NEW YORK: Verizon, SAP and PlayStation are among the brands making the most effective use of online communities to connect with consumers, a study has argued.

ComBlu, the social marketing company, assessed 219 communities run by 92 brands regarding their collection of feedback about new products, provision of customer support and encouragement of advocacy.

Verizon, the communications group, led the charts on 56 points. It has six hubs in all, such as those for consumers, developers and small businesses, as well as "Thinkfinity", based around its corporate social responsibility efforts in the field of education.

The firm's examples of best practice include adding its Twitter feed into its customer-led site and inviting responses via both channels, while its "Room to Learn" feature offers helpful product hints and tips.

SAP, the software specialist, claimed second on 55 points, and was praised for successfully engaging with over 2.5m members and maintaining a "streamlined and compelling experience".

PlayStation Network, Sony's online gathering place for gamers, took third in the rankings on 54 points, ahead of rival platforms run by EA, which secured 53 points.

Some other operators yielding over 50 points, indicating they are "shining stars", were AT&T, the telecoms giant, Bravo, the broadcast network, and IBM, the business services firm, on 52 points apiece.

A total of 84% of the communities studied were seen as driving advocacy, versus 75% last year. Figures actually declined from 33% to 32% for customer support, and from 20% to 15% for crowdsourcing.

Kathy Baughman, a principal at ComBlu, said: "A natural part of the maturation cycle of community strategy is to make adjustments based on member input and performance analytics."

"Companies are appropriately using what they have learned to adjust their approach to stimulate new levels of engagement and reignite dormant community members."

The number of players linking their communities with social media stood at 72%, a total reaching 100% for consumer products, beverages, gaming, retail and telecoms.

Ratings here fell to 40% for pharmaceuticals, and just 20% when breaking out over-the-counter drugs. The property and casualty insurance sector posted 50% here, as did the auto category.

Data sourced from ComBlu; additional content by Warc staff