In thinking about how to measure online community engagement, the first place we turn to is a sentiment we’ve been harboring, professing, and championing for quite a while now. It goes something like this:
For too long, online community leaders have been stuck with tools that measure activities but fail to understand the business purpose behind that engagement. It’s time to stop
“winging it” with ROI and start proving it through actionable insights and open data access. It’s time to give online community leaders their rightful seat at the table, and to turn online communities from a “nice to have” to “must have.”
While online community engagement metrics and analytics have been stuck in a certain box for years—a box that looks solely at community engagement through the lens of likes, replies, followers, and other one-dimensional data points—we are now starting to see a shift towards community engagement metrics and analytical approaches that offer a much more multidimensional view of things. A deeper dive into the “why” behind community analytics and data, and how that “why” can help us better see and measure community engagement.
Measuring Online Community Engagement: It’s Not Just How, But Why
When we talk about how to measure online community engagement, we’re talking about the ways in which you (community managers) can gauge and quantify the value of intra-community relationships. That is, while you already know how many members belong to your community, what does this number do for you unless you can also measure why these members engage—as well as how they interact, and how much?
What is the impact of their user-generated content on your organization’s goals? What is the ROI of the community and how can you communicate it to leadership and get and/or retain buy-in?
When you and your team possess the kind of community engagement measurement tools that help you determine the aforementioned suite of multi-functional data points, things shift. You become more capable of measuring community engagement, keeping everyone in the loop, justifying the investment and, ultimately, connecting with internal buy-in across departments and teams (because they can see beyond how many members you have and peer into why and how they engage—and how that impacts the organization!).
To keep things organized and simple, let’s talk about how to measure community engagement using the following three questions as a sort of umbrella:
- How effective is the user-generated content that’s created within your community?
- What is the health of your online community? This one moves beyond number of likes, replies and followers, and into actual engagement and activity.
- What is the impact of your community on the overall goals of your organization?
At the end of the day, no matter how many followers, likes, or replies your community sees, it’s the super-active members (read: engaged members) who help change the equation in your favor. Remember when we wrote about Kevin Kelly’s 1K true fans? Yeah, well, that’s basically how we want to measure community engagement—true fans versus numbers and vanity metrics.
How to Track Community Engagement—Humans Not Numbers
If human connection is how you earn engagement, then how do you measure human connection and determine the level of community engagement occurring within your organization?
As we enter a new member-journey era—one that’s built around mobile, shared experience, and authentic human connection and purpose—the key is to keep members and potential members engaged every step of the way. To inspire and encourage members to be active, (instead of passive) in the process of building your online community. To focus on belonging instead of transactional communication.
When we do these things, the best way to measure community engagement comes through touchpoints and data that answer the following:
- How many conversations are members having?
- How many connections are members making?
- Are community members creating their own posts? If so, how effective are they?
- Which members are responding to other members’ posts?
To come full circle, these touchpoints (and their subsequent data), are the present and future of how to measure community engagement. They are what allow you to move beyond just looking at the number of community members you have, and into the actual community engagement occurring among those members. That is, into the three engagement-measuring elements we mentioned earlier: UGC efficacy, online community health, and the impact of members’ actions on your organization’s goals (more on this later 😉).
In further developing our own data suite, we have learned a great deal about the importance of driving richer, more meaningful engagement, and then exporting and measuring it through external BI tools.
When you have easy access to exportable CSV files of your community data, you can more easily use a BI platform to take a look at, say, retention campaigns in marketing automation or how community engagement drives sales. Thanks to high-quality accessible data, you can now look beyond just numbers and better understand the downstream business outcomes that have resulted (or will result) from community engagement.
Now, back to those three basic units, we like to use for measuring community engagement—UGC, community health, and overall impact on your organization’s goals.
Top 3 Ways to Measure Community Engagement
Track Community Engagement via User-Generated Content (UGC)
Once you understand and get a feel for the kind of user-generated content that’s occurring within your community space, you can start to see which pieces work the best and then steer content creation in that direction.
In other words, you can incentivize members to create the kinds of content that performs well. How do you know what’s performing well? One of the ways you can deduce what is and isn’t top-performing content is by exporting content metrics out of your community platform and using a BI tool to look for patterns that consistently reach the targets you set.
For example, you can create a rubric for rating content (by shareability, comprehensiveness, uniqueness, evergreen factor, and so on), and then use a 1-5 scale. Using this scale, you can look at the content type (blog, question, idea, discussion, etc), as well as the context and summary of the content itself, and apply a score of 1-5 for each.
