I didn’t hire a replacement. For the past three years, the community has been left to manage itself. I’ve dipped in occasionally to respond to discussions, remove spam, make a few tweaks, but that’s about it.
This means the community has unintentionally served as a fascinating natural experiment for what happens when you don’t replace (or don’t hire) a full-time community manager.
If you’re looking to make a case about the importance of a full-time community manager, this data should help.
Increase In The Number of Visitors
Let’s start with the number of visitors. Things didn’t really change much at first. In fact, the number of visitors continued to increase significantly for the following year. The reason for this is simple; the community was still attracting growing levels of search traffic.
Increase In Search Traffic
As you can see below, the number of visitors is entirely driven by organic search traffic.
My best guess is the community was still considered ‘fresh’ by Google and the rising increase in discussions kept ranking highly in search engines.
It’s only been in the past year that traffic has really begun to decline – largely the result of formerly popular topics no longer ranking highly in search engines.
Key Takeaway: Even without a community manager you will keep attracting similar (or increased) levels of search traffic for a year or two.
Rapid Decline Pageviews
This is where we can see a more immediate impact of losing the community manager.
The number of pageviews (which is a fairly good indicator of how engaging people are finding the community) almost immediately dived. We might have been attracting most people, but they were finding the community a lot less engaging.
My guess is the failure to populate the community with fresh, interesting discussions, ensure previous discussions received a response, and do the day to day welcoming work is reflected in an instant decline.
Rapid Decline Engagement Metrics
You can see the same immediate impact in broader engagement metrics too. The number of pages (discussions) members viewed per visit plummeted and the average session duration also fell immediately.
While the number had fallen a little before the community manager left, this is probably the result of Sarah Hawk working just 2 days a week for FeverBee just prior to her departure.
Interestingly, unlike total page views, engagement metrics seem to ‘bottom out’ at around 2 to 2.5 pages per session and average session duration of about 1:30 to 2:00 minutes. This was primarily new visitors browsing around after most of the regulars had departed.
This might be an interesting benchmark for community professionals (i.e. anything above this line is attributable to the work of a community manager).
Key Takeaway: The moment a community manager leaves you can probably expect an immediate decline in engagement. This will level out at ‘rock bottom’ within about a year.
As expected, when a community manager leaves you see an immediate collapse in the level of participation in the community.
Some of this is simply the absence of Hawk’s contributions. She was making 80+ posts per month. The majority is members participating less. When she wasn’t there to proactively drive the community, the level of participation quickly declined.
Key takeaway: If a community manager leaves, you need to find a replacement quickly or you lose all the value the community has created.
Daily Active Users / Monthly Active Users (stickiness)
Once Hawk had left, the community also became a lot less ‘sticky’.
While the data itself is highly variable from month to month, the trend-line broadly shows a clear decline in stickiness until (again) a baseline is reached.
Members who did visit (i.e. regulars), were suddenly visiting a lot less frequently. 20% is often considered the standard to aim for here. And the FeverBee community was within touching distance of that before Hawk left.
Could these results be more conclusive?
Communities can’t run themselves. Large communities might fare slightly better than smaller communities like ours, but you still need someone at the helm.
Not replacing the community manager immediately reversed the direction of the community from one which was increasing in activity and engagement to one that went into a tailspin decline.
Note: You might notice several of these metrics were in decline just prior to the community manager’s departure. I’d attribute this to a) Sarah Hawk leaving half-way through the month of July and b) she only worked 2 days a week just prior to her departure.
If you want a community to thrive and reach a critical mass of activity, you need a full-time community manager to make that work. You can’t wait for a community to be successful and then hire one. And if your community manager leaves, you better find a replacement quickly.