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How to Optimize Your Customer Experience by Surveying Your Online Community Members

Written by Katie Oakes on May 13, 2015 at 7:30 AM

Getting Feedback From Online Community members

In the field of online community management, we talk a lot about data-driven decisions and reading online community metrics. Since online community platforms are one of the hottest business technologies of this decade, the analytics tools that track community members’ behavior get the lion’s share of the attention.

However, seasoned community managers know that, while understanding your data is critical, communities are ultimately about people. They know that there are some things that behavioral metrics can tell you and there are some things that you need to “get your hands dirty” to measure. This means actually reaching out to members to survey and interview them.

Why Survey Members of Your Online Customer or Member Community

Getting both qualitative and quantitative feedback from your community members regularly has an array of benefits.

Below are three common goals that community managers have when surveying their community.

You Want to Assess the Health of Your Community

Your online community metrics indicate how your community is performing, the weaker parts of our engagement funnel, and where you should be spending your time. However, your community platform’s analytics reports and dashboards usually don’t tell you why something is happening or what specifically you should be doing to optimize your customers’ experience in the community.

Surveying community members offers a host of flexible options for accessing the health of your online community. This is especially useful when you combine your survey data with your community platform’s metrics data.

You Are Thinking About Updating Features or Are Considering Switching Community Platforms

It is great to have an active community when your members are happy and advocate on your behalf. When your community is not happy with your organization or changes that you have made to “their” community, it can be uncomfortable to be on the other side of that energy.

Before you make major changes to the way that your online community engages with each other or the people in your company, such as adding or removing features or switching online community software platforms, test your plan and collect feedback about the change from a small cross-section of your community members.

You Want to Get Ideas for New Topics, Programs, or Digital Resources

Creating active, sustainable online communities start with provide value that community members cannot get anywhere else. The best online communities solve problems that the target audience is willing to “pay” to solve with their time, attention, and contributions. This value takes the form on blog posts, downloadable resources, videos, access to experts, and most importantly, discussions.

Surveying your members every 6-9 months enables you to make sure that the value that your online community is providing aligns with your community members’ challenges. Along with using this data to validate your existing value proposition, you can also use community member surveys to identify new topics to address in the community’s discussions and validate ideas for new content or programs, such as webinars, documents, and tools.

How to Effectively Survey Online Community Members

Unlike simple customer satisfaction surveys, there is not a basic set of questions that you should ask your community. The way that you interview or survey online community members depends on the following criteria:

  • The number of people in the community
  • The information that you want to obtain
  • The goals of the community
  • Objectives of your organization
  • The maturity of the community
  • Time frame of results
  • How your online community is segmented

Company goals and goals of the community are the starting point for every decision in the online community. Surveying your private online community is no different. The right questions to ask center around the goal of your survey.

When developing questions for your survey there are several approaches. Open-ended interview style questions are great for gaining deep qualitative information. It is also a great way to avoid bias by keeping the question very open and inviting detailed responses. However, this type of question can also backfire if your members provide very minimal information or improperly answer their question.

Rating scale or Likert Scale questions are phrased as a “yes or no question” but then take it one step further to qualify that answer to assess the degree of the respondent opinions or experiences. This popular type of question measures attitudes and behaviors by ranging answer choices on a scale from one extreme to another. The advantage of this type of question is it delivers numerical data about your online community that you can then analyze and segment further. This type of question is great for measuring quantitative data and pinpointing a specific area for improvement or opportunities to engage specific audiences.

The Questions to Ask When Surveying Your Online Community

When developing your survey, consider the structure of your question as well as the content. We have compiled some questions of varying types to get you started with developing your online community member survey.

Remember to keep in mind both the goal of your community and the type of data you are looking to mine.

Online Community Goal: Enhance the Community Member Experience

The community members are the most important asset to your online community. Without engaged members, there is no community. Ensuring that each member has a positive experience each time they visit is the key to guaranteeing that they come back.

Managing the customer experience means you analyze every action your members can take. Are features easy to find? Furthermore, even small communities have varying types of members – new members, established members, different roles, different products, etc. Is there value for each member of the community? Does the community meet the members’ expectations?

Below are some basic questions to gauge that the experience of your customers.

Open Ended, Interview Style Questions:

  1. When you run into an issue with ______________, how do you get answers?
  2. How do you share knowledge about ____________ with other people who might be interested?
  3. What do you feel {Organization Name} is currently doing to keep you engaged?
  4. What would the ideal amount of interaction with {Organization Name} look like?

Rating Scale Questions:

  1. When you run into an issue with __________, how likely are you to visit {online community name}?
  2. How likely are you to share knowledge about ___________ with other people who might be interested? 
  3. How would you rate your satisfaction with the engagement options {organization name} provides? With 1 being very unsatisfied and 5 being very satisfied.
  4. On a scale from 1 to 5, 1 being not enough and 5 being too much please rate your experience with {organization name}?

Online Community Goal: Identifying the Value of the Content in Your Community

The content and discussions in your online community is what keeps your members logging in. It is the core of the value you provide to community members. Providing consistent and valuable content to your members is often the largest expenditure of your time. Thus, it is important to make sure that you are allocating your resources in the areas that will make the largest impact.

Open Ended, Interview Style Questions:

  1. What are your biggest business challenges?
  2. What type of content and formats tend to grab your attention?
  3. What kind of resources could {organization name} provide you to increase visits to the community?
  4. If you want to find another member {organization name} member who share similar backgrounds or professions, how would you currently go about doing that?

Rating Scale Questions:

  1. How satisfied are you with _________ resource?
  2. Please rate each resource on how likely it would increase your visits to the community? Then list each resource and relevant discussion offered or maybe just those that you are looking to direct your focus.
  3. How would you rate the satisfaction of the process you currently use to connect with other {organization name} members who share similar backgrounds or professions?

Online Community Goal: Assessing the Sense of Community

Creating a sense of community is the greatest indicator for success in an online community. While each community is created with a unique audience and organizational goals, they all have a mission to provide a place that more closely connects members and the relationship with the organization. In this type of member survey, you’ll discover whether or not your community meets the following criteria for its members: reinforcement of needs, membership and belonging, influence, and shared emotional connection. 

Open Ended, Interview Style Questions:

  1. What values do you feel you share with other online community members?
  2. What problems do you feel that community member can solve, if any?
  3. How long do you expect to be a part of this online community? Why or Why not?

Rating Scale Questions:

The following can be asked on a scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

  1. I expect to be a part of this community for a long time.
  2. If there is a problem in this community, members can get it solved.
  3. Community members and I value the same things

There is plenty of research documenting how to assess “sense of community” and the psychology behind building community.

Online Community Survey Takeaway

There are many ways to check in on the health of your online community. However, the most valuable data comes from the most valuable asset of your community, its members. Surveying your members offers valuable insight that fills in some of the gaps left by your online community metrics. When formulating your survey, it is crucial to take into account the type of community as well as the goal of your survey. Don’t forget to choose the questions and the question style based on the insight that you are seeking.

Nine low-cost member engagement strategies for associations.

Topics: Online Community Management, Customer Experience, Online Community

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