Making Accurate Online Community Membership Projections

Over the past year, I’ve seen numerous organizations and community managers rely on platform vendors to help them make membership projections. This is like walking into a shop and asking the owner how many things you should buy. The answer is going to be a lot more than you need.

Unsurprisingly, these organizations soon find themselves locked into a 3+ year contract based on these membership projections and paying ranges of 2x to 5x more than they need.

One community launched in the middle of last year was supposed to have 67k members by now. Instead, it has 18k. This means they’re overpaying by around 400%*.

This isn’t a trivial figure, it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

 

The Numbers You Need To Make An Accurate Membership Projection

We’ve found we can make more accurate membership projections from a few hard numbers and a lot more conservative benchmark conversion percentages.

Hard Numbers

Your initial speed of growth and likely audience size is reliant upon the size of your existing audience.

1) Existing web traffic to your company website. How many people visit your community now determines how many you can redirect to the community.

2) Existing earned audience size. This is your mailing list, social media audiences, and any other way you have of contacting your members.

3) Paid advertising promotion. This is rare but happens when the company doesn’t have a big audience list or permission to access it.

Later this also includes search traffic – how many people arrive at your community directly via search.

 

Conversion Percentages

Not every person counted above will register, there will be a huge overlap, and we have to think about annual churn from the community. We, therefore, caveat the above metrics with the conversion percentages we see below:

  • % of search visitors who register to join the community.
  • % who visit the community from the company site (redirected traffic).
  • Average % click-rate on messages to existing audience.
  • Average % recruitment from existing audiences.
  • % who make a first contribution.
  • % churn rate from those who make a first contribution.

When we combine this, we can put together a relatively simple model to project how many members a community is likely to have:

These are standard benchmarks from our observations, yours will vary by the type of community you’re running (open/closed, internal/external, support/discussions/ideas), the sector you’re in (tech, non-profit, gaming etc…) and other factors. You can adjust them…but always rely on some data rather than your own ambitious intuition.

Note here how growth changes over time.

The speed of your initial growth is largely determined by how many people you can reach to begin with. Over time, this is usually replaced by search traffic.

There is more complexity here (total size of market, speed of company growth, how good the community management team is etc)…but the message should be clear.

Don’t rely on the company you’re buying from to tell you how much to buy, make your own membership projections.

* Assuming visitor projections were equally skewed.
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