Some people love managing online communities because the love to be social online. They thoroughly enjoy being at the center of it all. However, there is an even larger group of online community managers that do it for a different reason.
These individuals love reading the data on a situation and making critical decisions to advance an organization's priorities. Like a quarterback who reads a defense or a flight traffic controller who analyzes airplane data to advise pilots on how to guide flights in safely, online community management teams read data from the community to make decisions and adjust processes that will improve the community's health and contribute to achieving the sponsoring organization's objectives.
While looking for opportunities in the community is big part of this role, analyzing qualitative and quantitative community data also involves looking out for signs of trouble. Being able to recognize and address problems will help to ensure that your private online community provides value to both your customers and your company.
Some problems can be strategic, meaning that your online community is not solving the right issues for your customers or members. Others are tactical and can most likely be corrected through more effective community management.
Once you detect that there are problems, you need to act quickly to resolve them in order to avoid entering a death spiral. With a death spiral, you see a drop in member activity that leads to a decrease in member visits (which leads to a drop in member activity leads to a decrease in member visits and so on and so on until you hit bottom). It can take up a lot of time to reverse an online community death spiral once you are in it. You may even have to go back to the beginning and start over.
The success or demise of your online community depends on a model similar to the "Chicken or the Egg" dilemma. Your members need to engage within the community so that others see it as a benefit and people need to see the community as a benefit in order to interact with it. When one or the other of these elements falls out of place, then the entire system will break down.
This is why your data is so important. If you are monitoring the right online community metrics, it is easier to quickly identify and resolve any problems that may arise. Collecting and analyzing data regularly enables you to correct issues before they snowball into larger problems instead of letting them build over the course of a few months. It also makes sure that you spot trouble before your management team brings it up.
All social business analytics do not carry the same weight. If you think about online communities, what do they need to survive? They need members and activity by those members. Based on that principle, here are three signs that could spell big trouble for your online customer or member community if you don't take action to correct it.
When you track your growth, you might see a decrease in the number of new members to your community. A drop in growth could stem from several sources. It is important to pinpoint the cause in this drop before you form a plan to change this trend.
It could be a marketing problem where people are not becoming aware of your private online community. Maybe fewer people are completing the registration process. In that case, you can take a second look at the sign-up and onboarding processes to see if there is any way to make it easier or faster. Perhaps, instead of sending a verification email (double opt-in style), you add a captcha to the registration page, so they can begin interacting with the community immediately.
Continued growth coupled with a drop in engagement in your online customer or member community can be a strong indication that there is a problem. Communities thrive when there is a high level of interaction among members. Without this, fewer people are going to see the community as a benefit of being a customer or member.
When you have people completing the registration or single sign-on processes, but failing to contribute to the community, it is a signal to you to take steps and implement processes with the specific purpose of increasing engagement. Maybe you can create content that spurs conversation, segment data better to deliver more relevant opportunities to chime in, create a mentoring program, come up with more virtual events for newcomers, or ask leading questions in the community forums for members to discuss.
If people do not see the benefit of being a member of your community, they are not going to join. As in any business, referral and recommendations from peers usually outperform other marketing channels. Your current members are a key source for getting new members to sign-up and continually engage with online communities.
If you see a drop in buzz and advocacy around your community, actively solicit feedback from your community's advocates. A few open and honest conversations can replace months of guessing and frustration.
Make it easy to spread the word. Deliberately setting up a social sharing system or referral campaign can help encourage your members to actively seek new members for the community. They can tell others about the benefits of joining and will work to maintain engagement levels in order to boost the number of people taking part in the community on a regular basis.
Online communities are living entities. Unlike a campaign where you have control until it has launched, then it's over, online communities often involve thousands of stakeholders and need to be nurtured over many years.
I can't underscore enough how important it is to recognize and address problems in your online community. Some problems are strategic (not solving the right problem for customers or members) and others are tactical and can be solved through better community management.
If you are planning an online customer community or an online member community keep these three trouble signs at the front of your mind as you plan for a successful launch and first year of your community.
All communities go through high points and lulls during their lifecycle. When you are keeping a close watch on important community data, such as growth and contributions, it is easier to quickly identify problems. You can use that information to formulate strategy and tactics to reverse the issues and improve the health of your private online customer or member community.