How to Calculate the ROI of Online Communities

By Richard Millington

ROI People

What Value to Communicate

Value is in the eye of the beholder. Which is to say value is about perceptions. Your community’s value isn’t based upon a single metric to a single person. The value of your community is entirely subjective. It is based upon a combination of financial benefits, immediate utility, emotions, beliefs, and social norms.

That last one, social norms, is significant. We rarely form beliefs in isolation. Most of our beliefs are derived from wanting to fit in with others.

If your executive team has come to a consensus about the community, others are likely to adopt that view, too. This means you can’t focus all your efforts on a single stakeholder. You have to target a group of people and develop a broad consensus that the community yields positive value.

This also means you need to identify your community’s stakeholders, find out what they value, and determine how much time you want to spend keeping them informed, satisfied or engaged. In project management terminology, this is known as stakeholder mapping.

Mapping Your Stakeholders

Stakeholder mapping is a key part of forming positive value. While the literature runs deep, the process is relatively simple. You identify possible stakeholders and their level of interest and influence over the project. Then, based upon their level of influence and interest, you keep them informed, satisfied, or engaged in the project.

Identifying stakeholders

The most common mistake here is to misunderstand who or what a stakeholder is. A stakeholder is anyone who might have an interest in the project. For you, this will probably include a combination of:

  • Community members
  • Senior executives
  • Your boss (and their boss)
  • Immediate colleagues
  • Relevant colleagues (IT, PR, marketing, etc.)
  • Your platform vendor
  • Peers running other communities.

These aren’t singular groups, but an entry point to the key people within those groups. Your veteran members will have different perceptions of value from regular members.

Your CEO might have different perceptions of value than the CFO or other members of the senior executive team.

The first step is to plot these stakeholders on a table below and identify both their level of influence over the project (Could they kill the project or shape group opinions in a major way?) and their level of interest in the project (Is this a big deal for them, or one of many things they have to deal with every day?).

Your table might look something like this:

Stakeholder type Specific person(s) Influence Interest
Community Members Veterans/volunteers Medium High
Most active High High
Regulars Low High
Lurkers Low Low
Senior Executives CEO High Low
CFO High Low
Director of marketing High Medium
Direct Management Your boss High High
Your boss’ boss High Medium
Colleagues Team members Medium Medium
IT/Tech Medium Low
Marketing/PR Low Medium
Vendor Platform vendor Low High
Peers in the field Community professionals Low Medium

You can see the problem. There are 14 different types of stakeholders here and your time is limited. If you try to keep every stakeholder delighted, you’re going to find you won’t have any time to develop your community. This means we need a way to prioritize these stakeholders.

For this, we use the stakeholder matrix in Figure 1.

Now we can prioritize our table below into key segments, as shown in the table below.

Stakeholder type Specific person(s) Influence Interest Prioritize
Direct Management Your boss High High Engage
Community Members Most active High High Engage
Direct Management Your boss’ boss High Medium Engage
Senior Executives Director of marketing High Medium Engage
Senior Executives CEO High Low Keep satisfied
Senior Executives CFO High Low Keep satisfied
Community Members Veterans/volunteers Medium High Keep satisfied
Colleagues Team members Medium Medium Keep satisfied
Colleagues IT/Tech Medium Low Keep satisfied
Community Members Regulars Low High Keep informed
Colleagues Marketing/PR Low Medium Keep informed
Vendor Platform vendor Low Medium Keep informed
Peers in the field Community professionals Low Medium Keep informed
Community Members Lurkers Low Low Monitor

Now, we can see a clear group of four people at the top who we need to proactively engage, followed by another group of four we need to keep satisfied. These are the perceptions we need to shape. But, what’s the difference between engaging, keeping satisfied, keeping informed, and monitoring?

  • Engage. Proactively seek their opinions and advice. Communicate with them on a daily or weekly basis. Give them an active role in shaping the community. Deeply understand their needs. Build strong working relationships with this group.
  • Keep satisfied. Build strong relationships with this group. Understand what information they need. Send through milestone updates and powerful stories only to shape perception.
  • Keep informed. Understand what they value and send through regular updates to match this value. You don’t need to build strong relationships with this group, just establish a clear perception of relevant value to them.
  • Monitor. This group you can usually track via their activity or via your data to see if there is anything you need to send through.

