Slow Declines Are Far More Worrying Than Sudden Drops

Analysing the data from two new clients recently.

Let’s begin with this graph here.

When you see a sudden drop like this (or major drop compared with data from the year before), the cause is almost always a major external event. If you want to grow a community, you first need to determine what the major event was.

The most common examples (by order of frequency) include:

  • Changes to the registrations process (often a new SSO system)
  • Changes to the company homepage design.
  • Changes to the community design.
  • Changes to the Google algorithm.
  • A ‘black swan’ event (given the date of the drop, this might be our first hunch to explore).

Typically here, you can ask around and find what other changes occurred in each of the above until you find the source. You can play detective here and ask around each of the above to determine what’s happening.

A sudden drop is bad, but not disastrous. It can usually be reversed if you can identify the cause. The interests of members haven’t fundamentally shifted.

Now consider this graph:

When you see a more gradual drop like this, the cause is social in nature. A slow decline is far more likely to be fatal than a sudden drop. The needs and motivations of members are fundamentally changing and you need to change too.

The most common explanations here include:

  • You have fewer potential people to engage (fewer people interested in the topic / fewer new customers).
  • Members have fewer questions to ask.
  • Rising competition from other channels.
  • Declining community experience drives people away.

Before you can reverse the trend, you need to gather a few metrics to identify what the problem is. This usually includes comparing the trend against :

  • The number of visitors to the company website.
  • No. new customers the organisation has attracted.
  • Search traffic to the community.
  • No. of support tickets being filed from support teams.

If any of these are also declining, you have usually found your cause.

For example, if there has been a comparable decline in support tickets filed, you know the drop isn’t community-centric. It’s part of a broad shift of either attracting fewer customers or customers having fewer questions to ask.

Before trying to change any metric, you need to understand what’s driving it. Solve that and everything becomes a lot easier.

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