Reporting and measuring the success of your community isn’t always obvious. Often, community managers and marketing managers fall prey to either underreporting the true value of the community or reporting on vanity metrics.
Many of us have experience with traffic numbers that don’t convert to leads. Or freemium products that don’t convert to sales. These results and metrics leave us scrambling to justify what we are doing to upper management. “We have tons of traffic but no sign-ups, you must be doing something wrong.”
Measuring your community’s success and value is both important to internal stakeholders and to keep getting resources to invest in updating it. We want to put forward some KPIs for communities and considerations on how to track your community’s impact on key organization results.
I want to start with vanity metrics because these are the metrics which are obvious to track, but often can work against you. Aside from not providing a lot of insight into the community’s impact, they tend to be hard to explain when numbers swing one way or another.
Common vanity metrics:
- General sign up numbers
- General page view or traffic numbers
- Blended email open rates
- Total user numbers
- Post counts
These vague metrics don't help managers strategize or find reproducible results. Often they serve as distractions, or worse, cause executives to take quick action to solve a poorly understood problem.
I’m not saying that these numbers should never be looked at or reported on. Rather, take the metrics lightly because of their lack of context, and meaning. Investors won’t suddenly love your organization because of traffic volume or community user totals. And you won’t be able to make better business decisions with those numbers either.
Vanity metrics in your community include:
The main idea is to avoid big metrics and metrics which can be subject to fluctuation based on external (and uncontrollable) factors.
For example, maybe a thread got picked up on an external platform, say Reddit, and for that month you got a massive influx of new traffic and new users. The following month, your numbers drop back down. In the interim directors get excited, new forecasts created, and when the next month rolls around, the results disappoint. These scenarios are avoidable with more deliberate metrics which are used to provide context and details to the big numbers.
Instead focus on metrics which show engagement, relative percentages/numbers, and impact on the business.
Measuring new users seems obvious, but it’s often not enough. A couple of ways to better understand new sign-ups is to measure:
- Percentage of new users who posted
- The average amount of posts per new user in their first month
- Percentage of users who return after the first month
- Actions taken after visiting your community
- Community sentiment analysis
Why these metrics
These metrics let judge real engagement, which includes returning engagement (retention) a metric to show that users want to be apart of your community. Merely measuring monthly active users doesn’t always give you an accurate number because new members provide a consistent source of engagement. Measuring Nth month engagement allows you to see what type of retention you have in your community, real members who come back month after month, the bedrock of your community.
Business metrics are important and often overlooked part of a community. Typically, metrics revolve around traffic and engagement numbers. Depending on your community that’s not doing its true value justice. Measuring business KPIs for your community can sometimes be a bit tricky, mainly depending on how your internal systems are integrated and what the objective of your community is.
Let’s consider different business KPIs to measure, and how to do so.
Many communities for products revolve around ticket deflection. The premise is simple, users help users answer questions, and they are less likely to raise a ticket in the first place.
The most straightforward way to measure these metrics is supported tickets per hundred users before and after your community. That’s not always possible depending on your organization, so there are other ways to track ticket deflection.
Make sure your community has the functionality to track the support tickets/questions and answers. It isn't complicated, and it is allowing the person who raised the issue to mark it as ‘answered’ or allowing a moderator to do so — From there you’d have a dashboard with the following metrics:
- Amount of answered questions
- Average time to answer questions
- Percentage of unanswered questions
- Traffic numbers of the most responded to questions
- Traffic referred to and from the help pages
Using these metrics, you’ll be able to illustrate how the community impacts support. The metrics for answered questions in the community is the best way to show a reduction in support costs.
You can also point to highly trafficked support threads, and compare results to help center traffic — Often, communities receive better traffic than support articles. Use these traffic numbers to key threads to point how your community is further reducing ticket costs by supplmenting your help center.
A lot of communities, especially those which are free and open to everyone, survive by generating revenue. Typically, this is measured by affiliate marketing programs, UTMs, and other marketing tracking tools. Of course, if the referral doesn’t pass through, your community doesn’t get the credit (nor get paid).
Other communities generate leads. HubSpot's now defunct inbound.org was a good example. The community trained and helped marketers become more comfortable with HubSpot's inbound marketing techniques. You can measure leads generated through these types of communities via UTMs (any touches along the journey), tracking community sign-ups which lead to sales or if sales development specialists are engaged in the community, through any leads generated that way.
Another overlooked aspect is how the community plays a part in upselling and retention. Sonos’ help community probably doesn’t drive a lot of initial sales, it does drive many repeat purchases, plus accessory sales the company may not have otherwise had. Creating a connection between your CRM and your community can help you track and analyze the impact your community has on revenue. You may find a strong correlation between participation in your community to brand advocacy and repeat purchases.
Marketing attribution is difficult. It’s understandable that any community that exists for lead gen may have a hard time justifying it's valued solely on revenue metrics. This is why it’s important to augment those metrics with engagement, support, and other KPIs.
With that in mind, if your community is properly integrated into your other systems, it should be straight forward to attribute the following:
Leads where one of the touch points was the community
Revenue where the customer visited the community after purchase (within 30 days)
Repeat purchases and community activity
One of the more underrated aspects of a community is SEO. A quick google search typically shows communities dominating the first page of results. Quora, Apple forums, Stack Overflow, all rank very high in Google’s results. The reason being, they answer common questions that a lot of people search for, are updating frequently and often are likned out on other sites.
Your community can benefit in the same way. Reporting on SEO ranking can be done with tools like Buzzsumo, or Moz. Here you’ll want to report on keyword rankings, and search terms. Add context by comparing them to competitors, and show progress by reporting on how your efforts are driving traffic to your brand. Is the community a common entry point for new or repeat visitors? If so, pull your reports to show how users who visit your community, often visit your brand's main site.
Often it can be hard to put a quantifiable value on your community, especially when compared to product or sales initiatives which provide more tangible results regarding immediate revenue or new functionality. That’s why the key is to illustrate the value across your entire organization, from sales, retention, marketing, support, and brand. The ability to tell your executive team how the community impacts the company’s KPIs in multiple ways helps justify keeping your a priority.
Creating a community around your product or brand signals to your customers that you care about them, and have put in the effort to support them and how they interact with your brand and their peers. Smart marketers and leaders recognize the innate human urge to belong to something, which isn’t something that any metric can fully capture. So, while it’s important to track how your community is performing and it’s value to your business, there will always be an intangible aspect that no report can cover.