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Companies that want to better engage with today’s hyper-connected shoppers need to consider investing in online communities.

That’s the key finding from a recent Forrester Consulting report, Drive Greater Marketing Impact by Leveraging Customer Communities. The SAP-commissioned study found that only 40 percent of marketers use online communities despite the fact that 50 percent are actively striving to connect with customers in a more timely fashion.

It’s not like marketers don’t recognize the value of online communities. Many forward-thinking companies are already investing billions of dollars in communities, whether it’s public social media sites or private ones operated by the brands themselves. Fifty-nine percent of marketers believe customers are using community-generated content to guide purchasing decisions, according to Forrester Consulting, and 77 percent agree such content accelerates the buying process.

Marketers that aren’t taking advantage of online communities are missing opportunities to engage customers in a meaningful way. The report outlines a number of benefits that should motivate companies to focus more energy on growing communities.

Get user-generated content

Online communities are a valuable source of user-generated content, which can be repurposed for impactful marketing campaigns.

“User-generated content is a core benefit of communities for consumers,” says the report. “Customers trust and value peer-generated content, and by infusing it into marketing messages, it can add greater credibility.”

One example comes from Canadian Tire, one of Canada’s largest retailers. The company’s Tested for Life in Canada campaign features content from a branded community where customers are asked to vet products and provide honest feedback. The award-winning campaign enables Canadian Tire to screen its offerings while giving customer-validated products a seal of approval.

As this example shows, mining content from online communities can lead to messaging that resonates because customers trust and value information generated by people like them.

Enhance engagement

Most companies already have social media communities, but that’s not enough to build an authentic relationship with customers.

“Communities provide a more in-depth level of content and engagement that isn’t found with social media or short-lived promotional events,” according to Forrester Consulting. “Discussion boards, Q&A sessions, and opportunities for open dialogue with prospects and customers yield a much richer understanding of what matters most to these customers. This information is priceless in building an effective marketing strategy.”

While it’s important for marketing leaders to listen on social media, private online communities are designed to enable richer and deeper engagement with customers.

Gain deeper insight

Certain types of online communities can help companies harness customer data for better marketing decisions. That’s important because 89 percent of marketers recognize the importance of having customer data in making better decisions, according to the Forrester Consulting report.

“Marketers can target the right people by using basic demographics such as age, gender, and income, but communities enable businesses to learn about customer preferences, perceptions, and attitudes,” says the report. “This can ultimately help drive more successful marketing.”

The best marketers know that creating effective campaigns require a deep understanding of customers. As Forrester Consulting points out, online communities provide that understanding by helping marketers get insight on the evolving consumer habits, refine messaging and get more data about customers.


The Forrester Consulting/SAP study reinforces how online communities are a tremendous source of customer data, facilitating ongoing dialogue between brands and consumers that generates valuable insight. It reiterates that online communities need to be part of the marketing technology stack as they can improve brand awareness, build customer loyalty and enable more effective marketing.