Return on Community: How Engagement and MX Spur Revenue Growth

Leverage innovation, create everyday value, and use advanced analytics to drive action.

By Kristen Wright, Chief Marketing Officer, Forj

The corporate world is experiencing an epiphany of sorts when it comes to the value of community.

In 2020, 15 percent of professionals said their organization had a dedicated community department, according to Community Leaders magazine. By 2021, that figure jumped to 22 percent, with 35 percent of respondents reporting that their organization had at least one full-time position dedicated to community operations.

A recent TechCrunch headline—“Chief Community Officer is the New CMO”—sums up the trend nicely. But the value of community comes as no surprise to association executives, who have always brought people together to advance business goals, connect buyers and sellers, and pursue education in niche areas.

“Associations have been building communities forever; they are communities,” said R.D. Whitney, Chief Community Officer at Chief Executive Group (CEG) and the Chief Operating Officer for the CFO Leadership Council (a CEG Community), who has decades of experience building niche B2B communities. “For them, success is just a matter of advancing existing communities and following digital trends.”

Associations can glean some wisdom from the for-profit space in that regard. “What for-profit organizations do well is constantly innovate and challenge their revenue streams in a way that delivers ongoing value,” Whitney said.

Partner Up to Access Innovation

The good news is that associations can get in on the action by partnering with digital platform providers to deliver an elegant, frictionless member experience (MX)—no internal tech skills or innovation required. “That type of technology didn’t even exist until recently,” Whitney said.

These innovations aren’t intended to replace in-person experiences but to complement them, delivering year-round educational resources, community engagement venues, and sponsorship opportunities.

“Organizations that don’t have a digital experience for their members are going to quickly become irrelevant at a pace that’s never been seen in history—I think it’s happening already,” Whitney said. “Does that mean they have to go fully virtual and online? No, absolutely not.”

The key is to create synergy between virtual and in-person functions. “The two are meshed together permanently, and there’s a lot of experimentation going on,” Whitney said.

Research shows that communities with abundant social capital have members who communicate well, spend time together, help each other, and contribute to the common good. Providing always-on opportunities for digital engagement helps association leaders continuously check all of those boxes.

“Why wouldn’t you go from a three- to four-day experience to a 365 model?” Whitney said. “You’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, as you know, the show is coming up, and all of these topics you’ve been engaging with digitally will be featured there—can I sign you up?’”

Measuring Community ROI

Robust, always-on communities drive revenue by creating magnetic value that attracts and retains community members.

To measure ROI in this area, associations are turning to all-new indicators of success, including return on community—the value an association receives from creating successful communities of practice. Some association leaders also assess MX maturity for insight on strengths, weaknesses, and areas of improvement.

Whitney suggested that association executives create an engagement dashboard centered on business goals. “Engagement is key to the longevity of any organization, and there are different ways to measure it depending on what’s important to a particular association,” he said.

Don’t make the mistake of focusing solely on vanity metrics like logins, views, comments, posts, registrations, and attendees. Actionable metrics that come as a result of healthy communities—think new member acquisition, member retention, and non-dues revenue—are often more important and can help associations improve future results.

The advanced, predictive analytic capabilities inherent in modern MX platforms help association leaders uncover meaningful insights and make data-driven decisions. For example, analytics could help predict membership churn in that those who don’t engage in a meaningful way are more likely to drop off at renewal.

Whitney said that analytics will play a significant role in elevating the community experience moving forward.

“Communities create lots of data points, and being able to use them in an efficient way is critical,” he said. “If you can’t measure, you can’t grow, so you need to be able to easily access reports based on the data that exists.”

Associations can learn a lot about their industry and its future using the data that exists at a single physical event. “Putting virtual events, online interactions, and community posts on top of that creates millions of data points that can be efficiently exported and analyzed.”

The team at Forj, an MX platform for associations and professional community organizations, thanks R.D. Whitney, Chief Community Officer at Chief Executive Group (CEG) and the Chief Operating Officer of the CFO Leadership Council (a CEG Community), for his expertise in the value of strong communities. For information on the Forj MX Maturity Model or to request a demo of the company’s MX platform, visit