ComBlu recently released its 2012 edition of "The State of Online Branded Communities," a study of how big brands are handling community performance, member engagement, and social media integration.
Anyone who is currently running an online community should absorb, analyze and put this study under their pillow at night, but for those of you who are time-crunched, I've pulled out 10 actionable takeaways.
1. It's Time to "Do Both" Social and Community
If you want to truly build a community, it's no longer enough to do "just Facebook" or "just forums." Take the best of both and present a cohesive experience for your customers/fans. This doesn't mean you have to adopt every new social network that comes along. It means that you ideally have a solid home base as well as social outposts.
2. Avoid Stale Content like the Plague
Don't advertise "new content" if it's not dynamically updated on a consistent basis. A steady flow of new content (whether it's generated by you or your community members) is good for SEO, good for customer service, and good for your business. If you haven't blogged in 6 months, disable the blog and move on to a different tactic.
3. Answer the Phone
Hire and use the services of a great community manager. Someone must be visibly present within the community, and actively answering questions and providing direction. Any social profile or community that's visible must have a level of corporate responsiveness, or it should be phased out.
4. Think Creatively When Building Customer Communities
If you build Fry-o-Matics, your community doesn't need to be about Fry-o-Matics. Think about the passions and interests of those who buy your product. Consider a recipe sharing community or a cooking community.
5. Implement Leaderboards
One of the best practices for running a successful community is recognizing and promoting your active participants. Offering a points system, special badges, or some other type of public recognition is something that 70% of the highest scorers in the study had done.
6. User Reviews are Key
More and more often, online buyers are looking for peer recommendations before making a decision. If you have the ability to highlight user reviews, your community can be a source of referrals and sales.
7. Find and Foster Your Brand Advocates
You don't have to be Coca-Cola to include brand advocates in your strategy. Many small businesses are already talking to their "VIP" customers and rewarding them with insider information, special discounts, or other perks. Extend this type of program into your online community as well.
8. Offer a Cohesive Experience
Some of the big brands in the study are having a hard time pulling together a good user experience across social networks and niche sites. The key takeaway for the rest of us is to lower the barriers between outposts as much as possible, using single sign-on, social logins, and other technology to make it easy to move between different content areas.
9. Review what's Working and Make Adjustments
Guess what? Even the big brands don't have it all figured out yet, and they're spending millions of dollars. Don't beat yourself up if you don't have it nailed. Try something, and measure it against your business goals. If it didn't work, make an adjustment and try something else.
10. Offer User Personalization
Find ways to allow your members to personalize their space, whether it's pulling their desired social feeds into their profiles, showing off their content in a widget, or tagging. User control is a pathway to a better experience.
Many brands continue to define Facebook as their community and point to the number of fans or likes as an indicator of community success. Yet countless studies have concluded that "likes" are NOT equivalent to "relationships with customers." In reality, a social-only strategy is an incomplete line of attack, as is a "branded community-only" approach. --The State of Branded Online Communities, ComBlu, November 2012
Have you read the full report? What did you find most surprising/interesting?