2012 "State of Online Branded Communities" Study

Posted on November 13th 2012

2012 "State of Online Branded Communities" Study

Mature social brands demonstrated a new level of “experimentation” in their approach to their owned online community assets. This was one of the key conclusions in  2012 State of Online Branded Communities studyfrom ComBlu, which uses both quantitative and qualitative measures to assign Lumen ratings as an indicator of how well a brand delivers an integrated, meaningful experience across its community/social ecosystem. 

2012 State of Online Branded Communities

One of the qualitative data points is an assessment of the maturity of the brand’s community strategy. These range from cohesive, social experimentation, community overload to ghost town. The social experimentation category jumped from 50 percent to 55 percent, which dragged down the scores of some previously high-scoring brands such as Intel, American Express and Discovery. At first, this was disturbing. However, the ComBlu team concluded that this actually is a healthy phenomenon. 

A natural part of the maturation cycle of community strategy is to make adjustments based on member input and performance analytics. When brands first launched communities, legacy knowledge was non-existent and experimentation was rampant. Brands tried many things with no obvious strategy and searched for the ultimate “secret sauce” of community.

As brands gain experience and measurement becomes more sophisticated, they are using their learning to jettison non-performing engagement approaches and are introducing new tools and engagement catalysts. The goal is to stimulate new levels of engagement and reignite dormant community members. They thus enter a new phase of experimentation and no doubt will apply the best performing new ideas across a new cohesive framework in the near future. This is a trend to watch to see if cohesive strategy rebounds in 2013.

Last year, we saw a growth in the number of brands that offered a cohesive framework across their community and social ecosystem. The decline in the percentage of brands in the cohesive category this year equaled the gain in the experimentation stage.

We initiated our study four years ago when we could not find any data about community experience from the members’ perspective. Most research focused on brands self-reporting many things: social marketing budget in dollars and as a percentage of overall marketing spent, growth of that budget year over year, who “owns” social inside the organization, the split between social business and social enablement, how they intended to engage within these communities, and so on. We also found lots of opinion and research about online community best practices, but again, the existing studies stopped short of determining how those practices impact engagement levels, stimulate return visits or generate a robust community experience. 

ComBlu created a best practices scorecard that overlaid multiple studies on the topic to find the core practices across multiple sources. We then joined just over 200 communities representing 92 companies across 15 industries and scored our experiences against the scorecard. While this is a herculean task, it has become a labor of love. Our main objective is to gain first-hand experience of how these communities engage and interact with their members.

Specifically, the research assesses the brands’ effectiveness in:

  • Providing a meaningful experience for members.
  • Integrating their brand strategies across multiple communities and social media.
  • Applying best practices to strengthen customer engagement.

Key Takeaways 

In 2012, we’ve found:

  • Activity levels are generally healthy but fairly static across the board. While 43 percent of communities are enjoying high-levels of activity, that’s a mere one percent jump from last year.
  • Many brands continue to define Facebook as “community” and are missing the opportunity to engage more deeply with defined customer segments through a true online branded community. A “social only” approach is as incomplete as a “community only” strategy. The two are symbiotic and contribute to overall engagement. It is important for brands to understand what to do where and optimize the natural leverage between the owned and social infrastructure.
  • Top performing industries include telecommunications, gaming, technology and consumer electronics, entertainment, and consumer products-beverage. And, notably, #1 ranked Telecomm is the first industry in which all of the brands scored over 50 points.

Once again, the report contains great information, insights and data on community constructs, best practices and social integration but the industry section is especially jam packed this year, with more analysis of segment-specific performance data.

 

This infographic showcases some key highlights from the 2012 report and links to a free download of the study. We’re always interested in hearing what you think and learning about your own experiences, so be sure to share your insights.

 

kbaughman

Kathy Baughman

Kathy Baughman is president and co-founder of ComBlu, an organization specializing in social engagement and influencer marketing. Kathy’s forte is social engagement and social business strategy. Her passions include bringing a fresh point of view to everything she does and helping organizations take their programs to the next level. Kathy is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, with recent appearances at SXSW, Social Media & Community 2.0 Conference, the Department of Defense Social Media Conference and the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit. Kathy is also a gifted panel moderator. She conducts webinars on a variety of topics and leads workshops for organizations seeking to better grasp social strategy. Kathy headed the Healthcare Committee for WOMMA and co-leads its initiative, along with the Community Roundtable, to develop a Community Manager Certification Program. Kathy is also an adjunct professor for Georgetown University and a past board member of the Council of Public Relations Firms. Kathy recently authored an e-book, “Content Supply Chain,” and writes the firm’s annual research report, “State of Online Branded Communities.”

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Comments

FeldmanCreative
Posted on November 14th 2012 at 6:34AM

My oh my. People care about this degree of analysis? Why?

kbaughman
Posted on November 14th 2012 at 6:25PM

@FeldmanCreative: The "State of Online Branded Communities" study was initiated four years ago to offer a view of the member experience from the user perspective. The story the data tells us is that brands need to be more present where conversations occur, provide stimuli for deeper and new conversations and better leverage their community assets within the larger digital eco-system. We believe these are valuable insights for today's social brands.