ComBlu’s Fourth Annual Study of Online Community Performance, Member Engagement and Social Media Integration Reveals a New Level of Experimentation Among Mature Social Brands

Share Article

Despite gains, ComBlu’s study of 92 corporations and 200+ online communities finds that optimizing the member experience remains an aspirational goal. Highest performing brand for second year is Verizon, followed by SAP and Sony PlayStation. 37 percent of brands exhibit a cohesive strategy, down from 42% last year. Telecommunications is the sole industry with high activity levels across all brands; pharmaceutical industry exhibited the lowest activity.

Highlights of ComBlu's 2012 State of Online Branded Communities Report

ComBlu’s fourth Annual Study of Online Community Performance, member engagement and social media integration of America’s top brands revealed that mature social brands are actively demonstrating a new level of experimentation in their approach to their owned online community assets. This was one of the key findings in the 2012 State of Online Branded Communities report that was released today by ComBlu. The study looks at both quantitative and qualitative measures as indicators of how well a brand delivers an integrated, meaningful experience across its community/social ecosystem.

One of the main qualitative data points in the study is an assessment of the maturity of the brand’s community strategy. These range from cohesive, social experimentation, community overload and ghost town. In the 2012 study, the social experimentation category jumped from 50 to 55 percent, which dragged down the scores of some previously cohesive-ranked, high-scoring brands—such as Intel, American Express and Discovery.

“At first, we considered this shift to be somewhat disturbing. But upon further analysis, we concluded that this actually is a healthy phenomenon,” commented Kathy Baughman, a principal at ComBlu.

“A natural part of the maturation cycle of community strategy is to make adjustments based on member input and performance analytics,” explained Baughman. “Simply put, brands have gained experience and measurement has become more sophisticated. Companies are appropriately using what they have learned to adjust their approach to stimulate new levels of engagement and reignite dormant community members. This has caused them to enter a new phase of experimentation that dropped their scores today, but will likely put them in a better place in the near future. This is a trend we will keep a close eye on to see if the cohesive strategy levels rebound in 2013.”

The study, available as a free download, examines the community and social marketing programs of 92 brands across 15 industries. ComBlu, a firm specializing in social business and engagement, joined and evaluated 219 online communities, comprising a mix of Feedback, Advocacy and Support communities.

The research assesses a 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

Other key takeaways from the 2012 study include:

  •     Activity Level Consistent. Activity level among industries and brands is generally healthy, but fairly static across the board. While 43 percent of communities are enjoying high-levels of activity, that is only a small one percent increase over 2011.
  •     Facebook as a Community. A large number of 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.
  •     Telecom Tops all Industries. Top performing industries include telecommunications, gaming, technology and consumer electronics, entertainment, and consumer products-beverage. Notably, the number one ranked Telecomm industry is the first in which all of the brands scored over 50 points.
  •     Social Savvy Brands. Brands that are “community superstars” include Verizon, SAP, Sony PlayStation, EA, AT&T, Bravo, IBM, Cisco, Kraft, Microsoft, Sprint, Xbox, Sears, T-Mobile and Whole Foods.

ComBlu created and utilizes a best practices scorecard that overlays multiple studies on the topic to find the core practices across numerous sources. In 2012, ComBlu introduced new lumen ratings to indicate performance tiers for the study. These range on the low-end from “lights out” to “klieg light” as the highest rating possible.

While no brand achieved “klieg light” status in 2012, Verizon came very close with 56 points and once again is the study’s highest-performing brand. SAP maintains the number two position followed by Sony PlayStation in the third slot, an honor it shared last year with two other brands.

“Understanding how to use community to create and syndicate a mix of brand and customer content throughout the buying journey is definitely the new normal for folks in marketing, customer support and product management,” continued Baughman. “While best practice adoption continues to inch up and brands have started to employ learning to improve its social properties, optimizing the member experience remains largely an aspirational goal.”

ComBlu published this infographic to showcase some key highlights from the 2012 report. The full report can be found at:

For more information, contact:
Peter Duckler or Pam Flores
pduckler(at)comblu(dot)com, pam(at)comblu(dot)com

About ComBlu
ComBlu is a full-service social business and engagement firm specializing in building and growing online communities for corporations, brands, associations and employees; integrating social media into marketing mix; finding and activating brand advocates; and measuring ROI of social programs. ComBlu has developed more than 30 communities in 20 languages with more than 15 million members. ComBlu also offers proprietary measurement and reputation management products. The firm was founded in 2003 and has offices in Chicago, Indianapolis, Denver, Austin and Los Angeles. The company can be found at


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Peter Duckler
Email >
Follow us on
Visit website