How do you measure your online community success?

A lot has been written about how to make communities successful. We all know what one looks like. They have active members and a real sense of shared interest or purpose. There is a core of key members and contributors who encourage conversation, participate in debates and lead by example.

There are lots of “surfers” or members who just read what is being said. Over time some ”surfers” become active members because as they tend to visit regularly, they more than likely have something to share. This often happens when they start to see the ‘value’ that the community interaction brings to their work area.

We also know what unsuccessful communities look like. No contributors, no discussions, nothing of interest being shared – and not surprisingly visits die down pretty quickly.

So how can we measure the success of a community in a quantitative way? Is the number of posts a good indicator of the level of participation? Is the number of page views really relevant to the message being shared? How much impact should the size of the community have in determining success of the community overall?

While these are all important metrics what do they mean to the person at the center of the community – the individual member? What we need is a way of measuring the member’s Return on Engagement (ROE). If visitors get something out of a community, they will come back, they may participate, and they might even become an active member.

To measure the ROE, therefore, we need to look at the “value” that the member derives from the community.

But the question is – how can we measure value from conversations and human interactions? Well, the first step to measuring the ROE is to link it to member-relevant metrics like satisfaction, loyalty, interaction, and feedback.

The second step to measuring the ROE is to use these metrics to see if the community is meeting its business goal. The assumption in the latter approach is that the business goal is already well aligned with the community objective.

For example, your community’s business goal may be to reduce the number of manufacturing issues when designing and manufacturing machine parts. Your community is made up of a small number of employees heavily involved in the product development and manufacturing engineering.

Now, does this community actually help these people in their day-to-day activity? Do they actually use the community to reach this goal? Are they sharing and talking about different things that happen in their workshops? Do members spontaneously share things in the community? The answers to these questions determine the success of your community.

To measure the engagement of community members, focus on:

  • Page views: Yes, no matter what, you need to know if the members of your community are actually visiting and reading things. If the page views per member go up over time it would indicate that your members like what they are getting.
  • New contributions: Who is starting conversations? Who is sharing things? The goal of any community is to get its members to contribute whenever they have something to share. Now, if there are only a few contributors of new material, it doesn’t mean your community is not a success. It all depends on what members get out of the new contributions. It is better to have original and pertinent conversations followed by a lot of the members than to have lots of conversations which are nothing but “noise.”
  • Reactions: Do your community members feel inclined to express their opinion? Do they vote in polls? Do they comment on posts?
  • Sharing: Are people sharing interesting content and links they find with others? For example, are members sending other members messages about content they find in the network? Do they repost things?
  • Value: Are the members of the community bookmarking content? Are they rating it for others or creating links to it for future reference? This is a sure sign that they find the content of use.

Here you can can see a community where everybody reads the posts, quite a few members engage in conversations and they also react to what has been posted.

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And as you focus on these metrics, you will discover the strengths and weaknesses of your online community. Maybe the members are visiting but are not really participating. Why not? How can you successfully engage them? Is it necessary to better market the community or clarify the objectives? Are the key members playing an active role, or not at all?

By keeping a member’s Return on the Engagement (AKA What’s in it for me?) in mind, you will have a better idea of what is working in your community and what you need to work on.

In January 2011, JL Valente was appointed Chairman and CEO to bring additional enterprise software leadership to the blueKiwi team. His software experience spans over 25 years at an international level in the software industry. Prior to blueKiwi, JL was President and CEO of RiverMuse, an IT Operations software start-up and before that executive Chairman of CITTIO, a network & system management software start-up. He also led the Americas Operations of InfoVista, and marketing and business development at Viasoft as Senior Vice President. JL also spent 10 years with CA, where he ran marketing for the information management division. JL’s objectives at blueKiwi are simple but ambitious. Equip every business professional with an enterprise social software account. Beyond the usual growth objectives of any start-up, JL is committed to ensuring the success of blueKiwi’s customers and accelerating the adoption of its enterprise social software in the marketplace through careful listening and with intellectual honesty.