I once hired a copywriter to increase a client’s newcomer to registered member conversion rate. It was a (expensive) test. The copy he produced was stunning. Big promises, free resources, every psychological technique and inbound marketing technique in existence was incorporated.
The conversion would have shot up, the participation rate would have plummeted. All the free offers in the world wouldn’t get people to participate.
This is the problem with measuring (or being measured by) a single metric. You’re motivated to subvert all the resources available to you to make that metric go up. But these are complex systems we’re working with. Changes in one area affects other areas in unpredictable ways.
If you’re only being measured by registered members, hiring a copywriter to write this sort of copy that decreases the total level of activity is the logical course of action.
If you’re only being measured in total number of posts, it makes sense to say controversial stuff, start fights, initiate wordplay games, and share gossip.
If you’re only being measured by value only, it makes sense to spam members with discounts until they buy etc…
Perhaps we’re all smart enough to stay away from the extremes above, but the logic is still there. In any situation where there is a choice, the choice will favour what’s being measured.
Communities aren’t unique here. If a CEO is measured by the increase in share price each year, they’ll subvert every resource available to them to make that price go up each year (with predictable consequences).
This works for every metric you can think of. Imagine your metric is monthly active users. It makes sense to spend most of your time on having as many unique contacts with as many members as possible to encourage them to visit once. You can build up entire volunteer teams to help you.
The problem is these things work on a curve. Eventually sustained growth requires more than just a numbers game of contacts / members or big promises to newcomers. It requires word of mouth, depth of discussion, taking time to build a strong sense of community etc…
Part of the problem is simplicity. A single metric keeps everything simple for you and your boss. But it’s also just as likely to keep your community from reaching its potential and lead to its own demise.
If you’re managing a community team (or just managing your own community), have the discussion with your boss, colleagues, or even just yourself and set at least four targets.
We’ve found these work well:
1) A growth-related target. This is a target related to the number of new members each month. Use any proxy figure you like (unique new visitors, newly registered members, first-time participants etc…).
2) An activity-related target. This is the total number of posts, posts per active members, average time on site, page views per member or anything that indicates whether members are actively participating.
3) A sentiment-related target. This is a target related to the sense of community, how members feel about the community, or general satisfaction with the community. Polls and surveys work well here.
4) A value-based target. This is a target related to the value the organisation gets from the community. Call deflection, increase in retention rate, time saved etc, any return-based metric.
Setting four targets prevents anyone from subverting the other three to achieve a single aim.
If you prefer to track a single target to measure, feel free…just insist it must be achieved without any major declines in any of the other three.