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Branded communities have yet to evolve, study shows

While branded community adoption is high, this study shows that brands still may be on the bandwagon rather than truly providing value for their customers.
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Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributing Writer on

For all of the talk about branded communities and their importance to major brands, a recent study by marketing firm ComBlu shows that many brands have yet to truly evolve their community strategies, or even efficiently integrate communities with social networking. The study, called "State of Online Branded Communities," analyzed 45 major brands in nine different industries. In order to qualify for the study, these brands had to be considered a large enterprise and a leader in their respective industries.

ComBlu researchers joined 135+ communities in order to conduct this study and measured brands on their ability to provide a meaningful experience to their members, integrate brand strategies across multiple communities and social media, and take advantage of best practices to strengthen customer engagement.

Some observations:

  • Nearly half of the brands (47%) are still in the experimental phase, while only 20% showed a cohesive, integrated approach to their community and social media programs.
  • Only 36% of the brands are leveraging a majority of the community best practices for customer engagement; most communities lacked a human "face."
  • In contrast, the four high performers who achieved a Cohesive Strategy Brand Score on average used 17 of the 23 best practices being evaluated.
  • Only 36% of the communities had high levels of activity.
  • For most brands, community and social media were separate initiatives; only 32% of the 135 communities were integrated with social media.
  • Little evidence was seen to indicate that brands had any kind of strategy for leveraging the feedback, ideas, and insights they gained from communities.

ComBlu reported that only five of the 45 brands scored over 35 points on its scale, and those brands are considered "high performers." The companies include AT&T, Sony, Sears, Bank of America and YouTube. Wells Fargo, Target and WalMart are all considered to be in the "experimentation" phase, while Mini Cooper, Sprint Nextel, Bravo and Novartis were said to have "missed opportunities" with their communities.

One of the larger areas in which ComBlu researchers noticed a delta was with the integration of communities with other social technologies. According to the report:

"Common wisdom today is that the entire web is social and brands are doing a good job of incorporating social tools into websites, often putting many of them behind a 'community tab.' In reality, most of these are good examples of social web but not true communities. They lack the sense of destination and in most instances display no compelling reason to return frequently."

The full report can be downloaded here.

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