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Customer and employee communities have quite an impact on the organizations that run them, according to a Leader Networks survey [download page] of 271 marketing and community leaders primarily from B2B (41%) firms and Associations/Non-Profit Organizations (34%). Among the almost three-quarters of respondents with a customer community, customer listening and research emerges as a far bigger goal than sales.

Indeed, more than two-thirds (69%) of marketing and community leaders said that they use their customer community to listen to member needs in order to market better. A majority also use their community to identify customer champions and/or detractors (55%) and to surface trends for potential future development (52%).

This suggests that communities can be leveraged for innovation, as more brands look to collaborate with customers on new products and services. In last year’s study, Leader Networks similarly found that one of the top reasons for launching a branded online community was to gather ideas to fuel future products and services.

By comparison, fewer respondents said they use their customer community as a sales information channel (21%) or to sell products or services directly (9%). In fact, only 9% indicate that their community generates direct revenue via e-commerce (though many others see revenue generation from other methods). It seems that these communities are being used in the way that social media marketing was originally intended: less for broadcasting, and more for listening and engagement.

Also of note: only one-third of respondents said they connect their member data to customer relationship data. This appears to be a key challenges that might require more investment: when respondents were asked if they face any obstacles in leveraging their community to achieve competitive advantage, the most common challenge identified was data analysis issues because the community is not connected to CRM.

The full report can be downloaded here [download page].

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