Tag Archives: ComBlu

Third Annual ‘State of Online Branded Communities’ Study Released

Our SocialC20 friends at Comblu have released the third annual ‘State of Online Branded Communities’ study. For your copy of the findings, click here.

It’s no surprise that “An organization’s branded assets should offer a mix of content, conversation and community.” and “Those brands that do community well present both the voice of the brand and the voice of the customer throughout their site experience.”

However there were some new trends that surfaced, including:
Recommendation engines: With functionality that offers “If you enjoyed X you may also like Y” style recommendations, this service can be useful to communities across industries.
Advocates: the use of advocates is still low (20% adoption rate), but communities that adopt this practice have much higher engagement levels.
Mobile: 16% of the communities reviewed offer an app. Mobile experiences are growing.

One result of the study is that the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), ComBlu and The Community Roundtable are collaborating to bring a community management certificate program to market to help standardize the job as well as help organizations train people who are assuming community management duties.

To learn more about the study, including what brands performed best, download your copy of the findings here.

Michelle LeBlanc is a Social Media Strategist at IIR USA with a specialization in marketing. She may be reached at mleblanc@iirusa.com

The State of Online Branded Communities

I know sometimes we all get so head’s down in the business of every day that we don’t look at the larger industry trends. We are going to help with that by bringing the latest trends to you. To start off, Kathy Baughman, of ComBlu, shares the insights coming from their State of Online Branded Communities study. Not sure if your community competes with the best of the best? Read on to find out!


“Social Marketing is Growing Up” by Kathy Baughman, Principal & Founder, ComBlu

The single biggest takeaway from ComBlu’s second annual ‘State of Online Branded Communities’ study, is that far more top brands are demonstrating a strategic and cohesive approach to community as means to build long term customer engagement. Adopting a Center of Excellence orientation, many brands are consistently applying best practices across all their social assets. This is in sharp contrast to the more experimental and campaign-oriented approach exhibited last year.
In ComBlu’s study, we closely examine the community and social marketing programs of 78 companies across 12 industries. We joined and evaluated 241 communities, comprising a mix of feedback, advocacy and support communities. One of our major goals was to gain firsthand experience with 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 Take Aways

Last year, few brands in our study exhibited any evidence of an integrated approach to social engagement. Many communities were built around multiple’but unrelated’viral or online campaigns. They seemed less about long-term customer engagement and more about trying the latest social tools or applications.

This year, the number of brands with a cohesive approach to social engagement increased significantly. In addition, many companies are standardizing to a single community platform to facilitate tighter integration between properties. This also allows for a single login and the ability to reward points wherever the member is engaging and prevents ‘gateway’ confusion.

Good News

We found plenty of encouraging news in this year’s study.
‘ The percentage of brands exhibiting a Cohesive Strategy increased from 20% to 33%.
- The number of companies that are High Performers (scoring 35 or more points) jumped from 11% to 33%.
- Activity levels in online communities are also significantly higher. This is the expected outcome when communities give members more ways to contribute and connect with each other; reward their actions; showcase accomplishments of high performing members; and provide topical information on what’s new and exciting. Each of these best practices has higher adoption rates in this year’s study, with some brands showing a three to four times increase in usage levels over last year.
‘ Brands are doing a much better job delivering diverse engagement experiences by providing members with multiple ways to participate.
‘ Communities with the highest activity levels tend to focus on a specific need or interest. Those with creative engagement tools, but no clear mission, have less activity.
‘ Gaming and Entertainment industries have the most active communities, followed by Insurance, Technology and Telecommunications. With the exception of Insurance, these are also the highest scoring industries overall.
‘ Many companies are standardizing to a single community platform to facilitate tighter integration between properties. This also allows for a single login and the ability to reward points wherever the member is engaging and prevents ‘gateway’ confusion

Our research also found much greater integration between a brand’s sponsored community site and its other social assets such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. However, only 61% of brands offer sharing functionality, which limits members’ abilities to be catalysts for community growth and content syndication.

Still Room for Improvement

While this year’s study uncovers significant positive momentum in the adoption of best practices, no brand scored in the highest quartile (50 or more points). We were surprised that fewer than 40% of the communities we joined have any kind of rewards or recognition program. ‘Microfame”defined as a member’s status within the community’is one of the key drivers for sustaining participation. In addition, a best-in-class reputation management tool will allow the community manager to mine member actions for deep strategic insights.

Nearly half of the communities we studied still have no active community manager visible as the ‘face of the brand.’ This misses a huge opportunity to personalize the brand and create a human connection.

