Online customer community platforms can do wonders to get your customers participating in and with conversations surrounding your industry, business, and offerings. However, that isn't always the reason that companies decide to invest in a community platform. Customer engagement isn't your end game!
Businesses only choose to spend time and money on planning, launching, and growing their customer community when they believe that community is a valuable investment in their future, and like all investments, you have to be able to measure and track them, and there has to be a payoff.
There's just one slight hiccup, there are many different types of online communities. Do you want to improve customer retention, or do you really want to boost brand awareness? Do you have another objective in mind, or several? Communities are seen as must-have platforms for modern businesses largely because they can make a substantial impact on many different key performance indicators (KPIs). The downside is that their ability to impact all of those areas can make measuring their ROI difficult.
In order to successfully measure the impact your customer community is having, or will have, on your business there are a few tricks you'll need to know:
As I mentioned, customer community strategies can generate a number of business outcomes. The first step is to determine which one or two mean(s) the most to you and your organization. To do this I recommend starting at the end goal. What problem are you trying to solve? That is often the best place to begin.
You will find that your community will be much more effective if you start with a focused goal. Spreading your community strategy too thin will usually end up hurting you in the long run. You'll get much better results if you focus on knocking out one objective at a time rather than trying to do everything at once. Not only will it take you much longer to get everything done if you try tackling everything out the gate, but you risk confusing community members or hurting your customers' experience in your community.
It is also worth mentioning that as you're setting goals for your community that you do so using the popular SMART framework. Developing goals that are both specific and measurable will pay off in spades as you're trying to nail down your community's ROI later on.
Again, it is very important that when you are first developing your customer community strategy that you develop a plan that is specific enough that the metrics are easily definable. Once you have done that, the metrics are usually easy to report on. For instance, if your goal is to increase your customer retention then you will want to measure things like:
When picking metrics, I would recommend picking somewhere between 4 and 6. This way, you can get a broad and complete understanding of the business impact that your community is having on a specific area. Too few metrics might not give you the whole story, and with too many, you might be over analyzing data. This doesn't mean that that data isn't important, but it may be taking your more time to analyze. Additionally, those fringe metrics may do a better job of providing insight into progress toward another business objective anyway.
When you are tracking metrics from your online community platform, it is very important that you have a control group, or something to compare your results to. For instance, if your online community generated 25 new product ideas, then it would be helpful to know how many product ideas your other channels produced. This way, you are able to see whether or not your community proved to be a valuable source for new product ideas, or if your community still needs to be optimized for that use.
One of the benefits of tracking the results from your online community is that often these metrics aren't new to your company. They're often being tracked by different departments within the company and the only trick is really to put them all together to get the complete picture.
If we go back to the retention example, you are very likely already measuring your churn rate (if not I would recommend starting) and this metric will tell you whether or not you and your community are doing a good job of holding onto your customers.
It should also be mentioned, that all of the data that you need might not all be housed within your online community platform. Some of the metrics you need to track may be held in your CRM for example. You may need to combine the data housed within and outside of your online community software to really get a clear understanding of how your community strategy is impacting your business.
When it comes to modern businesses, they don't spend money unless they need to. Products have to fulfill a need and online communities don't just solve one, they solve more than just a handful. This can make it challenging to track, but hey, that's not the worst problem to have.
You can make the process easier on yourself and your business by developing a specific and measurable online community plan, then breaking that plan into 4-6 metrics that you can track, and learning the best places to find and consolidate those metrics. After all, how do you know you're getting your money's worth out of your customer community if you're not measuring the impact that it's having on your business?