Add everything up and you get “success scores” for each piece of content. With these scores, you’ll have an idea of what top content looks like from all angles. With this knowledge, you can then encourage members to create similar kinds of content through incentives.
Another way to uncover topics that resonate with your members is through a wordcloud. Using Mobilize Data Studio, we generate a wordcloud report that displays the most searched for topics in our community. This data allows us to create content that our members actually want.
When it comes down to it, what you’ll really be doing is using your data to measure community engagement and foster community-led growth. By measuring community engagement in such a way (beyond simple likes, posts, and replies), some of the insights you can expect to come across include:
- Type of posts that are successful
- Best engagement-driving blogs or articles written by members
- Types of polls that get the most responses
- Kinds of events that get the highest turnouts
Now, onward to community health (hint: all of these things dovetail, promise).
Measure Community Engagement via Community Health
Here’s where you export key data from your community platform, and take an in-depth look at your community’s health (how well is it actually performing) by running it through some useful products (BI tools, marketing automation, CRMs, etc).
Among other things, doing so will help you gain insight into the following:
- Community growth rate
- Stickiness of your community (how often do members return to your community, and how frequently do they engage?)
- Community member churn rate
- How to build segments for custom campaigns
- Most active members and member-led subgroups in your community
- How to optimize your user journey
- Retention rate of active members (over time)
Using the data you collect through your community platform, you’ll want to track community engagement via metrics associated with things like stickiness, new contributors (when new community members engage and contribute, it indicates that they feel connected with the community and interested in adding value), and content traction (see above and below).
By digging into more than just vanity metrics (numbers that make you look good outwardly, but that don’t help you understand community performance or inform future community-growth strategies), you move into a realm of engagement depth. With engagement depth, you get to look at more revealing and useful metrics like: how many long-term community members you have; who responds to community surveys with positive (or constructive) feedback; who refers your community to others.
Use Engagement Measurement Tools that Reflect Community Impact on Your Organization’s Goals
Even if the health of your online community is good, and your content is generating traction, it doesn’t mean much if you can’t prove or show (to other departments, board members, higher ups, and investors) how your community is positively impacting the larger goals of your organization. That is, as a community manager you need to be able to show and tell. But how?
We have a few ideas! Below are some metrics to look at that will help you both measure community engagement, as well as communicate and illustrate its overall impact on your organization.
Brand Building – If one of the biggest ways you use your online community is to establish thought leadership in your industry, you’ll want to do some research and see how many media mentions and links correspond with the ideas, concepts, and conversations posted in your community. You’ll also want to use Google Search Console to look at the number of search queries occurring for your brand (especially search queries associated with the thought leadership content you’ve shared).
Both of these actions provide tangible data that reflects brand-building by way of community activity
Retention + Revenue – In order to show/prove retention and revenue based on community engagement metrics and tracking, it depends what kind of organization or business you run. If you have customers, you’ll want to measure the average lifetime of customers who are community members and compare it to the average lifetime of those who are customers but not members. If your community is built around ideation, collecting feedback, and performing market research, you’ll want to measure the number of new features implemented in your product that originated from your community.
Sentiment – Here we’re not necessarily talking about the binary of “positive” or “negative” sentiment across community communications and interactions. Instead, as with most things in life, gauging community-wide sentiment is much more about the grey area.
While there are some software programs that can help you gauge the sentiment of your community, using a knowledgeable, in-tune human is far better. In looking at community engagement metrics to get at community sentiment (and prove that your community’s sentiment is a plus for your organization), you’ll want to quantify your qualitative without losing the human side of things. How? Try to group similar sentiments in comments and feedback, and use real-life examples in your report.
Activity – Ah, activity data—the classics section of the community engagement measurement library. But, might we add a useful twist? Instead of just measuring activity in general, get specific. Measure how active your community members are on a given project. When you measure activity around specifics, especially if those specifics relate to the overall goals of your organization, you can then show and tell the results to all who need to hear it!
Member Acquisition – Here’s where you’ll want to look beyond the number of new members you’ve acquired in a certain period of time, and into how you got those new members. In other words, how many of your new leads are surfacing as a result of your community (and how many of them ultimately become paying customers).
Basically, you’ll want to measure your network of existing members, and then find out how many new members are joining as a result of being referred by existing members. Measuring community engagement in terms of referrals and new-member acquisition is a great way to illustrate how community begets community.
Now, after months (years?) of wondering how to best measure community engagement, you have some solid parameters and ideas to move forward with in your community space—wahoo! Sure, we know this article is just the beginning when it comes to community engagement measurement and strategy, but we hope it helps you build your online community (and communicate its value) in the best way possible. And remember, no matter where you are on the community-building continuum, we’re here and we are rooting for you.