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Metrics to use for community analytics

Metrics to use for community analytics

As a community leader, you no doubt wonder, “how is my community doing?” It’s not only a fair question; it’s the right question. If you want to grow, you should constantly be evaluating the health of your community through metrics and community analytics. And community growth is critical for companies looking to execute a community-led growth strategy.

Community-led growth (CLG) describes efforts taken by a company to intentionally and strategically grow a robust community that will, in turn, scale the business. CLG is a particularly powerful growth strategy as user communities generate positive word of mouth and product evangelism, which attracts new members and customers in a continuous virtuous cycle.

Since community growth leads to business growth, you must collect the proper metrics to analyze how well your community is growing. You can then apply these insights to make more informed decisions.

Understanding community analytics

Let’s first clarify the difference between community metrics and community analytics. Metrics are simply measurements or quantified values from your data. These metrics can be analyzed to derive community analytics—or insights to inform decision making.

For our purposes, there are two broad categories of metrics: community health metrics and business impact metrics. The two types of metrics share a relationship in that they can influence one another. For example, increased engagement is a community health metric, which often leads to improved customer retention—a business impact metric.

Since community health and business impact metrics share a symbiotic relationship, it’s essential to track and measure them both in order to execute and evaluate the success of a holistic community program and community-led growth strategy.

Community health metrics

Community health metrics are those data points that relate directly to the growth and activity of members in a community. These metrics reveal whether you have a vibrant and active online space where members are engaging with you and each other and receiving value from their participation.

Key community health metrics include data points related to:

  • Membership
  • Activity or engagement
  • Member interest or engagement rate
  • Value community members derive from the community, which can be examined through sentiment, response rate, or trending topics

For example, AI-driven software delivery platform Harness tracks multiple community metrics, including active members, membership growth, community responsiveness, and sentiment when evaluating the health of its community. The data and corresponding insights inform the decision-making of community team managers when putting together programming, initiatives, and activities.

Business impact metrics

Business impact metrics are those data points that relate to the traditional concerns of a business. These company KPIs are influenced by community health metrics and convey whether or not the community is succeeding in achieving value for the organization—and if your community-led growth strategy is working.

Key business impact metrics include data points related to:

  • Customer support, like case deflection and customer retention (including reducing churn and improving customer lifetime value)
  • Sales and marketing, including generating leads, accelerating time to close, and tracking community-attributed revenue (revenue that can be tied back to community efforts)
  • Product, like generating valuable insights and feedback to improve the product and increase product adoption

Asana is an excellent example of a company with a sophisticated CLG motion that uses business impact metrics to prove the effectiveness of its community programming in benefiting the company. The team combines community and product data to discover and track metrics like event-driven feature adoption, which allows them to show how participation in a community event resulted in greater product usage.

Essential health metrics obtained from community analytics

Each company must determine the specific community metrics that matter most to its organization. Still, we recommend a core set that every company should track if they are to be successful in growing their community and executing a community-led growth strategy.

Often the most useful or insightful metrics will require community analytics to obtain. These essential community health metrics include:

  • Total membership: This metric measures the number of people across your community channels. Ideally, your community will show month-over-month, quarter-over-quarter, and year-over-year growth. If these numbers start to plateau or fall, it’s time to evaluate why and make a plan to reverse the trend.
  • Engagement rate: Sometimes called the observer-to-participant ratio, this metric measures the number of actively engaged members vs. just watching what’s going on within the community space. Ideally, but perhaps unrealistically, all members would be active participants. You’ll want to watch this number, especially as your membership grows, to ensure you’re putting the right programs and content in place to keep your community engaged as much as possible.
  • Response rate: This metric measures the frequency with which member posts receive a response. A self-sustaining community is one where members constantly engage with one another, answer each other’s queries, and share best practices. Failure to receive a timely response will lead to members becoming disengaged and dropping out of the community. Community leaders will want to ensure this doesn’t happen by promptly replying to member questions or (even better) building a community where members are proactively helping each other find solutions.

How community health metrics inform a community-led growth strategy

It’s challenging to know if your community is trending toward healthy, sustainable growth without the numbers to back it up. And as previously stated, community growth is vital for an organization’s community-led growth strategy to succeed. With metrics in hand, community and business leaders can make strategic decisions to ensure the figures all trend in the desired direction.

If, as mentioned above, a community management team sees total membership or engagement numbers start to plateau or decline, they can create an action plan to change the trajectory. This could mean staging in-person and virtual events to drive engagement and get the virtuous cycle started again or analyzing the topics most interesting to the community and developing content and programs specifically around these themes.

