Top US Brands Getting Strategic About Social Media

Over the past year, America’s top brands have made improvements in how they use online branded communities to reach their customers, but some opportunities for engagement remain untapped, according to a new report by ComBlu.

More brands are taking a strategic approach to social media engagement in 2011. Among the 251 online branded communities studied, managed by 92 brands: 

  • 41% of brands now have a cohesive strategy for social engagement in which multiple activities roll into a single online experience, compared with 33% in 2010, and 20% in 2009. 
  • The social experimentation stage is most prevalent: 50% of brands are experimenting with social communities, lacking a long-term engagement approach, using instead a series of one-off experimental marketing campaigns. That level is up from 45% in 2010.
  • Community ghost towns (unpopulated communities) now make up 5% of communities, down from 15% in 2010.
  • Community overload (multiple communities fighting for attention from the same audience) afflicts 4% of online communities, down from 5% in 2009.


Below, additional findings from the third annual “State of Online Branded Communities” issued by ComBlu.

Community Engagement Strategies

Some brands are using multiple strategies of engagement within the same community.

ComBlu defines three such strategies, or “pillars” of engagement as the following: 

  • Advocacy is essentially word-of-mouth marketing around a product, service, issue or idea to develop deeper relationships with stakeholders or activate them to support a specific mission.
  • Support refers to using customer experts to provide or extend the customer service (includes post-purchase and support forums).
  • Feedback refers to crowd sourcing new ideas for products or services, or gathering input on product quality, customer experience, marketing campaigns, and messaging.

Among the communities studied, most (75%) are focused on advocacy, whereas 33% focus on customer support and 20% focus their efforts on customer feedback.

Adoption of Best Practices

Over the past year, many brands adjusted their social media engagement tactics; among key changes:

  • The presence of a community manager fell to 48% in 2011, down from 51% in 2010.
  • The adoption of user reviews and content fell to 27%, from 54% in 2010. 
  • The use of advocates in online branded communities remained unchanged at 20%.

Among the most significant gains in the adoption of best practices: 

  • More brands implemented personal dashboards, from 38% in 2010 to 60% in 2011. 
  • Content aggregation (share features, content rating, and social bookmarking) registered sharp gains, to 95% in 2011, from 32% in 2010.

Among other best practices, 43% of communities offer rewards and recognition programs, up from 39% in 2010, while 16% offer a mobile app. 


Looking for real, hard data that can help you match social media tools and tactics to your marketing goals? The State of Social Media Marketing, a 240-page original research report from MarketingProfs, gives you the inside scoop on how 5,140 marketing pros are using social media to create winning campaigns, measure ROI, and reach audiences in new and exciting ways.


Top-Performing Brands

One-third (33%) of brands were ranked as high performers, based on their adoption of best practices. On a scale of 0 to 60, such high performers received a minimum of 42 points.

Among the highest performers, Verizon Communications led with 55 points; followed by EA and SAP with 54 points; Bravo, Intel, and Sony with 52 points, American Express with 51 points; and Discovery Channel, Microsoft, Sears, Whole Foods, and Sony with 50 points. 

Top-Performing Industries

Among the 16 industries in the study, the gaming and telecom industries were the two highest scoring (with 45 points each), followed closely by technology and consumer electronics (43 points). 

The retail and travel/hospitality industries tied for the most improved, each jumping nine points in average score.

About the data: The audit of 251 online branded communities among 92 US companies was conducted by ComBlu during the summer of 2011.

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