We’re about to release findings from some research ComBlu conducted to gather insights about the state of online community marketing. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, let me share one observation after diving deeply into over 125 communities that were built by 45 different brands. Many companies are still taking a computer science approach to community building vs. a social science orientation.

Here’s the big insight: only a slight fraction of the brands we reviewed show any evidence of a cohesive strategy. Many seemed to still have a “build it and they will come” mentality and left the community to its own devices. This epitomizes the computer science orientation: get a platform, throw a community out there, and hope for the best. This flies in the face of using communities as a core engagement strategy.

Those communities that were high performers typically exhibited lots of best practices. This is a very important point given that the best practices are almost all some flavor of an engagement tool. And, that’s where the social science comes in. Brands build communities because they want to engage with customers and other key stakeholders. The whole point of having a branded community is to have purpose driven conversations about topics that are of genuine interest to both the company and its customers. This requires the brand to really think through how to provide multiple, meaningful paths to engagement. The brand needs to be an active participant in the community and interact in ways that resonate with members or visitors.

Conversations are two-way activities; it’s essential that the community sponsor exhibit signs of life. It’s imperative to have a strategy for what to do with feedback, ideas, and insights. One of the worst practices we saw was a community that solicited input and then used an automated response that told the person to contact customer service. Ouch. The community IS customer service! That’s what is at the heart of engagement: knowing customers and using that information to serve their needs.

Another aspect of engagement is modeling behaviors and organizing activities that make each person feel affinity with the brand. In essence, taking a social science approach to community building provides the gestalt of engagement. The community sponsor needs to unite elements in such a way that the ultimate experience can not be derived from a simple summation of its parts. It is a symbiotic bond that spawns new experiences and deepens engagement from the collective life force of the community. In the process, all parties learn and grow.

So, it’s no real surprise that those communities that offer multiple ways to engage scored high in our research. What is shocking is the number of brands that go to all the trouble of building a community and then neglect it. Instead of building a significant asset, these brands are simply using a social platform in a very tactical way. At best, this represents a huge missed opportunity; at worst, It just doesn’t do the intended job.

Cheryl Treleaven

Cheryl Treleaven


Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.