Companies that are most successful at engaging customers in digital communities have created spaces where participants can actively exchange insights with the company and with each other. These companies also win positive reviews for their products, services, and the quality of their online forums, according to a study by Digitalist Magazine and Oakhouse Insights of the top 50 global brands.
Among these top brands (as determined by Interbrand), we identified 26 that own and operate their own digital communities apart from any social media presence. Branded communities like these represent an opportunity for firms that are digitizing their businesses to create more value. They can share ideas with customers and generate new ideas, solve problems, and even get feedback on product roadmaps, says Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of digital strategy consultancy Leader Networks and an expert on online communities.
The strongest communities, regardless of industry, share several characteristics. Among them:
Customers own the conversation. Having a high volume of members who initiate discussions led to the highest scores. Leading companies also deployed tools that enabled customers to comment on each other’s posts, increasing community engagement.
The experts are in. Community satisfaction scores were highest among companies that employed experts as moderators to answer questions, offer advice, and at times guide discussions. Even communities with few members benefitted from expert participation. In the case of one B2B firm, the collegial atmosphere of a small forum made conversations read like a meeting among friends.
It’s fun (and productive) to be there. High-scoring communities design their online spaces so that it’s easy for members to ask questions, post comments, and otherwise find what they need. They also offer means for recognizing users who make contributions that the community values. In one community run by a technology company, for example, users can win points and badges for post quality as recognized by peers; high scorers win a place on a best-in-class list. Several firms also provided links from the forum to sales, service, and other functions so customers can take action.
Members are happy. Brand engagement scores were highest when members were able to see that the community as a whole was satisfied with the host company, its products and services, and the online moderators who engaged with them. These forums were chock-full of members expressing positive sentiments about the brand.