The eMarketer newsletter (November 10, 2010) called my attention to this study from ComBlu. It is a careful analysis of 241 branded communities. As you might expect, these are leaders by definition, and the report finds 33% of them to be High Performers, but none Stellar Performers (p. 8). That says that most of us are likely on the sidelines or in the very early stages of building a branded community.
Radian6 has a publication for those who are considering or experimenting. It has lots of good ‘how to’ info that is especially strong on the amount and type of resources required. They have 10 good questions that assess whether a branded community is for you. I’ve boiled it down to 4; you might want to read the original (pp. 5,6). Here’s my summary:
• Do you have a business goal and clear marketing objectives that specify what you want to accomplish?
• How will your community add value to the customer experience?
• Do you have the resources and expertise to support a vibrant community?
• What metrics will you use to gauge success?
The ‘resources and expertise’ issue suggests substantial experience in social media—building a Facebook community for example. If that is successful, companies tend to want their own community over which they can have total control, not have to rely on the functionality and rules of the platform. I’ve written about firms that provide community-building services (1, 2) and many other aspects; just search ‘community’
Back to the original subject; community best practices. I found this chart especially interesting. The researchers at ComBlu added 10 best practices to their 2010 list. That certainly suggests how fast the space is changing. It also suggests that there’s a big shake-out to come as we find out which are the 'best of the best' practices!
They, of course, compared adoption of their original set of practices in 2010 vs. 2009. I’ve highlighted the ones that had doubled or more in adoption. If you look at the ordering for 2009 (comments the most widely adopted practice, for example), the adoption of specific best practices has changed hugely over the past year. The suggestion there is a maturing space. Among the greatest changes are fun engagement tools, rich media (which I’d also categorize as engaging) and faceted search (people search on LinkedIn, for example). The ones that warm my heart are integration and site stats! Definitely a maturing space.
There’s a lot of detail in the report about best practices by industry that you may find useful. But for those of you who believe it’s only for the large, global brands, here’s a contrary example. I wrote about the Fiskars community in early 2009. It still has much the same structure and is still clearly a customer retention effort. Don’t expect much in the way of acquisition from a community effort although blog posts written for search and tagged will bring in some people who are browsing. Mostly, though, it’s retention, and as the Fiskars example shows, it can be powerful. I ran across the video awhile ago; admittedly it’s long, but the first 18-20 minutes is the presentation and the rest is Q & A. It’s worth listening to; the point being that they’ve been at it—successfully—for awhile in what is definitely a set of niche markets.
The most important point about best practices is that they are still evolving. So don’t run out and try to implement them all. Think about what makes most sense for your customers, your brand. Are emoticons going to remain on the list for years to come? My sense is that items like that are already being replaced with activities with more strategic value!