The launch of a private online community is often met with expectations from all sides—organizational leaders, community members, and the community management team. Each has their own definition of a "successful online community."
Your investors, board members, and upper-level management will want to see that your online customer or member community is a worthwhile financial investment. While your community members will want to see that your online community is a meaningful place to spend their time. Lastly, your community management team will want to know where to focus their efforts and whether your current strategy is working.
So, how can you as a community manager show these results?
It is important to establish a process to collect and track specific online community metrics before your launch.
Tracking the right metrics leads to setting smarter goals, making better decisions, and ultimately gauging your online community's success. The data your online community yields is extremely valuable in terms of knowing what your target audience wants and how your organization can maximize its return.
But where do you start? Access the metrics.
Regardless of the online community software you're using, you should have an analytics dashboard or some type of reporting functionality that allows for easy tracking. Define not only which metrics to track, but the process to gather that data efficiently from the very beginning. Your online community software provider can guide you toward where each data point lives in their platform.
Taking this step before the launch will set you up for success. Tracking online community metrics after the fact is time-consuming, difficult, and often less accurate, so avoid the hassle.
While the metrics you track will likely grow and change as your online community evolves, there are four types of data that you should be collecting right from the start.
One of the biggest concerns we hear before companies launch an online customer community is: 'Will people actually use it?' This is a question that keep many stakeholders up at night. People who don't have experience managing online communities go directly to talking about website traffic. However, as a community manager, you should be measuring more than the number of people coming into your online community.
Break down your traffic metrics to include:
Knowing where your traffic is coming from determines which marketing efforts are working and which you may need to revisit. For example, if you launch an email campaign and your site traffic doesn't really jump, it is because you subject line was faulty, the call to action was off, or maybe it's time to focus your efforts elsewhere.
You won't truly know without measuring your traffic metrics correctly.
Once you know the amount of traffic your online community is receiving, you can begin determining how people are participating. When we use the word "activity," we are talking about the actions community members take once they are on the site. Start tracking their activity with metrics that include:
When you have a clear idea of how your members like to use your community, you can design a better experience for them based off the interests and tendencies. Tracking this metric tells you not only which topics your members want but also how they want to consume that content (i.e. videos, forums, etc.).
Ideally, your online community would bring in new members every month, but simply tracking your accumulative member count doesn't tell the whole story. You need to know how many members are new each month and why that number is growing or declining over time. Set in place a process to monitor:
It would be impossible to track down every member that leaves your community. However, if you start to notice a dip in active members, it may be time to offer a poll or survey to check on the health of your online community. You want to be proactive instead of trying to make up a deficit later.
Tracking the subscription rates for your blogs and forums helps you to analyze interest levels in those areas. If a particular blog in your community or discussion forum has a low adoption rate, it may mean that there isn't enough interest within your online community to justify the continuation of that engagement opportunity.
However, on the contrary, high subscription numbers can tell you what type of information and engagement garners the biggest response from your members. By knowing which content interests your readers, you can provide consistent value for your members that will keep them engaged.
These metrics are simply a starting point as you plan the launch of your online customer or member community. Every online community is unique.
Before launching your new private online community, it's important to establish the key metrics you'll be tracking and a process for collecting that information on a consistent basis.
The data you collect from your online community can help inform the community management decisions you make and demonstrate different areas of success to impatient stakeholders. Keeping these records from the very beginning of your community's lifecycle allows you to compare growth over time as you learn what works and what needs improvement.