I’ve spent the last 3 weeks working from Cluetrain theses to explain how online communities are conversing, with and without the companies they are conversing about.

While doing some more research for case studies, I came across a research report by the Online Community Research Network from March 2008. Less than a year old, I think it’s still relevant and extremely telling about the effects of the themes we’ve been discussing. Furthermore, like the Cluetrain Manifesto before it, it’s a quantitative prediction based on historical trends of things to come. I cannot tell from their website if they have more current reports than this one available, I’d love to see the results of the year to change.

Anyway, some relevant results from the report that relate directly to the Cluetrain.

One of the questions in the survey was: What were the 1-2 compelling sources of value from your community or social media efforts that you constantly communicate? The answers followed the themes below, which also include direct pull quotes from the survey responses. There’s some solid stuff in here.

1. Community helps problem solve faster and more efficiently than Customer Support, saving our company time and money: • “Customers are able to get faster response and answers to their problem utilizing the community over contacting Customer Support.” • “Knowledge share, and hence problem solving, is more efficient due to the community model.” • “The ROI on employee time devoted to the forums far exceeds the returns on the usual support methods.” 2. Availability of information and content for specific areas of interest: • “Niche communities, focused on specific areas of interest. Market leaders on-line and in print with high cross over traffic.” • “You won’t find this content anywhere else – written by our members to raise best practice within vendors.” 3. Increases site traffic / more engaged relationship with us: • “The more we invest into community, the more organic traffic we get.” • “Our community sites get more than 3 times the engagement for solutions, capabilities and use case content than our traditional sites.” • “Views of photo albums remain the most popular area of the community. Members may not wish to participate in discussions, but they do want to see photos of their events.” • “An online discussion moderated by subject matter experts that followed an in-person event with the same moderators achieved the most participation of any attempts to engage our users.” 4. Idea Creation / What we learn from members of the community: • “We will have the opportunity to get first hand feedback on products and ideas for improvements and enhancements.” • “We discovered some problem areas in usage and service adoption that caused us to change our materials and strategy.” 5. Lead Generation / Conversion: • “Converting contacts, acquaintances, and other informal relationships into donor relationships.” • “Converting contacts into activists and issue leaders.” • “When we enlist our community members to represent us physically or virtually, our reach and conversion metrics dramatically increase.” 6. People are saving time / building skills by using our site: • “People creating and building productive relationships with people that help them improve their practice or do their work better.” • “Our community members credit participation in our community with their increased skills in using our products.” 7. Build customer loyalty: • “Community members are more likely to volunteer their time, services, advice, and financial support than non-members.” • “Employees who belong to the community almost never ‘turn over’. They are consistently the best performers out in the stores.” • “Offering a community to your clients where they can speak to you and each other significantly increases customer loyalty.” • “More connected members spread the word and come back frequently.” • “If you want to understand your stakeholders and develop the relationships, you have to think in communities.” • “Online dialogue creates a more open environment that deepens trust and team work throughout the organization.” • “Research shows that customers in a community can have a sense of involvement with the company as long as we make sure they are heard and that involvement can lead to great loyalty.” • “Our community members are actively engaged with the brand and don’t hesitate to tell us what they like, and don’t like. They feel a real sense of ownership of the brand.” • “Our ability to personally communicate with future users of our product substantially influences their perception of our company.” 8. Online community is growing our membership base: • “Our blog has increased community participation by 80% over the past year.” • “We have doubled the size of our community membership in the last 6 months. 2 years ago, only 34% of our Company’s upsells and renewals were also members of the Community. In 2007, 75% of our upsells and renewals were Community members.”

So ROI is alive and well in Social Media…

And we see a solid reinforcement that Cluetrain theses are a driving force behind the value being noted.

For more details on this report, see Bill Johnston’s blog post.