Tuesday, November 13, 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. 

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.

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