new product, or position that new offer that has the potential to be game-changing for your business.

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What are the benefits of insight communities?

The benefits of customer insight gathered from insight communities are largely based around efficiency, scalability and ongoing results. Insight communities provide consistent, agile insight due to their nature of being always-on. Brand can engage constant pools of members to build upon previous insights and even improve customer relationships through the very act of utilising them as a source of data and insight.

Insight communities make fieldwork more efficient and quicker to turn around as communities are already built and engaged. Always-on communities create an ongoing data relationship and view of members, and consistent membership means you don’t need to recruit for each project.

What types of research can be conducted with an insight community?

  • Quantitative research
  • Qualitative research

What is quantitative research?

Quantitative research collects data that can be measured or quantified. It is a research strategy focused on identifying trends, themes, and patterns in the data from (usually large) samples from panels or community memberships.

Consumer insight projects use techniques such as surveys, polls, and many more to gather quantitative data from community members. A good community insight platform will have a comprehensive quantitative toolkit to facilitate the collection of any type of data. Quant research is generally large scale with sample sizes ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands dependent on activity and project scope.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research digs deeper into details than quantitative, where answers are often descriptions, words or stories rather than numbers. It is a research strategy that digs into the driving factors behind answers often provided during quantitative research. It can also be used to uncover feelings and opinions and be used to inform projects such as new product development, comms & campaign research, and more.

Qualitative research methods can help to uncover themes, explain findings, and generally bring quant data to life.  Methods include discussion rooms, focus groups, diary studies and more. Sample size/member involvement for qual research is often much lower to allow more detailed exploration of customer opinions.

Insight communities vs panels vs ad-hoc surveys

What is ad-hoc insight?

Ad-hoc insight is insight approached on a totally project-by-project basis. At its simplest level, ad hoc research means speaking to fresh and different consumers every project. This has downsides in terms of being more costly and time-consuming than having a pool of consumers already profiled and ready to go, which is what panels and communities give you. This isn’t inherently an issue, but it can get expensive and is definitely less scalable than full insight communities.

What are panels?

Panels are similar to insight community member bases; they’re comprised of consumers who have opted into taking incentivised surveys. Panel members represent a broad spectrum of the population, as opposed to communities, which tend to be made up of brand customers and evangelists. Panel members are mainly signed up to complete quant surveys, so they can’t satisfy as wide a range of tasks. The relationship is transactional (as they’re paid per complete) and is one way – there’s no ongoing, two-way conversation between brand and panel members.

A panel engaging in insight community activities


What is consumer insight?

Consumer insight is meaningful information on a brand’s current and prospective consumers, providing they fit a specific set of criteria in line with the goals of a given project. This information is used to inform marketing campaigns, product development, pricing, and more.

Consumer vs customer: What’s the difference?

A customer is the purchaser of a product or service from a company or brand. A consumer is the user of the product or service. Most of the time the customer is also the consumer unless the product or service is not used by the individual who purchased it.

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