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Member Feedback is Critical to Online Community Success

Written by Molly Talbert | on June 21, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Member feedback is critical to online community success

Feedback is the way you grow your community -- in size, in maturity and in engagement rates. Out of that growth and collaboration your organization can create better products, a thriving community, a healthy culture and a stronger company.

But you can’t grow unless you collect data. And the way you collect data should be strategic, since it will affect all aspects of your community and company -- including growth.

That’s why formal feedback methods are a necessary part of any successful community. In The Community Roundtable’s State of Community Management 2016 Report (SOCM Report), they found that best-in-class communities are more than two times as likely to have formal feedback mechanisms for their communities than other communities.

Clearly those formal programs have a powerful impact on the community’s overall success.

So what makes this type of structured feedback so important and powerful?

Give members a seat at the table

If you want members to be part of your community conversations, you need to give them a seat at the table -- which means making sure they know how to give you feedback and encouraging them to do so.

Many communities already do give members a platform and value their voices through ambassador or advocacy programs, list surveys and net promoter score.

But that’s not enough.

To truly tap into your members’ expertise and insight, you need to make sure everyone is included -- not just your MVPs or most vocal members. It’s hard to include everyone, like lurkers and members who aren’t as active, without a structured program. And the consequences are real -- community managers miss out on engaging these key groups and risk burning themselves out with futile efforts.

Do you really know what goes on in your community?

Yes, you’re in the community all day, so you have a pretty good pulse of what’s going on. But you don’t know what it’s like on the inside, from a member’s perspective.

Think of a teacher. Sure, good teachers know how to motivate their students and predict behavior. They even have an idea of what goes on in the playground. But do they know how it feels to be a student? What other students say after school, or to their parents? No. It’s a perspective they no longer have -- unless they ask their students.

That’s one reason formal programs that include everyone are so valuable for community builders. Only members truly have a pulse on what goes on in the community. Their insight is something you’ll never have unless you find a way to systematically poll and collect that insight.

And, as the SOCM Report showed, not enough community builders are harnessing the power of their members to make their community better. Only 30% of communities have formal systems for collecting member feedback. But that 30% sees better engagement and are more mature than the 70% who don’t have these systems.

Empower your members

Yes, the knowledge and data that members give you helps you engage and build the type of community they want and need. But do formal feedback systems only have one purpose -- to give the community builders special, insider intelligence?

No, that’s not the only reason giving members a spot at the table is so good at bolstering engagement.

Allowing members to give you feedback, showing them that you listened and that it was helpful, is empowering -- and empowerment is a strong motivator.

And The Community Roundtable’s findings support this idea. The best-in-class communities from the study were more likely to include members in strategy revision and development, and three times more likely to give members a defined role within their communities.

Giving members roles -- whether it’s a moderator position, volunteering or ambassador programs -- triggers a member’s intrinsic motivation. Having a job makes them feel important and as if they’re contributing to something greater -- which they are. Not only are they helping you, but they’re helping the community and whatever efforts the community supports.

No wonder communities that engage members in their community process are more mature and have higher engagement rates.

Invest

Involving community members in your community’s strategy and development is important, but it’s not always easy. The SOCM Report urges community builders and companies with community to invest in long-term engagement strategies and build formal member feedback and inclusion programs.

But this doesn’t mean only the community manager should be invested in the community and engaging members in meaningful, valuable ways. The entire organization needs to be onboard and supportive of the community and its efforts. In fact, in its study, The Community Roundtable found that even a neutral organizational culture surrounding community can be detrimental and is the equivalent of a constraining or toxic environment.

If you want a successful community, including the entire organization -- and making sure they’re supportive -- isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity. And the member feedback you collect and the high engagement you foster, will benefit everyone in the organization, not just those involved directly with the community.

Measure what matters

The Community Roundtable always emphasizes data in decision making, so it’s no surprise that its report highlights data’s importance. But not all data is created equal or is helpful for you -- you need to track what really matters.

Almost everyone tracks members and posts, but best-in-class communities stand out in their metrics.They are more likely to focus on additional elements, like new member activity and unanswered questions. Tracking these metrics -- or the right metrics for your goals and community -- will help you refine your feedback methods and continue to grow your community.

Topics: Online Community Management, Customer Engagement, Member Engagement

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