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Most businesses recognize customer communities can build brand trust, improve support, reduce costs and even enhance marketing efforts and generate new product ideas. That's the conclusion of a new report from Get Satisfaction, an online community platform.

Get Satisfaction surveyed more than 800 professionals in support, marketing and product teams in businesses of all sizes. The not-so-surprising conclusion — given that the company markets a customer engagement platform — is that more businesses recognize social platforms are a good way to engage with brands. 

“Adoption has really started to take off and people understand the value,” said Get Satisfaction CEO Rahul Sachdev. “61 percent of folks have adopted an online community and 58 percent of those adopted it in the last two years.”

Customers are Comfortable Online

Get Satisfaction has a natural bias in favor of customer communities. But the value of such communities has been proven by multiple studies and reported in stories on CMSWire.

According to research from the University of South Australia, the timeliness and comprehensiveness of information, trustworthiness and quality of information have positive influence on information usefulness, which in turn predicts the consumer purchase intention. Online customer communities can even be triggers for innovation, such as new product development or virtual product design. This is forming co-innovation, innovation with end users, according to researchers at the University of London.

There are numerous reasons why online communities are catching on.

Take user generated content, an increasingly important factor in building brand trust. More than 60 percent of survey respondents claim it has more credibility than content created by employees.

Respondents feel that hearing from one another, as they do when engaging in online communities, is ore credible than hearing directly from an employee of a company or brand, said Tracy Eiler, vice president of marketing at Get Satisfaction.

Sachdev added that there could be a generational component, too. "Today's generation is much more comfortable online, wants to get answers much more quickly and is more willingly to share their identity and opinions online compared to previous generations,” he said. “Online communities bring together people who are like-minded and have a shared interest in a product, service or brand."

Big Among B2B Tech Companies

It’s notable that more than 100 of the survey responses came from B2B tech companies. The B2B world has inherent complexity around products and services. This leads to lots of customer questions, and an online community is an efficient way to provide answers to those questions, whether they come straight from the company or knowledgeable users of the product or service, experts agree.

Additionally, the application of technology tends to vary from customer to customer. “If I'm a customer and I'm trying to use a technology in my own context, I’m wondering if there’s somebody else trying to do that as well. Communities are a great place to share those application oriented questions around technology,” said Sachdev.

Online communities can be cost-effective ways to market, sell and support customers in the B2B. “It costs a lot to acquire a customer. It costs a lot to retain a customer. So anything that can help lower those costs has a real economic value to the company,” Sachdev said.

According to Bain & Company and Harvard Business Review, boosting customer retention by 5 percent increases profits by 25 percent to 95 percent.

Title image by emily rose michaud (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.