Society for New Communications Research Blog


The Business Impact of Online Communities

By Alex Parkinson

A new study assessing the business impact of online communities has found that 92 percent of community leaders believe online communities have an impact on business. Conducted by Leader Networks, and co-sponsored by the Society for New Communications Research of The Conference Board (SNCR) and Higher Logic, the study also reveals that online communities are challenged to track metrics, reflecting the broader struggle of measuring and reporting the impact of new technologies as companies grapple with digital transformation.

In November 2016, Leader Networks surveyed nearly 300 U.S. marketing and community leaders online to answer three key questions:

  • How is online community impacting business goals?
  • Are communities using metrics that resonate with business stakeholders?
  • Is there a better way to measure and demonstrate the competitive advantage your online community delivers?

According to Leader Networks, online business communities usually exist on an owned platform, have a business plan and success measures in support of business needs, as well as executive sponsorship, and staff.

This research led to the Community Impact Framework, a ground-breaking resource which for the first time gives marketing and community leaders a set of measures and metrics/KPIs that they can use to track and prove the business impact of their community – using vocabulary and methods that resonate with financial and business stakeholders.

Key findings

  • Competitive advantage means keeping existing customers for most firms. Fifty-seven percent of marketing and community leaders reported customer retention is key for competitive advantage. What’s more, 37 percent of organizations have not integrated their communities with the company’s CRM system, which prevents community leaders from syncing interactions and data across the customer lifecycle.
  • There is a burning need for better reporting on community cost savings. 45 percent of marketing and community leaders say that their community reduces costs for their organization. However, an additional 37 percent don’t know if their community saves them money on support, customer retention, marketing, or other expenditures.
  • Communities are producing revenue – in substantial amounts – but it takes time. Nearly half of community leaders say that their community generates or influences revenue. But mature communities have a greater impact on top-line growth.
  • Marketers are at the helm of online communities – which is an incredibly strategic position. Marketing is the primary owner of the community for most organizations (79 percent) although many other lines of business are involved in community initiatives.
  • Business-focused metrics are nascent – but a standard of measurement is emerging. Seventy-two percent of community leaders face challenges related to analyzing and reporting data – and an additional 22 percent lack reporting tools.

Download a copy of the report here.

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