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CoRe: A community research framework

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As a product manager, you want to understand your users or target audience as thoroughly as possible. There are many commonly used techniques for achieving this, such as user interviews, qualitative research through surveys, usability testing, persona creation, empathy maps, and so on.

However, what I don't often hear about people in the industry doing is systematically researching, analyzing, and engaging in online communities. Isn't this an obvious option, though? Just take a look at a subreddit on Reddit. Regardless of the product you're working on, chances are pretty high that there's a community on Reddit with matching interests. Even if you're operating in an extremely niche field, you'll likely find at least a few hundred users sharing their experiences, frustrations, and needs. Unless you're working on the most esoteric thing in the world, you can easily connect with thousands of potential customers from whom you can learn.

I'm pretty sure that this is a subset of market research. I'm not the first person to come to this conclusion, but I feel this field is underutilized and has much greater potential. So here I am, proposing a systematic approach to community research.

CoRe Framework

Since the PM and tech community loves acronyms, I couldn't be happier that the starting letters of Community Research lend themselves to a meaningful word: CoRe.

The CoRe (Community Research) framework is built on three fundamental pillars: observe, engage, and implement. Each pillar consists of several actions that product managers can take to dive deeper into their respective communities and gain valuable insights.

Observe

The first step in the CoRe framework is to observe. This involves not just passive observation, but strategic and mindful monitoring of the community. The aim is to understand what's important to the community, what problems they are facing, and how they are currently dealing with those problems.

Begin by identifying relevant online communities for your product. Reddit is a great place to start, but don't limit yourself. Explore communities on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and niche forums. Once identified, spend time on these platforms daily, understanding the dialogues, discussions, and even memes that are prevalent.

Additionally, set up Google alerts for key product-related keywords to receive updates on new discussions or mentions. This phase can also involve using social listening tools to capture and analyze community sentiments.

Engage

The second pillar of the CoRe framework is engagement with the community. It's crucial to do this in a non-intrusive and respectful manner, thereby contributing value to the community. Engagement involves asking questions, responding to inquiries, and even conducting informal polls or surveys.

This approach doesn't mean you should disclose your role or intent outright. It's more about participating in discussions as an active community member, rather than as a product manager fishing for insights. Doing so not only provides invaluable direct user feedback but also fosters trust and builds relationships with potential customers.

Implement

The final step of the CoRe framework is the implementation of gathered insights. The information you've collected from observing and engaging with the community constitutes raw data. The key now is to turn that data into actionable insights.

This step may involve creating user stories, revising product roadmaps, or updating feature sets based on the information gathered. It's important to be systematic in how you organize and act upon these insights. Implement a feedback loop where the product development team can regularly review and prioritize these community insights.

The CoRe framework should not replace existing user research methods but rather complement them. When paired with traditional methods like user interviews, surveys, and usability testing, it allows for a much richer, well-rounded view of the user.

Community research offers a genuine, unfiltered window into the lives of your users. By incorporating the CoRe framework into your product management strategy, you can tap into this vast source of insights and align your product more closely with the needs and expectations of your users. It's time we stopped overlooking online communities and started recognizing them as the gold mines of insights they truly are.