This blog post isn’t going to talk about Social ROI, the dreaded discussion that every Social Media professional faces.  I can’t tell you how many conferences I have sat at and discussed and debated the topic of ROI.  From my perspective social ROI is simple, you get to talk directly with your customers.  Anyone who can’t see the value of that is living in the stone age.  For the sake of this blog post we’re going to assume that you have already convinced management of the value of investment in Community & Social Media.

What we are going to talk about in this blog post is how to measure the success of your community and how to use that understanding of measurement to set success criteria and measure against future projects and campaigns.

forrest lymburner

The Four Cornerstones of Community Measurement

  1. Membership & Retention
  2. Content & Engagement
  3. Content Consumption
  4. Impact of Community

Membership & Retention

To have a community you have to have members.  Remember the 90-9-1 rule from our previous blog post.  Only ten percent (on average) of the people who come to your site will join it and participate in some way.  This category of measurement is focused on just that 10%.  Using the 90-9-1 rule as a baseline measurement that means that in you have 100,000 unique visitors in a month then 1,000 should engage (either by joining, signing in, posting or commenting)  I’ve always laughed when showing membership rates, its the only metric guaranteed to go up and to the right!  The real question is it going that direction in correlation to the number of people visiting your site?  In the early days of your community your 90-9-1 rule is probably going to look more like 60-30-10 and when you community reaches maturity it will probably be more like 98-1-1.   These are all just averages, remember.

Retention is really the most important metric in this category.  It is also called active rate, stickiness.  It is very simple.   Of your total membership what percentage is logging in on a monthly/quarterly basis?  In my experience the averages here are around 20% – 30%.  While the reality is that some members will show up, get what they need and bail the true goal of a community must always be to convert a new member into an engaged member.

Success Criteria:  Every community is going to be different.  For membership look at your monthly unique visitors to the rest of your web properties, assume around a 10% conversion rate to your community, then take 10% of that.  That should give you a good goal of how many community members you should have join on a monthly basis.  For retention, I always shoot for a goal of 30%-40%.  It’s largest an experimentation game with gamification, user experience, content, etc but if you follow it closely you can move the needle.

Content & Engagement

This refers to measurement around how much content is being created by your community members and how much of that content is getting engaged with.  In a support community this often looks like number of questions, reply rate percentages and time-to-replies.  In a discussion based community this can refer to posts, topics, comments, shares, etc.  While over time this number will grow, I have found that it is more important to sustain levels rather than exponentially grow them.  For example, in a support community if you’re getting 100 questions a month per forum the goal shouldn’t be to get more questions but rather make sure that more of the questions get engaged with and faster.  Another key principle to engagement is measuring the percentage of compensated members vs non-compensated.  A goal of the community should always be to increase engagement by those who are free and reduce the % of those who are paid.

Success Criteria: It is difficult to put an average on how much content to shoot for however you should always try to at least a 90% engagement rate on content that is posted and no more than a two day reply window.  It really doesn’t matter who responds just that someone does.  From a compensated/non-compensated perspective it will vary based on the age of the community.  In the beginning the vast majority of your engagement will come from compensated but by the time you reach your “point of community” it should be at 50/50.  A goal should always be around an 80/20 rule in the end.  You never want to disengage your employees from your community fully but in the long run they should not make up more than 20% of the engagement.

Content Consumption

This is a thing a lot of people don’t think about with community measurement.  This is the other side of the 90-9-1 rule.  This applies to the 90% of come to your site to read and never do anything else.  The key metrics to look at here are growth rates in page views, visits, unique visitors, bounce rates, popular content/topics, time on site, etc.  In short it’s how much of the content is getting used and how good is it.  For most communities this is the ROI, content created by your customers getting used by other customers and it all benefiting your sales and support.

Success Criteria:  The best way to establish success criteria here is to base is on an average of 10% of your overall web traffic with a 10%-15% month-over-month growth rate.  Your bounce rates should be lower than your regular static website and if your content is right your time on site will be much higher!  A good time on site for community to shoot for in my experience is around 6 minutes.

Impact of Program

This metrics is often the hardest to figure out.  What outside of your community has been impacted by your community.  This could be sales, reduced support costs, call deflection, referral traffic, conversions etc.  To figure this part out you truly have to understand the problem.  While a lot of it will be guessing, the best way to track this is to understand how all the things around it are being tracked today, work with your counterparts to determine what type of impact % you want to shoot for and start tracking.  This in itself is hard because systems don’t always talk well to one another.

Success Criteria: The reality here is that much of the initial impact with be guessing.  The key really is the identification and measurement.  Just knowing what “might” get impacted and watching it closely should open your eyes to lots of possibilities!  This is a topic where establishing your success criteria is best done at the six month mark after you have started seeing the trends emerged and you can start applying real math and roadmap to the problem.

The key take-away here is you have to measure early and often.  Many people jump into community head first and don’t measure and when things start going wrong it becomes nearly impossible to pinpoint where the problem lies.

In my next blog post I’ll start my mini-series within a series about the specific parts of a community, what they are and what to keep in mind when developing a strategy around them.  The first in this series will be Forums101!