Four Keys to Meaningfully Measure Community Engagement

Just because your community can help you reach your business goals doesn’t mean you should build that community around ROI. A community expert recommends letting the community lead you to ROI opportunities instead.

A member community can be a powerful tool—but the exact value you get from it might differ a lot based on the people within that community, and your broader goals.

Anne Mbugua, a community management fellow with the Community Roundtable, explained that while some fundamentals of community management stay consistent, broader goals may differ.

“Community means different things to different people,” she said, adding that an association of doctors may have different needs than a leadership community might. Still, there might be broader goals of connection.

“We want members to be able to connect to each other,” she said. “We want them to be able to learn, collaborate, and find value in what they’re doing.”

So how do you assess that? Mbugua offered a few ideas that associations can learn from.

1. Start With the Community, Not the Platform or the ROI

It can be easy to think about community management in terms of the technology that you use or the value you hope to attain from it. And while thinking about these things can be an important part of the discussion, it can often cloud the primary goals of the community.

“Sometimes leadership stakeholders are thinking, ‘Yeah, we want to make money back on this expensive platform that we bought,’” Mbugua explained. “But it’s not really about the platform. It’s really about your members and your community.”

Mbugua recommended starting at a more fundamental level when trying to get at what you’re measuring and building, asking these three questions:

  • Why does this community exist?
  • What are the business goals?
  • What are our shared values between members, and what do we want to achieve as a business?

By answering these questions, it makes it easier to set broader goals for the organization. “I think that’s a better place to start before thinking about return on investment,” she said.

2. Break Down Members in Engagement Buckets

Community member experiences may differ in approach and maturity—someone just getting started in a community may be a lurker, while someone who’s been around a while might help drive the discussion.

One thing that Mbugua has observed among community professionals is the use of engagement buckets to understand how people are utilizing the community, building personas for each type of community user—listeners, contributors, leaders, and collaborators.

This sort of persona-based tracking can make it possible to get an understanding of your community and how its needs are evolving.

“Once you figure out what the community goals are, then you’re able to really align that and measure,” she said. “Then you can prove value to your stakeholders; then you can start thinking about return on investment on your community; and then you can start thinking about how that affects the platform.”

3. Build a Community Road Map

Every community takes its own journey to success, so it makes sense to map it out, Mbugua explained.

A road map, much like with an actual map, aims to help set the direction of a community in the long term. “It’s good for me to plan where I’m going and how I’m getting there,” she said.

However, one thing she warned is to make it clear that the road map is a list of aspirations rather than broader goals. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to fulfill each and every one of them,” she said. “Sometimes leadership or stakeholders don’t really understand [that].”

Still, the exercise can prove an important element in capturing evolution over time.

4. Reassess Over Time

Mbugua, who often interacts with other community managers in her role, noted that many communities will assess their results every quarter, and use that information to get a grasp of long-term trends. By measuring in a periodic way, it can help to tell a broader story, so you can understand the community’s evolution over time.

And if things aren’t going to plan, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s a community, after all.

“Maybe you don’t have enough people commenting or posting, but what does that really mean?” she asked, adding that asking members directly can help clear the air when reporting back to leadership.

Ultimately, after the community has been given room to evolve and grow on its own, that’s when it can offer broader lessons that can be baked into discussions on ROI and business goals.

(assalve/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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