The economic downturn isn’t keeping most enterprises from maintaining or increasing their investment in online communities and social media, according to Deloitte’s second annual Tribalization of Business Survey released this week.
Responses came from more than 400 companies and organizations, including many on the Fortune 100 list, that have created and maintain online communities that range from less than 100 members to more than a million.
Among the highlights:
- The vast majority of respondents (94 percent) indicated they plan to maintain or increase investment in their online communities.
- About a third (32 percent) are tracking inactive users (known as lurkers), and 20 percent are fostering activity by rewarding retuning members with ambassador programs.
- The top three challenges are getting people to join (24 percent), staying engaged (30 percent) and keeping them returning (21 percent).
The issue of lurkers is interesting because active participants have historically been seen as far more valued and a sign of a successful community compared to those lurkers who simply follow what’s going on. But some research concludes that many lurkers realize high value by passive participation. Enterprise microblogging service SocialCast just released an analytics suite that tracks both active participants and lurkers.
“On the external Web, we don’t pay a lot to lurkers, but they are actually a valuable type of user,” said Tim Young, SocialCast’s founder and CEO. “The metrics may show only ten people participating in a group, but there could be 80 others watching what goes on and getting value out of it. You might have a lot of salespeople who don’t have time to comment, but these lurkers are actively engaged in tracking the conversations.”
He said the analytics can help active participants better understand that their contributions are valued. “If they don’t understand that, they’re participation is more likely to drop off,” he said. The Deloitte study said 32 percent of respondents were tracking lurkers.
The value of social media
Investment of any kind in these hard economic times is a challenge to IT and other departments, but the Deloitte study noted that social media continues to get traction.
“Despite risks associated with participating in online communities, the internal costs of community formation and management and the fact that we are in the midst of a profound recession, organizations’ continued and enhanced investment in online communities underscores the perceived potential for the value that they may provide to the enterprise,” Ed Moran, director of product innovation at Deloitte Services LP, said in a statement. “Social media and communities are expected to continue to play a significant role in the way in which companies are interacting with employees, customers, partners and the larger business ecosystem, thereby redefining the very edge of the corporation.”
Twenty percent of the survey respondents said they have set up formal “ambassador” programs, which give outsiders preferential treatment in return for being more active in the community. Almost 40 percent of the survey respondents also indicated that more full-time people are being deployed to manage the communities.
“Businesses are truly becoming social again, and companies should look to leverage the collective wisdom of their employees, customers and partners in order to innovate faster, reduce costs, and bolster their bottom lines,” said Francois Gossieaux, partner with Beeline Labs and a senior fellow with the Society of New Communications Research.