Imagine you have two hours per week to spend on stakeholder communication. Break it down to 50%, 25%, 10%, 5% of your time. Spend 50% of your time on engaging the key stakeholders, 25% of your time on keeping others satisfied and 10% of your time keeping other members informed.

Understanding Stakeholder Value

The biggest mistake you can make is not taking the time to find out what motivates your stakeholders. Simply taking the time to understand stakeholder values will help you build positive relationships. Every stakeholder wishes to feel understood and that they have a sense of influence.

The second biggest mistake is accepting their first answer as to what truly motivates them. Most stakeholders will usually name noble organizational goals. The truth is far more complex.

While stakeholders almost certainly wish to see the organization succeed, they also have their own motivations, which have a bigger influence on whether they will or will not support the community.

Stakeholders will typically value a combination of:

  1. Does the community save them time?
  2. Does the community save them money?
  3. Does the community help them achieve superior outcomes?
  4. Does the community help them impress their boss?
  5. Does the community help them impress their peers?
  6. Does the community help them feel more important and respected?
  7. Does the community make me feel good about the work I do?

Spend time with each group of stakeholders and try to understand:

  1. What do stakeholders wish to see from the community? Very often, you can highlight ways the community might help them achieve their goals. At the very least, you might uncover potential reservations you can tackle early on.
  2. What do stakeholders wish to experience from the community? This sounds very similar to the first question. The difference is that it’s emotive in nature. You have to look for inferences about the motivations of each stakeholder to get a good answer. This is about what isn’t said. You want to understand how they feel about their work, what they like about it, what they’re worried about, etc.

Developing personal relationships with stakeholders is a critical part of gaining support. The process of mapping stakeholder relationships and understanding the unique needs of different stakeholders is a critical component in building these relationships later.

Based upon these conversations, we should be able to compile a detailed stakeholder map that shows what each stakeholder wishes to see from the community.

Stakeholder type Specific person(s) Influence Interest Prioritize Values
Direct management Your boss High High Engage Member satisfaction

Looking smart

Return generated

Community Members Most active

 

High High Engage Personal efficacy

Group identity

Direct management Your boss’ boss High Medium Engage Generating more profit than the sales team
Senior Executives Director of marketing High Medium Engage Promotion potential

No. of people reached

“Integration”

Senior Executives CEO High Low

 

Keep satisfied Look innovative
Senior Executives CFO High Low Keep satisfied Best use of funds
Community Members Veterans/

volunteers

 

Medium High Keep satisfied Sense of power / influence / being respected
Colleagues Team members Medium Medium Keep satisfied Saves time. Makes their team look good to others in the organization
Colleagues IT/Tech Medium Low Keep satisfied Not another waste of time
Community Members Regulars Low High Keep informed Group success
Colleagues Marketing/PR Low Medium Keep informed Generates a great return

Taking credit.

Vendor Platform vendor Low Medium Keep informed Case study to attract other clients

Long-term contracts

Peers in the field Community professionals Low Medium Keep informed Success stories and tactics they can use
Community Members Lurkers Low Low Monitor Access to more information

Now we have a pretty good idea of who our stakeholders are, what our stakeholders value, and how much time to spend on each of them. The next step is how to communicate value.

Summary

  1. Create a list of your relevant stakeholders and list their level of influence and interest in the community.
  2. Keep stakeholders with high influence and interest actively engaged in the community. Spend most of your time on this groupKeep stakeholders with high influence but low interest satisfied with the community. Keep tabs on their attitudes and build relationships with them.
  3. Keep stakeholders with low influence but high interest informed. Send through regular information.
  4. Monitor stakeholders with low influence and interest. Make sure they do not become a problem.
  5. Speak to each group and find out what motivates them. Pay attention to both what they say and don’t say.

Chapters

Share

 LinkedIn LinkedIn

 Google Plus Google+