It’s Year 3 of our annual research on the State of Online Branded Communities – and we’re in the home stretch. So I thought this would be a good time to press pause and see where we are so far.

A little background first. What distinguishes our study is its focus on the member experience. We want to understand firsthand how effectively brands are creating meaningful experiences for their members and how best practice adoption affects that experience. To that end, we’ve joined and evaluated about 200 communities so far and are on track to do more than 250. Those cut across 15 industries and about 90 brands. That’s nearly double the number of communities we looked at for our inaugural study in 2009.

As we join each community, we’re looking for which of 30+ key best practices are being applied there. And finally, how are brands integrating these community assets with their mass social media assets? Is there ANY integration? Is there common branding? Is it easy to navigate back and forth between properties? The idea here is to see how cross property consistency enhances member experience.

With the disclaimer that it’s not fully baked yet, here are a couple of early observations from the 2011 study:

Ø More content-centric engagement. While there’s still a whole lot of ‘push’ going on, there are signs of more content-related best practice adoption. Things like content aggregation, social bookmarking, tagging, customization and sharing. Interesting indicators that some industries are taking a more sophisticated approach to content curation and that should make for a more meaningful experience for members.

Ø Can I get that (community) to-go? The answer is a resounding maybe. Brands are offering a variety of ways to extend the member experience to consumers on the go. Some strictly optimize for mobile devices; others offer cool apps that give mobile members unique ways to engage. And surprisingly, some miss the mobile boat completely – even some categories that live and breathe POP!

Ø Hands-on management. Last year, we saw that more than half the communities had no visible or active community manager. This year, brands appear to be more willing to humanize the experience and make a more personal connection with their members. The P&C Insurance industry is a great example, posting a major bump up from 33% to 71% having a community manager!

Ø Clean up on Aisle 2. Brands are making a concerted effort to sunset communities that have run their course. Not all communities are meant to stick for the long term. In those cases, it’s great to see brands managing that process and the relationship with members rather than let them lie fallow.

Those are just a few early snippets from this year’s body of work. The full report will be released in the fall. We’ll keep you posted here for dates of preview webinars. Or just click here and fill in the form. In the message box, write: Send report’ and /or ‘webinar dates” and we’ll get the information out to you when it’s available.

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.