Five Worst Practices in Online Branded Communities


Each fall, ComBlu releases its annual “State of Online Branded Communities” report. Every summer, our researchers join about 250 communities and score them using a best practices scorecard. In addition, they make more qualitative judgments about member experience, engagement and how well the overall encounter matches the stated mission of the community. We usually analyze a sample across 15 different industries and to date have scored nine sectors for our 2012 study.

When teasing out some of our results, we typically focus on best practices and brands that are rock stars. But as the community and engagement disciplines mature, it is astounding how many bad practices stick around: worse than fly paper on a puddle of rubber cement.

Here are five of my “favorite” worst practices:

Worst Practice #1: Moderating comments, stories and photos before porting to the community site. Come on—aren’t we passed this? Best Buy leaves up toxic comments and lets the community organically defend or correct misinformation while Lowe’s requires all comments to be approved before they are posted. Sears requires all reviews to be vetted before they are posted. What decade are we in?





Worst Practice # 2: Asking for info at registration and promising to drive pertinent content based upon personal interests or needs and never delivering on the promise. P&Gs/Eukanuba community gets props for thinking about content customization but gets razzed for, in reality, sending everyone the same content.


Worst Practice #3: Related to the above egregious practice is leaving up hopelessly outdated content. When a brand doesn’t care enough to update a blog post or share some great new content with its members, it’s time to get out of the community business. American Express displayed this practice in a few of its community properties.


· Worst practice #4: Having a banner calling out “what’s new” and never having anything new listed. This was seen in the General Mills community, “MYInsite-pssst”.

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Worst practice #5: Asking the community members to submit their success stories with no criteria for selection or qualification minimizes engagement. While Unilever’s Slim Fast gets credit for thinking about using some great VOC integration, the execution falls short. The stories in this section of the community are highly edited and in corporate voice—not the natural, authentic voice of the customer you would expect in a customer community. The few stories presented rarely change and are formal case studies rather than VOC.


Unfortunately, the list of worst practices is long and more will be included in the full report, which should be published by early November. What worst practices have you noticed?

Kathy Baughman
Kathy Baughman

Kathy Baughman is president and co-founder of ComBlu, a firm specializing in content strategy, community building and thought leadership programs. Kathy’s forte is content and community strategy, and influencer marketing programs. Her passions include bringing a fresh point of view to everything she does and helping organizations take their programs to the next level. Kathy is a frequent speaker at industry conferences. She has authored several ebooks including “Content Supply Chain” and “The Alchemy of Content”. She also co-authors the firm’s research report, “The State of Online Branded Communities”. Kathy can be reached at

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