Chapter 9. Step Five: Measure the Community’s Involvement (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How)

Do customer communities pay off? Throughout this book, I’ve argued that marketers must aggregate communities to reach and influence groups of people who share similar interests, concerns, or behaviors (or all three). This is not so different from the way companies currently define and segment their markets, except that they usually use demographics, which is a very crude tool for identifying prospective customers.

Now the social web can simplify the targeting task and make it more accurate because people identify themselves (by behavior and interest) according to the communities they join. But do communities really pay off? Research suggests that the answer is yes.

René Algesheimer, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Zurich, and Paul M. Dholakmia, an associate professor of management at Rice University’s Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management, designed a year-long field experiment to find out. Collaborating with eBay Germany’s managers, they identified 140,120 active eBay users, people who had bought or sold something on the site within the past three months but had not participated in eBay’s online communities before.

Algesheimer and Dholakmia randomly selected 79,242 customers and invited them via e-mail to participate in eBay’s customer communities at the beginning of May 2005, offering them prizes such as iPods as an incentive to do so. The other 60,878 customers, ...

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