Beat the Monster: Measure the Success of Your Community
Measurement in social media is perhaps the biggest and nastiest beast that can cause community managers, like me, heartburn. How do you prove your efforts in crafting a vibrant community have been successful? The metrics necessary to demonstrate progress will vary based on the goals of your community and the platform you are using. In recognition of the organic nature of communities, you will want to set long-term goals in the six month and year range. Setting expectations with management as they pertain to community growth and health is critical to avoid stopping the effort short. In addition, setting short-term objectives and evaluation methodologies must be done to guide you in your pursuit of long-term goals. It is easy to get off track quickly if you don’t have constant feedback to help you consistently assess and adjust your tactics. Lastly, keep in mind that this type of reporting is at the community management level, not the business value level. To show the business value of the community is a different beast.
Community building is both a science and an art. It should not as a surprise that measuring the health of a community also requires a combination of both.
Your community platform dictates what quantitative measurements that can be tracked. Here are some common quantitative metrics:
- Total Members - This is an easy metric to record and demonstrates the overall growth of the community. You should calculate the total members in your community on a monthly basis, at minimum.
- Active Members - How many different faces are you seeing in discussions? Membership alone is not enough to define your community as 'vibrant'. You need folks to be engaged on a regular basis.
- Participating Members - The amount of participation in the discussions you launch is a valuable indicator of your success as a community manager. It also reveals whether the content you are posting is resonating with members. You should be frequently evaluating the topics that generate the most participation to help you tailor content to your members’ interests and needs.
- Contributing Members - This metric (when paired with 'quality of content' discussed below) indicates the vibrancy of a community. One of the biggest milestones for a community manager is reaching the point where the community become self-sustaining, with its members contributing the majority of content and discussions.
Focusing entirely on a quantity approach will overlook the intangibles that go into building a healthy community. Looking to qualitative metrics is not only desirable but necessary for an accurate picture of the community. Some qualitative metrics to consider:
- Sentiment – Tracking the positive, neutral or negative nature of the content is core to determining the satisfaction of the community members. Member feedback and tone in the community is critical for the community longevity.
- Quality of Content - Activity in your community may be skyrocketing, but this metric is insufficient to determine the value of the members’ contributions. For example, if your community is being hit by a systematic spamming effort, the activity level may be quite high, but the quality of content inversely low.
- Resolution Rate - How quickly is a question answered or an issue resolved when posted in the community? This is another useful way to measure satisfaction of community members.
- Ideation - What kind of ideas have come from your community? How have those ideas been implemented in your company? If one of your goals for your community is to develop new products and services, then need to be tracking the useful ideas generated and implementation.
- Advocates - Measuring advocacy dances the line between quantitative and qualitative, depending on whether you are looking at the number of advocates or the quality of advocates’ contributions to the community. Tracking the activity level in helping their peers in the community, posting valuable content, and keeping the discussions alive are ways to measure your brand advocates effectiveness.
These are just a few metrics that you can use to assess your community. Finding the right mix of metrics that provide the most useful feedback will take trial and error. It is best to begin with measuring as many factors possible, then paring back as you identify those measurements that are the most relevant. This approach also provides you with a wide variety of baselines to help track your progress. Some examples of how these community goals can be paired with metrics:
- (Goal) Increase member satisfaction with the community by 10% in six months = (Metrics) Sentiment + Resolution Rate + Advocates
- (Goal) Increase membership by 50% in six months = (Metric) Total Members
As you get farther into the measurement process, you will have recorded a robust data set that will help you set more realistic goals in the future. A word of caution: while proving the value of your community is important, it is possible to over-analyze your community. Avoid getting bogged down by measuring minutia, such as the number of "likes" each post receives; otherwise, you will end up wasting valuable time that could have been spent actually building your community. Striking the right balance will take practice. Carefully evaluating your goals and the metrics you are using to determine success will help you conquer the once feared monster of social media measurement.
How do you measure social success in your organization?
Melissa Barker is the Social Media Manager at Jive Software. She has coauthored three leading-edge textbooks, including Internet Research Illustrated, fifth and sixth editions, both bestsellers, as well as Social Media Marketing: A Strategic Approach. Melissa was instrumental in creating the first accredited social media marketing certificate in Washington State. She developed and teaches the ...
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