Community Metrics: What Matters And What Doesn’t

October 20, 2015 Comments Off on Community Metrics: What Matters And What Doesn’t

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Why It Doesn’t Really Matter What You Measure

When I was 15, a tyrannical electronics teacher decided we should spend a precious year creating decision trees for airport baggage carousel systems.

It began simple enough. Is there a bag waiting? Yes. Is there a free spot? Yes. Activate conveyor belt. It looks like this:

electronics1

What do you notice about the above?

The input is really simple.

It’s a light sensor. If it’s blocked there’s baggage there. It’s the decision process that’s hard. Light isn’t the only possible sensor. You can track weight or possibly even sound. But like our growth metrics, you still get the same result.

The same is true with community metrics. There are dozens of variables that correlate pretty well with growth. Unique visitors, sessions, active members and many others will answer the key question, is growth increasing?

Then my teacher’s tyranny grew by making it more complicated. Was the flight delayed? Was the baggage oversized? Are there no free spots? Is there more than one conveyor belt? Is baggage vibrating?

We had to design increasingly complicated systems to handle the outcomes.

What Would You Do If….?

The biggest problem today is we have no idea what to do with that information.

Stop. Seriously, stop what you’re doing for a second and try to answer this question:

If growth is increasing, what would you do differently?

If growth is decreasing, what would you do differently?

If you don’t have a snapshot answer to that it’s because you’re probably tracking metrics to impress your boss rather than to help you build your community.

You’re wasting an incredible opportunity to use data the way it’s supposed to be used – to make better, informed, decisions.

A Simple Growth System

Let’s imagine a really simple growth system.

electronics2

At least now you have some sort of use for the metrics.

But can you spot the problem in our overly simplified system? You can’t spend more time on growth without spending less time on something else. Also, it’s not very specific in WHAT you should do…

Also, you might decide to spend more time on growth if it’s working. You could optimize different channels etc…

A More Complicated Process

Let’s say your activity has declined. You identify that’s because of fewer new visitors. Your data shows you your Google search traffic is declining.

This might be because a) your search ranking has decreased or b) the search terms are less popular. Now you can use the Moz tools to answer that question.

If search ranking has decreased, you might decide to spend less time creating content for 2 weeks and more time analyzing what competitors are doing, publishing guest posts on other sites, optimizing your key pages etc…

If your search terms are less popular, you might use the same tools to identify which terms are most relevant to your sector (research competitors) and create content or discussions to satisfy them.

Two weeks later you can check back to see if that’s improved your growth rates. If it has, you can shift that time back to creating content again.

Don’t Track Any Metric You Don’t Have A Decision Tree For

Don’t track any metric until you know what to do with it.

The critical step is you have the decision tree in place to tackle each possible situation. The better you get as a community professional, the bigger and more complex your decision tree (or trees) become(s).

This is how you do truly terrific data-driven community management. You’ll be FAR more effective if you can design the right decision tree than if you simply track vanity metrics.

A Few Bonus Points

  • Absolute numbers are far less important than absolute trends. Don’t worry if your community has 1000 or 10,000 active members. Worry if the number of active members is rising or declining.
  • Use RescueTime to track and classify your time each week. This will tell you what to spend more or less time on (which is usually the key outcome of this process).
  • Begin with just allocating more time, then figuring out what specifically to do if growth, activity, sense of community, or ROI is rising/falling. That means knowing how to diagnose the source of success/failure and interventions to test to improve each.

A bonus point of this system is it scales well. You can allocate parts to volunteers to work on.

The Best Offer We Can Make

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