Social engagement firm ComBlu has just released “The State of Online Branded Communities,” a new 52-page report that you can download for free on their website.

It includes data from 241 online communities collectively owned by 78 corporations, and the bulk of the report discusses what tools they use and what “best practices” they follow. This data is then drilled down to specific industries and corporations are given a rating based on how well they are supposedly engaging through their online communities.

Overall, ComBlu did a great job collecting and compiling this data and offering it to us to consume – and for free. They certainly could have charged for the report and I would have never seen it unless they sent me a copy, so the fact that they are providing it free of charge makes it a must-download for anyone in the community space.

I will say, though, that my favorite part of the report – the most valuable part to me – is the data on what tools corporations are actually using. For a high level look at the data, check out the graph below, which indicates what percentage of communities provide the functionality listed. If I am reading the data correctly, they polled 40 corporations in 2009. And for 2010, 78 (241 total communities). So, keep that in mind when considering these percentages.

In other words, usage of, well, practically everything is up. I guess that isn’t terribly surprising. Some of these features (forums, social networking) are more robust than others (avatar, emoticons). Usage of “forums” was up 10% to 59%.

The data is then broken down into different industries. For example, here is the exact same chart, except for the automotive industry:

As you can see, forums aren’t terribly popular with automotive companies. Usage was down from 62% to 27%. Neither are blogs or the idea of a community manager. Although, especially with the industry specific data, you have to keep in mind the relatively small sample size. Just 5 auto companies were included in 2009 and just 7 (with 15 communities) in 2010.

To contrast the differences between industries, here is the same graph, but for the gaming industry (which was new for 2010 – that’s why there is no 2009 data):

Gaming includes 6 companies (with 18 communities). The gaming space, in general, is well known for it’s adoption of most anything social on the web and that is well reflected here. Most of the numbers listed are above the averages for the entire slate of surveyed communities.

Other industries profiled include travel and hospitality, entertainment, banking and financial services, insurance, healthcare and pharmaceutical, retail, consumer products: packaged goods, consumer products: beverage, technology and consumer electronics and telecommunications.

As mentioned, Comblu also tried to assign a “Brand Score” to each of the 78 companies, based on a number of factors. Using their methodology, which is detailed in the report, American Express received the highest score. EA is second, followed by the Discovery Channel and Hewlett-Packard, which tie for third. Fifth place is a five way tie between Sears, Verizon, Activision, Kimberly-Clark and AT&T.

The lowest scoring company was Merck. Pfizer was second, with SC Johnson third. Finally, Honda and Hyundai tied for fifth worst.

For me, the scores are interesting to ponder, but not of the utmost importance because there will always be aspects of community that you cannot rate. Among other things, the score takes into account the quantity of the tools that you use, user activity, brand activity, the integration of the tools used with other forms of social media.

In all, this is a lot of great data and well worthy of reference for professionals in the community space. Check it out.

Via Brett Petersel via eMarketer.