If you watch Friends, you likely recognize this scene from one of the earlier episodes of the first season. Rachel has left everything she thought she wanted behind, and as she struggles with the idea of not having a plan, she ultimately drags Monica and Phoebe down with her. As they sit in their shared misery, milkshakes in hand, the pizza arrives and Rachel makes her way to the door.
Monica turns to Phoebe and asks, “Phoebe, do you have a plan?”
Without skipping a beat, Phoebe responds, “I don’t even have a pla.”
As someone who has been thrown into community management throughout my professional career, I can absolutely relate to the feeling of not really knowing where to start. Whether you’re responsible for building a community from scratch or you’re building off of a community that already exists, it can be incredibly intimidating to not only define your community, but to figure out the right metrics by which to measure the impact your community has on your goals and, eventually, on your overall business or organization.
Before we dive into what metrics might make sense for your specific community, let’s take a moment to properly define community. The word 'community' has always been slightly misunderstood and, too often, misused. In the traditional sense, community was tied to the specific village or neighborhood you lived in, but that certainly isn’t the case anymore. In 2020, we now have ways to choose the communities we want to be a part of and we can decide how different parts of our identities are expressed through those chosen communities.
When defining your community, think about the shared identity your members have - what shared interest, hobby, passion, skill, etc. has brought them together? Once that has been established, think about the internal purpose of your community. For example, everyone may share the same skill (shared interest), but how will this community develop trust and build relationships amongst one another as a result of what has brought them together? Once your community is defined (keeping in mind that this definition could change and evolve over time), you're ready to focus on metrics.
That said, how do you go from defining what your community is/will be to actually demonstrating and proving it? If you’re able to define your community by the amount of trust you’re trying to earn, then you can ultimately design goals and metrics to support that definition.
This will likely come as no surprise, but there’s no one-size-fits-all metric when it comes to community, as each community has its own unique differentiators. However, below are five really good metrics you’ll want to consider as you get started:
1. Percentage of engaged members and ‘super users’
This metric is important because, instead of focusing on the overall size or growth of your community, it more accurately measures the percentage of engaged members you have in your community. You may have 5,000 members in your community, but if only 5 people are engaged then the growth and size of the community doesn’t mean anything. On the flip side, if you have 100 members and 45 of those 100 members are actively engaged, you can clearly see the impact the community is making. Keep in mind that this metric will likely ebb and flow, but tracking this metric enables you to better understand why more members are involved at certain points vs. when they are more inactive.
2. Numbers of members reengaged
Like I mentioned before, the amount of engagement you’ll see in your community will change and evolve over time. By tracking members who reengage with the community, you’re able to more easily validate what made them reengage again and prove its value immediately or down the line.
3. Percentage of support questions answered by community members vs. employees
This is one of my all-time favorite metrics and is one of the best ways to track both trust and relationship building within your community. When members begin answering questions on your behalf, it demonstrates their passion for the community and their willingness to give up some of their free time to help others (aka - trust and relationships).
Keep an eye out on those early contributors - they will often be your most loyal advocates and should be rewarded for their contributions.
4. Number of posts/comments by community members vs. employees over time
Similar to the last metric, this is a key indicator that you’re on the right track. When a community is first starting, it’s important for community managers and other leaders to be the drivers of posts and comments - not only does it initially help foster relationships and validate why the community is helpful, but it will also set the tone and set an example for what members of the community can and will eventually do on their own.
If you find that people aren’t necessarily volunteering to post or comment, a gentle nudge through a private message or email always goes a long way. Often, people are more eager to share their knowledge or advice than you think.
As time passes, it’s important to track the retention of your members and to have that as an established metric from the beginning. How many of your members have stuck around for 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Is there a steady stream of new members joining your community? How many people have left your community, and when? All of these components, as they relate to retention, can help you identify what’s working and what’s not.
Once the metrics above are in motion and you’ve determined what success looks like for your community, a good next step is making sure that the trust and relationships you've built within the community align with the overarching mission and goals of your organization. As you think about proving the ROI of your community, consider taking some of the metrics mentioned above and blending those with your organization's existing metrics. Let's look at retention as an example. If you were to compare customer retention for customers that are a member of your community vs. not, you could align that with a metric within your organization that measures number of support tickets answered by your community members vs. non-members.
By setting up initial metrics for your community and proving its worth, you not only ensure that your community is an asset to your organization, but you establish that your community as a key differentiator.