HBR recently published results of a year long study, conducted in collaboration with eBay Germany, that involved 140,120 eBay customers. The study was aimed at determining whether or not there is business value in Customer Community Marketing Programs. The results are quite fascinating.

Over the course of a year, we compared the behavior of community enthusiasts and lurkers with that of the control group. The differences were astonishing. Lurkers and community enthusiasts bid twice as often as members of the control group, won up to 25% more auctions, paid final prices that were as much as 24% higher, and spent up to 54% more money (in total). Enthusiasts listed up to four times as many items on eBay and earned up to six times as much in monthly sales revenues as the control users. The findings on first-time sellers were even more impressive: Compared with the controls, almost ten times as many lurkers (56.1%) and enthusiasts (54.1%) started selling on eBay after they joined and participated in customer communities.

What the study doesn’t tell us is why the program worked for eBay and how it can be replicated. Many have learned the hard way that building community online is not as easy as it would seem. A deep understanding of your customers is a must. Followed by careful planning and implementation of community tools that meet their wants and needs.