Don’t Use Bogus Metrics For An Online Community

Almost every community health metric is bogus.

Increasing the number of registered members is easy to measure. Every platform shows this figure. However, it’s a metric which only rises as members don’t delete their accounts. This better shows the age of the community than its success.

Increasing the number of questions or active members sounds reasonable except this is more controlled by how many customers your brand attracts in the first place. It also relies heavily on a) how many problems members have with products and b) how many new customers the company is attracting.

Increasing the number of questions with an accepted solution sounds smart. However, once you’ve answered all of the easy questions, it becomes progressively harder to answer the rest. Your rate naturally stalls. Sneakier community professionals have realised it’s easier to delete questions they can’t answer.

Increasing the % of newcomers who become active members makes sense until you consider the quality of newcomers declines over time. Your best customers/audience are likely to join in the inception/establishment phase of the community lifecycle.

Increasing the number of visitors is great but suffers from the same input problems. You can’t control how many customers you attract, how much the organisation spends on marketing and promotion etc…

Increasing member satisfaction is great until you realise members rarely distinguish between satisfaction with the products and satisfaction with the community. If the company released a bad product, member satisfaction naturally declines too. It doesn’t measure your performance.

Increasing call/ticket deflection is great until you realise no-one really knows if someone visiting a question with a solution actually received the answer they needed or just gave up (or even called customer support). This often doesn’t track any reduction in support costs, but theoretical reductions.

The list goes on, but the lesson is simple. There is not a single metric to fully measure community value. Every metric is flawed and can be (easily) gamed.

So what should you do?

Three things…

1) Don’t let yourself be measured by anything you can’t reasonably control and influence. Most metrics fail because they rely upon inputs outside of the community manager’s control. If you can’t directly influence it, you shouldn’t be measured by it. This is by far the biggest problem in measurement today.

2) Measure changes in customer behavior, not activity. Do members who join the community buy more after joining the community? Has the community improved customer satisfaction since it launched? Do people buy more or make more referrals? Track time-series data showing how customer behavior has changed. This should focus on the ultimate impact of the community. Who in the organisation is the community supposed to help? How will you know if it’s doing that?

3) Tell persuasive stories. A story needs a verifiable fact, an emotional hook, and a narrative from one state to another. Use the inputs you have to tell persuasive stories about changes in behavior. What are the tangible outputs of the community that make it indispensable to the organization?

Get the measurement wrong, and none of the good work you do will matter.

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