Vanity metrics are nice, but your key performance indicators should focus on the relationship between engagement and business results, says the founder of Community by Association.
A member community is not just a place for people to hang out with others in their field. With the right key performance indicators (KPIs) in place, it can be a pulse check of your association’s overall performance.
Marjorie Anderson, manager of digital communities at the Project Management Institute and founder of the Community by Association website and network, says associations are communities by nature. This means that a vibrant member community can affect KPIs such as net promoter scores while also helping associations generate ideas that can strengthen the organization.
“The relationships cultivated within a well-managed and aligned community help position associations as a go-to resource for member needs and contribute to overall growth,” Anderson says.
She notes that good community-related KPIs change over time. At first, the so-called vanity metrics, such as visitor stats and new users, matter more. But “because those numbers can climb quickly, it’s easy for leaders to get stuck on those types of metrics and use them as the guiding light for success,” she says.
“As the community matures, those KPIs don’t tell the story of engagement or value, so you have to start looking at things like how many people are returning to the site after their first visit or whether they are sharing content, either with each other or in their social networks,” Anderson explains. “Even measuring [the number of] posts in the discussion threads that do or don’t have answers is a good indicator of whether or not people are engaging.”
Over time, the focus of the story should shift away from the pure numbers. “The bigger and more compelling story to be told should be around metrics that show what engagement looks like, and interpreting that data in a way that translates to business value is essential,” she says.
Where should associations focus their KPI energy in 2021? Anderson has these suggestions:
Listen to member inputs. A well-built member community provides a direct avenue for feedback that can inform business decisions. “Overall, associations should be close to any voice-of-the-customer data they can get their hands on,” she says. “From a community perspective, paying attention to member feedback that pops up in the community that is passed on by the community manager is key.”
Focus on the member journey. What brings members to an association—or prompts them to leave? It’s important to understand that path when analyzing membership trends. “It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, but the origin of the increase or decrease of those numbers is much more important to understand,” Anderson says. “Sometimes it comes from places you never thought of, like your community, and there you’ll also find the feedback you need that correlates to that journey. This then helps you create better member experiences.”
Offer aspirin, not vitamins. Anderson says associations need to do their research to figure out where the community is most valuable to members and offer an “aspirin solution,” which is essential to their needs, rather than a “vitamin solution” that’s just nice to have. “It is more important to find one or two areas where the greatest impact can be made, versus trying to spread yourself thin, and then expand as the community matures,” she says.