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There is a statistical chasm between the number of companies that actively nurture online user communities and those that believe they are effective, according to information in a new SAP study commissioned from Forrester Consulting.

The study shows although approximately half of businesses surveyed have already adopted online communities, fully 69% reported they think customers depend on them when making purchases.

Further, the study, Supporting the Online Customer Journey Through Communities, also found 70% of companies that use online communities believe their customers have “high purchase confidence.” That's compared to less than half of companies not using them, and 66% expect to increase “purchase satisfaction” by employing the use of the communities to help inform buying decisions.

From a marketing standpoint, “communities help improve segmentation and targeting by providing a detailed understanding of customers’ desires and preferences,” according to information from SAP. “They also provide customers with user-generated content that has a more powerful influence on purchase decisions than brand-generated content.”

In practice, one company, Experticity, announced last month the launch of an app designed to legitimize the input of users through a credentialing system and, in turn, harness their expertise.

“More than one million active experts are currently on the site, ranging from individuals that help consumers find what to buy in retail, turn their passions into full-time jobs in the industry, or are inspiring online storytellers,” according to information from Experticity.

Tom Stockham, CEO of Experticity, said people trust those who exhibit knowledge and excitement about brands and products, and that is a powerful tool.

“We’ve all had that great experience where someone who’s passionate and knowledgeable inspired us find that perfect product.” Stockham says. “These individuals have earned your trust because of where they work, what they know and what they own. Consumers and brands seek them out because ultimately, people trust people. Our industry and these individuals did not have a home before now. Experticity has incredibly ambitious plans to reward the individuals who do more, know more and are just more product obsessed than the average consumer.”

Experticity is designed for “category influencers” to connect with brands in order to receive “insider content and product access that fuels their passion,” according to information from the company.

Further, Experticity said the strategy is paying off. They reported independent data from Keller Fay shows, on average, Experticity members having 22 times more conversations involving product recommendations than non-users and 82% of those who received a recommendation from Experticity’s online community reported making a purchase.

“Companies that are truly looking to delight their customers must be ready to meet their customers’ needs at any given moment,” the SAP study reads. “Communities offer that unique capability to meet customer needs across their journey by connecting buyers with valuable content pre-purchase in order to enable greater confidence during the purchase phase. This translates into greater purchase satisfaction, which ultimately drives loyalty.”

Each phase facing the consumer--from pre-purchase through post-purchase--is equally important, according to the reports. And, this shows that the system is non-linear: “It’s an ongoing cycle that that continues to build and improve on itself, as community content and support become more robust through greater customer interaction and engagement.”

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