Online brand communities are popular vehicles for gathering consumer intelligence (e.g., pre- and post-purchase information) and fostering brand affiliation (e.g., generating buzz, increasing loyalty). However, effectively (and efficaciously) managing these communities remains something of a mystical art akin to voodoo, relying as much on luck and happenstance as on strategy.
An MIT study of such communities sought to identify some causality with respect to what actions community managers can take to produce positive outcomes. The study concluded that online communities require constant attention if they are to increase a brand’s sales.
The mere existence of such a community does not “strengthen relationships and drive sales. Rather, it is the exchange of high-quality information on these sites that drives a strong customer response.” Community members who “obtained higher levels of relevant, frequent, lengthy, and timely information” experienced a stronger relationship with the corresponding brand. No single one of those dimensions of communication was sufficient on its own–“only members who received higher levels of all four…ultimately made purchases from additional categories of products and…bought more products from the same category.”