By Megan Subler, Senior Research Manager

One thing I hear over and over from brands is that they don’t have a problem soliciting community feedback from loyal customers and “Brand Fans”. What they do struggle with is getting input from consumers who don’t really care about the brand, or, more importantly, consumers who dislike the brand.

Understanding these “Passive Consumers” opens opportunities to improve product and service offerings for a wider consumer base. While insights from avid Brand Fans are invaluable in making business decisions, insights from these “Passive Consumers” are equally essential, but much more difficult to obtain. So how might Coke convince Pepsi drinkers to tell them what they really think? Here are three ways you can use an online community to hear the Passive Consumer loud and clear.

1. If You Incentivize, They Will Come

It’s no secret that a solid incentive structure is key to a healthy community. A good rule of thumb is that the reward consumers receive must be greater than the cost of spending their time and effort in the community. For Brand Fans, a simple thank you and a follow-up about how their input is being used may be sufficient. But, Passive Consumers require more than the satisfaction of sharing their thoughts. Offering additional incentives to Passive Consumers like extra points for completing a survey helps close the gap and encourage participation.

2. Ask and You Shall Receive

Social psychology research shows that the way you ask for feedback dramatically impacts willingness to give feedback. Essentially, it’s not what you ask, it’s how you ask that matters. Social norms dictate that direct asks (i.e. “Take our survey!”) decreases willingness to participate, while indirect asks (i.e. “Can you take our survey?”) increases cooperation. Tailoring content for Passive Consumers to include these indirect asks will make them feel like they’re doing you a favor by participating and make them feel good about themselves.

3. The Hard Truth

The same social conventions that prevent us from being flat out rude to one another may get in the way of tapping into the minds of Passive Consumers: We’re socialized to be polite. Often, Passive Consumers may not participate because they infer you don’t want to hear negative feedback or that their feedback isn’t valuable. At best, they might offer sugar-coated responses that aren’t reflective of their true feelings. That isn’t helpful for, and is even counter-productive to, product and service innovation. Making it clear that you are open to criticism, and even seemingly unimportant feedback, by simply prefacing questions with phrases like, “Please give your honest opinion” or, “We want to hear your thoughts – good, bad, and neutral!” gives Passive Consumers permission to be truthful, open, and honest.