Study Outlines Trends in Successful Online Communities

Toni Bowers
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Online communities offer many benefits for companies. In fact, communities are driving competitive advantage for many business-to-business (B2B) firms, according to the 2016 update of the Big List – a Comprehensive Guide to B2B Community Trends, created by Leader Networks, a digital strategy and research firm.

According to the update, 51 percent of the communities that made the Big List 2016 are active and thriving, supporting Leader Networks’ long-held observation that online communities “can deliver a richly rewarding experience for the organizations that create them and for the members who participate in them.”

Here are some other trends that the report bears out:

Successful Communities Spawn More Communities

In the past two years, 11 percent of the communities from The Big List have proliferated into multiple communities under the same brand.  In other words, these brands have “spun off” a portfolio of connected communities but roll them up under one brand. For example, in addition to its Home community, HP has a community geared toward developers and one focused on software.  On its site, Intuit offers communities for small businesses, individuals and accountants.

Content is King

The findings of the Big List survey indicate that communities with member-generated content have greater engagement than those that use the community merely as a marketing channel. According to Vanessa DiMauro, the CEO of Leader Networks, “Whether members contribute content and whether it is valued by peers and the sponsoring organization was one of our main evaluation criteria for Active and Thriving status.”

The Flexera Software Community was noted by the survey as being a very active and generally well-supported community. DiMauro said it made an excellent show for a small firm.

Flyertalk is also a thriving community, although as DiMauro noted, old technology potentially gets in the way of maximum potential for this one.

The survey also found the Hitachi Data Systems Community to be notable, and that a new interface enhanced the collaboration opportunities.

Gating May Promote Customer Intimacy

Five percent of the communities on the Big List have changed their community model from open to public to private, creating members’ only communities that require approval (and sometimes a fee) to join. DiMauro says this shift suggests a small but growing trend for B2B firms to seek “greater customer intimacy by creating gated spaces for deeper knowledge exchange on a peer-to-peer and peer-to-company level.”

Inconsistent Care Makes for an Incomplete Customer Experience

Research for the Big List showed that 35 percent of communities are unevenly supported. Ten percent are no longer managed or updated at all. Although they have the elements in place for success – content, information and discussions – there is evidence that they’re not being properly nurtured. If content is aged, questions are left unanswered and there is spam in the forums, communities like this run the risk of member abandonment. This can also cause harm to an organization’s reputation. The lesson: It’s important to keep content updated and to be sure to answer customer support questions in your communities.

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