Love marketing journalism? Apply here to become a full-time associate editor of our sister publication, Marketing Dive.

7 Key Trends in Online B2B Customer Communities

Many people travel over the summer – checking off the destinations on their bucket lists. Here at Leader Networks, summer is the time to focus on a different sort of list:  our biennial Online Customer Community Big List. And Fall brings the exciting opportunity to share our research with you.

The Big List of B2B Online Customer Communities is the most comprehensive list of online B2B customer communities in the world.

It includes big companies, small companies, foundations, and non-profits. We first created The Big List in 2011, featuring 94 communities. In 2014, we initiated the process again and the list grew to 126. For the 2016 edition, we're pleased to note that identifying new communities is no longer a challenge. In fact, online communities are now a mainstay of competitive advantage for many B2B firms. So, rather than create a database this year, we analyzed the list of 126 to see how they have changed over time.

7 Key Trends in Online B2B Customer Communities | Social Media Today

So what key trends did our 2016 Big List research uncover?

1. Communities are driving competitive advantage for many B2B firms

More than 40% of the communities that made the Big List 2016 are now active and thriving. This supports our long-held observation that online communities can deliver a richly rewarding experience for the organizations that create them and for the members who participate in them.

In Active and Thriving communities, content is updated regularly and the members in the directory (when present) often share bios and photos. Members are also familiar with each other and offer peer-to-peer support.

As the market moves closer to maturity, we continue to see that with proper planning and business alignment, online communities offer firms new insights, relationships, and revenue streams while meeting and exceeding their members’ needs.

2. Successful communities spawn more communities

In the past two years, 11% of communities from The Big List have proliferated into multiple communities under the same brand. What was once a single, stand-alone community has become a portfolio of multiple, connected communities that are featured on the organization’s web site. This suggests that the company’s initial foray into communities was so successful they were inspired to create more – and to differentiate them.

Federated communities were mainly found in large enterprises. Many are operated under a single online community Center Of Excellence with shared success measured, consistent content, and professional facilitation teams. These communities from The Big List experienced meaningful growth over time because they possess the scale and efficiencies to fuel best practices.

3. Content is king – but not just any content

Notably, our findings indicate that the communities with member-generated content have greater engagement than those who use the community as a marketing channel. As a result, we’re seeing many of the less successful communities shifting to focus on member-driven content creation and publication.

4. A new B2B community business model is emerging

Among the independently run communities (not branded by a single organization) many include corporate sponsors for specific forums. This is a great way for independent communities to maintain their neutrality, serve member interests, and generate revenue.

5. Inconsistent care makes for an incomplete customer journey

Our research shows that 35% of communities are supported, but unevenly. While the right elements are in place – content, information, and discussions  – there's evidence that they are not being nurtured properly. The result? They run the risk of member abandonment and reputational harm for the organization.

However, these communities are not without hope. With some care and feeding, they're likely to turn around and become an asset to the members and the company that launched them.

6. Abandoned communities are a big liability

Nearly 10% of the online communities from the Big List are no longer carefully managed or visibly updated. Many of the communities in this category have numerous unanswered questions, spam in the forums, aged content and, in some cases, members voicing concern about their lack of support.

Unfortunately, abandoned communities are a significant liability for the brand and reputation of the organizations they are a part of. As customer communities are a front-line experience for prospective and current customers, we strongly recommended that brands invest in reinvigorating these communities or developing a strategic takedown plan.

7. Gating may promote customer intimacy

5% of the B2B communities on The Big List have changed their community model from open to the public to private – creating members’ only communities that require approval to join.  Many of these communities have created splash pages that actively market the business value of joining and provide information about the membership but keep the discussions and interactions behind the firewall.

This shift suggests a small but growing trend for B2B firms to seek greater customer intimacy by creating gated spaces for deeper knowledge exchange on a peer-to-peer and peer-to-company level.

Here is the full report for the details:

The Big List gives community professionals a snapshot of the diverse online B2B community ecosystem and the great work being done by their B2B peers. It provides inspiration, generates conversations, and gives companies insight into what’s working – and what isn’t – in the online B2B community space. Most importantly, by providing a benchmark for this category of communities, The Big List shows companies what success looks like so they can raise their bar and get more from their community initiatives.

Does your community belong in the Active and Thriving category of The Big List?  Or could you be getting more value?  Our Online Community Scorecard is a research-based, 70-point diagnostic that evaluates your online community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Contact us at partners@leadernetworks.com for more information.

Join The Conversation

Webinars On Demand

Whitepapers