Does size really matter?

Anthony Shephard-Williams, associate director and head of Mustard’s online qualitative services, tackles the big questions that need answering…Does size really matter? 

Apologies if you thought this blog was going to be about something else…

It’s about the quandary that people in the market research industry have been discussing for years – how big should your online community be? Is bigger really better? What is the optimum number of community members?

These are a few of the questions I am often asked when we are setting up a new online community for our clients here at Mustard.

So does size really matter? What’s the answer? Is there a definitive answer?

The anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar focuses on the number 150. He had the idea that as humans we can only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships before intimacy and connection is lost, either in real-life or online.

Does size matter

This got me thinking about the hundreds of communities I have worked on over the last 9 years, and which different sized communities have worked most effectively.

The communities I have managed have ranged vastly in size, from having just 10 members to thousands. Some people may think 10 is just too small or others may think that 1000’s is simply unmanageable.

My response to that? All have been successful in their own way, because essentially at the very essence of these numbers is what we really want and are striving for – a community by its very nature. By this I mean that the people involved all have something in common or a shared interest or experience.

Furthermore, what always strikes me when I have “that” conversation is to consider quality first over quantity. (If you’re still having dirty thoughts – stop it NOW!). After all, as with most things in life, you only get out as much as you put into it, so as community managers we should constantly strive to make our communities more fun, interactive and engaging for all involved, and that way we can be certain we will get the best insights from them.

OK, so there may be some exceptions to the quality over quantity argument – if you need to conduct quantitative research with your community then of course you are going to need to have a larger community, with a higher number of members to be able to achieve statistically robust sample sizes, and then on top of that you may also need to ensure that you have sufficient numbers of sub-groups or segments accounted for too. But on the whole, I stand by this and believe quality truly overrides quantity.

Just because you have a larger community this doesn’t mean that you have to lose the human touch / connection with your members and it has become the norm for us to invite sub-groups or segments to take part in invitation only smaller communities, or a community within a community if you like.

We also have to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the things that drive that strong community feeling just because there are a larger number of members. Regardless of the size it is best practice to be appreciative of your members, to show them we are listening, to encourage and facilitate discussion and most importantly to show them that we value their time.

Does size really matter?

Here at Mustard we design and manage online communities for clients across multiple sectors, engaging with a broad array of audiences and covering incredibly diverse subject matters. We have produced insightful and actionable community reports and debriefs from the insight gleaned from 10 people and we have also collated and condensed the insights from 1000’s.

If you want to know more about our online community experience or to discuss how we can help you create memorable community moments in 2019, please call Anthony Shephard-Williams at Mustard on 0161 235 5270 or email