How RTI is Using Youth Insights to Empower US Teens to Make Healthy Decisions

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RTI International is dedicated to improving the human condition. The nonprofit research institute uses science and technical proficiency to turn knowledge into practice through hundreds of projects each year. Their 5,000 strong staff across 75 countries work on complex social and scientific challenges for both government and commercial clients worldwide.

In this case study, we’ll show how RTI is using CMNTY Platform to shape a campaign that empowers US teens to make healthy decisions and avoid risky behaviors.

Conducting Communication Research

Veronica Thomas is Communication Strategist at RTI and works in the Center for Communication Science (CCS). Sidney Holt is a Research Associate in CCS with a background in psychology and an applied focus on health.

Veronica and Sidney do a lot of communication research, strategy, implementation, and evaluation work.

Most of their clients are government agencies, foundations, and nonprofits. Their first use of CMNTY platform is on a project with the Administration for Children and Families and Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health, within the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

The Challenge

RTI is working with HHS to launch a national social media campaign designed for US teens ages 13 to 18. This campaign promotes healthy decisions and behaviors, like setting goals, avoiding unhealthy relationships, and resisting peer pressure, to support a successful transition to adulthood.

RTI is taking a youth-centered design approach by creating the campaign with teens for teens. To support this effort to engage teens in campaign ideas and decisions, RTI started using the CMNTY platform to build an online community of youth. Findings from activities on CMNTY are complemented with more traditional data collection methods, like moderated in-person or virtual focus groups.

Portrait of Veronica Thomas and Alex Bornkessel for CMNTY pictured on March 14, 2019. (Photo by Annie Wermiel)

Finding the Right Platform

Because the campaign is spanning multiple years, it was essential for RTI to implement a system for gathering ongoing feedback from youth as the team developed campaign concepts, content and products.

“The long term nature and the rapid testing were two things that made us decide to go to CMNTY,” Veronica added.

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The primary reason for using this online community platform was to meet teens where they are – online – and, using the mobile view, allow them to participate via their devices anytime, anywhere.

RTI collects feedback from nearly 100 members of their target audience to inform their development of campaign messaging and products, such as Instagram posts and graphics, online quizzes, and videos.

Veronica emphasizes: “One of the calls to action for the initial launch of the campaign is for teens to join our online community, which we call The Hive. Users should continue to shape the campaign and have more ownership over it.”

Standout CMNTY Platform Features

In contrast to online forums, data collection platforms, and virtual focus groups, CMNTY offers gamification and a rewards system to drive engagement.

“What I think is really huge is being able to include visuals with our polls and questionnaires”, said Veronica. She added that the RTI team were able to use these features to gain greater insights on creative concepts for campaign branding and products.

One of the key advantages that the team talked about is the decreased burden for researchers and users on CMNTY platform.

Sidney stressed that: “I feel that there is a decreased burden for both participants and researchers. Participants can log in at their own leisure, and complete as many or as few activities as they want. And as soon as we have new products, concepts or content for testing, we can post new activities to test them and alert our users that these activities are up. Feels like an interactive community which is great”.

The Results

“Everything has been intuitive, and support is always immediate and effective. CMNTY is very user-friendly and easy to navigate, even as our online community has grown bigger.”

This is the first project where RTI’s Center for Communication Science used an online research community platform.

According to the RTI team, there were 3 key benefits of using CMNTY platform for their campaign:

#1 Interactive Features Drive Engagement From Members

RTI shared a great example of how they were able to use the platform to drive engagement and capture youth voices.

In one of the questionnaire activities, RTI presented users with the statement “I think twice about ______, so I can __________” and asked them to fill in the blanks.

There were a lot of great answers, but one member’s response was particularly inspiring. The team contacted that member to ask if her answer could be quoted on the campaign website after its launch.

The member gave the team permission and shared that she loved writing. Furthermore, getting positive feedback from the community was empowering and a great boost to her confidence.

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The team also recognized that their target group of teens responded well to gamification and being rewarded with points for their participation.

These features drove their engagement and kept users coming back to the platform to complete more activities.

#2 Rapid Testing of Ideas & Real-Time Feedback

According to the RTI team, their client was happy with the ability to rapidly test ideas with community members via CMNTY platform, without the help of a market research firm to recruit a group for insights.

“This is the first time where we can do more rapid testing. Rapid testing means that we can put up an activity like a questionnaire quickly and get instant feedback from the teens”, Veronica explained

Veronica also shared that during meetings with clients, it had become common for her team to say:

“Oh, that’s a good question, we should test that on The Hive.”

Veronica could see clearly how CMNTY platform has enabled real-time targeted feedback from specific users.

#3 Easier and More Cost-Effective Than Focus Groups

Focus groups take a lot of resources, and it is not cheap to plan and convene one.

With the CMNTY platform, RTI is able to capture voices of teens from across the U.S. and from different age groups, rather than conducting focus groups in discrete locations.

In Veronica’s words:

“We currently have 26 states represented across our members which is fantastic. We can’t feasibly travel to 26 states and do focus groups or interviews with the time and resources allotted.

A Complementary Research Tool

Veronica and Sidney, and the team at RTI, use the CMNTY platform to complement and enhance their traditional research.

“[CMNTY] provides a unique methodology for data collection because it’s less intensive than in-person moderated focus groups. It is also more interactive than a Google form. It’s really great in terms of its efficiency and broad range of offerings,“ Sidney concluded.

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