A few of the brands in our study are creating communities across all three pillars of social engagement’Feedback, Advocacy and Support’but the vast majority focus on Advocacy. The brands that focus on support tend to be among the highest scoring communities; these communities are the most mature and have evolved consistently over time.

The lowest scoring communities provide no real path to engagement. They tend to have a Social Web model that allows some interaction with content, but provides few ways to connect with peers, build on the thoughts or ideas of others or provide any feedback.

In contrast, the High Performers (brands scoring 35 or more points), provide highly customized, meaningful experiences to members. They push content aligned with both the information provided by members during the profiling process and their actions in the community, thus making their experiences better over time.

We’ll explore this further at this year’s Social Media & Community 2.0 Strategies Conference.

ComBlu will use this study as a basis for discussion at this year’s SM 2.0 Conference. Three of the Top Performing brands from the study’Verizon, NBC Universal and Dell’will comprise a general session panel to do a deeper dive into their strategies behind the results.

Social Media: ‘Convenience Samples’ without the guilt?

by Kathryn Korostoff, Research Rockstar LLC

Two of today’s social media track speakers helped shed light on a great issue: using online communities as a convenience sample, and doing it well.

One was Dawn Lacallade from ComBlu. She spoke twice today, though I only had the pleasure of observing one of her sessions. I also enjoyed the presentation by Sean Bruich, from Facebook. Sean generously shared a lot of examples with real data, collected by Facebook. Sitting in these two sessions back-to-back gave me a great list of specific ways to think about the credibility and reliability of social media-based research.

As a starting point, let’s be honest: one of the challenges with social media research is, indeed, perceived credibility and reliability. Lots of folks are a bit skeptical that all of this ‘social media research’ hype is, well, a bit too hypey.

Now before I begin, I want to note that while may people use the term ‘social media research’ to be about sentiment monitoring, both of these speakers were more focused on using communities’whether private, branded ones (such as a company might build) or a broader one (Facebook)’as a place to conduct research. So the context here is online communities’open or closed, brand-hosted or not’as a sample source.

So How To Improve The Perceived Reliability and Credibility of SM-gathered Research?

1. Trust but verify. As Dawn suggests, ideas or results from a specialty community can be vetted at the brand’s website as a single question poll. For example, if you learn in your community that feature X is critical, ask a simple question on your website. Is it? Sometimes you may find that the larger group is aligned with the smaller, more specialized one. But in any case, you don’t want to over promote the results from the community without first vetting with a larger population. This will help overcome legitimate objections to community-based research results’such as, ‘how can we trust data from a group of people obviously already biased towards our brand’?

2. Educate research clients about the community, as a preemptive strike. Your audience may be making some incorrect assumptions about the community profile. Sean from Facebook shared some data that would make even the biggest cynics of convenience sampling take a second look. Here are some highlights:

  • ?? Analysis shows that the Facebook poll results about recent election outcomes were nearly identical to those from Gallup and Rasmussen. In fact, the FB results were closer to each than they were to each other!
  • ?? Facebook gives excellent international access; indeed, most users are non-US. And anyone who does global research knows how challenging data collection can be in some parts of the world.
  • ?? Research by Facebook suggests that a convenience sample from Facebook matches well with any sampling from the overall Internet population on nearly any measure.

3. Demonstrate affordable innovation. One of the powerful examples was from Facebook, on the topic of ad testing. Consider this scenario: Brand X plans to start a new ad campaign and wants to test effectiveness. On FB, the target market can be selected (based on interests, not just demographic data). Then the target is exposed to the ad, likely in multiple versions, while a small percent is held out as a control group. Next step: post a 1 question poll to the target market. The question might be on brand recognition, brand preference, purchase plans’whatever is relevant. One can compare these results easily between the ad-exposed group and the control group. But in this way, the brand can tie the ad testing to the polling question with whatever timing it wishes (even same day). Cool.

Bottom line

Many researchers maybe feeling skeptical about gathering data from communities. But as these points illustrate, it may not be as risky as one might assume. And also, we all just need to be realistic’nobody is saying this replaces the need for all traditional market research. Still, after these sessions, I am more convinced than ever that it will replace some.

[As a tangent, both speakers happened to emphasize the value of the one-question poll. It gets a much higher response rate than a link to an online survey. And since you are working with a known community anyway, tedious, invasive questions about age, gender, and such do not need to be gathered. So get to the point, don't abuse the audience, and ask a single question.]