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How to Measure Community Success

How to Measure Community Success

Association leaders charged with building and managing online communities are faced with a lot of difficult decisions, from determining the right structure to creating a solid content strategy. But the most critical task on their to-do list is this: making the business case for community. 

It turns out that ensuring buy-in for your online community is about more than just collecting data. It's about translating your metrics into stories that resonate with key stakeholders, from the leadership team to the board of directors. 

Here, we're helping you measure the impact of community with insights derived from our recent webinar with Brian Oblinger, an expert in empowering brands through community and customer experience. 

Unlocking Community Impact: Mastering Measurement

As a community expert, Brian has spent more than two decades working with enterprise brands to leverage the power of community. During the webinar, he highlighted three key aspects of community measurement: selecting meaningful KPIs, analyzing community data, and crafting persuasive narratives. 

Selecting Meaningful KPIs

When it comes to community impact, there are two main categories of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

Operational metrics include the measures most of us are familiar with, like unique visitors, message views, likes, and replies.

Business outcomes articulate the significance behind the operational metrics. They answer "So what?" and connect member behaviors to actual business results. 

Brian shared an example of goal-setting in practice by walking through the flow of these common measurements:

Acquisition: How many unique visitors are coming to our site?

Conversion: How many of those visitors are joining the community?

Engagement: How many of those new community members make their first community post?

Looking at operational metrics in this way can shed light on where to take action to achieve your desired business outcomes. For example, many organizations may assume they have an engagement problem, but when they dive deeper into this exercise, they discover it's actually an issue with acquisition or conversion.

Analyzing Community Data

Rather than relying on surface-level analysis, community managers need to delve deeper into data interpretation. It's important to think critically to identify the underlying reasons behind trends instead of accepting them at face value.

Brian insists on the importance of context. To demonstrate this, he shared an example of a common metric you might pull up on your community dashboard: time on site. If members' time spent in the community is trending upward, you probably think that's a good thing. But what if the increase stems from a change you made that's impeding members from finding the resources they need? That's a frustrating experience, demonstrating that things aren't always what they seem.

Crafting Persuasive Narratives

Brian believes crafting persuasive narratives is the most important skill needed to communicate the value of community—especially to executive-level stakeholders. He gave examples of Business Outcome One-Liners that illustrate community impact, such as:  

"85% of revenue comes from active and engaged community members."

"80% of our total member support volume takes place via the community." 

"The community generated $75,000 in event revenue last year."

But turning your data into a compelling story involves more than just numbers—it requires visual representation. Presenting data in charts and graphs bridges the gap between abstract concepts and concrete results, helping others grasp the progress and impact of your community initiatives over time. 

Demonstrating the Value of Community

There's no doubt that your online community is an asset to your organization. It serves as a hub of engagement, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing and a driver of member acquisition, retention, and business success. But the realization of these benefits hinges on one crucial factor: investment.

Your organization has committed resources in the form of time, technology, and talent to nurture your community. To fully realize a return on investment, you need the support of decision-makers and the board of directors.

In this context, demonstrating the value of your community to executive stakeholders becomes necessary. Establishing meaningful KPIs, critically analyzing community data, and sharing stories about its impact are essential steps to securing the support you need to sustain your community efforts.

Here are three actionable tips to help you craft persuasive narratives that resonate with executive stakeholders and gain their buy-in for your community efforts:

Three Tips for Crafting Persuasive Narratives

  1. Measure Membership Growth Beyond Numbers. Instead of focusing only on growth in numbers, emphasize the broader impact the community has had on acquisition costs and revenue streams. Demonstrating how community engagement leads to a larger member pipeline and decreased effort can resonate strongly with executives and the board of directors.
  2. Highilght Non-Dues Revenue Growth. Your community can significantly contribute to revenue streams beyond membership dues. Link community engagement to learning revenue, event revenue, and sponsorship opportunities to help executives better understand the holistic value of your community efforts.
  3. Emphasize Efficiency and Sustainability. Community does more than drive revenue—it also enhances operations by increasing efficiency and sustainability. Executives will appreciate that the community is helping the organization scale efforts by reducing manual staff overhead and fostering self-service capabilities. That time saved by staff can be directed to other critical initiatives. 

Want to dive deeper into measuring community impact? Click here to access the full recording of the Unlocking Community Impact: Mastering Measurement webinar with Brian Oblinger. You'll gain access to a proven framework for identifying, interpreting, and improving online community KPIs. 


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