As another example, let’s say community management teams analyze metrics and find response rates are falling and member questions are going unanswered. The team leaders might find one of the reasons for this is that they are short-staffed and unable to follow up on posts themselves when other community members fail to reply. In this case, the community leader could approach company leadership and advocate for more resources to help in this area—either dedicated community team headcount or assistance from other teams like product or support.

Or, it could mean starting a champions program where passionate members are rewarded for answering questions from other members (in addition to other activities), which can also increase overall engagement and attract new members.

In any circumstance, metrics are needed and must be used to inform both the strategic and tactical decisions that ultimately influence the growth of the community and, in turn, the organization.

Why community health metrics can be tricky to manage

It’s one thing to establish health metrics and another to actually track and manage them. Community leaders should be aware of challenges that they may run into.

These challenges can include the following:

  • Community scale: Growth is the key objective for most community leaders, but the community could scale to a point where the influx of data is too much to properly organize and analyze using manual methods like spreadsheets or underpowered tools.
  • Membership vs. engagement: Getting your total membership numbers trending up over time is great, but only if your members are actually engaged. A large community where no one has conversations or responds to one another won’t help members get value, or your company achieve business growth goals. Community leaders must develop a plan for getting (and keeping!) members engaged, which relies on being able to track engagement as a key metric.
  • Multiple platforms: Your team-managed communities will likely be spread across more than one channel (e.g., Slack, GitHub, Discourse), and members have their own preferred places where they like to engage (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit). These diverse channels and the many ways members can engage make it difficult to gather and analyze community data. This makes it difficult to both get a comprehensive view of what’s happening across your entire community as well as how each individual member is engaging across channels.

An intelligent community growth platform can help community teams tackle these challenges with the help of AI and automation. These platforms bring together data across all community channels for an easily-navigable and holistic view of your members and their activity, even as your community grows. Pre-built and custom reports from this data allow you to track and take action on these key health metrics to achieve your community growth goals.

Essential business impact metrics obtained by community analytics

Each organization is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to business impact metrics. You’ll want to start with your organization's top-line business goals and decide how you can track community’s contribution to these KPIs.

Here are two business impact metric types emerging as organizations use community analytics to tie program activities and member engagement to company results.

  • Customer acquisition and retention: Related to the health metric “membership,” business metrics related to customer acquisition come from understanding how member participation in your community leads to their organization purchasing (or renewing a subscription for) your product. This combination of community and revenue data can help you measure community impact on open pipeline or closed won deals—sometimes called community-attributed revenue—as well as if community engagement accelerates deal time to close.
  • Product adoption: Bringing community and customer data together allows you to understand how community events or programs result in greater product adoption. For example, you can look at cohorts of users who attended a specific product launch or feature workshop event to understand if it resulted in a corresponding uptick in using the feature or product.

How business impact metrics inform a community-led growth strategy

Fundamentally, business impact metrics allow an organization to see—as the naming suggests—the results community activities generate for the company. These insights are vital in understanding whether a community-led growth strategy is performing as desired and how to accelerate your efforts.

For example, suppose you find that a significant percentage of your deals are “community-first,” meaning members from the customer organization were seen in the community before the deal was created in your CRM. This indicates that your community is a great place to source new business.

This is a common trend for open-source software or product-led growth companies that have a significant number of members in their community who are using a free version of their product. Sales and marketing teams can then develop GTM strategies to find and engage community members who would benefit from upgrading to a paid solution.

Additionally, if you observe that community engagement accelerates deal time to close, encouraging prospects and non-paying users to join and get involved in your community will likely benefit your bottom line as you acquire customers more quickly.

Business impact metrics related to product adoption will show you the effectiveness of your community programming. They can inform the types of events and content you create to stoke your community-led growth strategy. If you find that new product workshops are highly effective in driving sustained product usage, you can prioritize those events over others that are less effective in generating the results you’re looking for.

Each of these CLG levers will have a different impact for each organization, which is why it is so important to measure community business impact metrics so you can pursue the activities that will drive the most significant results for your organization.

Why business impact metrics can be tricky to manage

All metrics can be tough to track and manage, and business impact metrics are particularly challenging because they often require more advanced analytics.

Challenges surrounding this data include:

  • Collecting and combining multiple data types. Similar to the challenge faced with community health metrics, business metrics bring in additional data sources to rationalize and measure. Customer data (like organization size, current deal stage, or opportunity amount) and product data (like feature use, last active date) also tend to be more varied and complex data types that can be difficult to measure without a dedicated data team or tool.
  • Member identity resolution and attribution. Knowing who your members are and what organization they belong to is key for measuring business impact metrics. You need to be able to see and analyze member engagement across sources (including in your product) and attribute that activity to their organization’s progress toward becoming a customer. Managing the data behind each of these interactions and being able to connect it to an individual community member confidently is an often-seen barrier.
  • Reporting: Collecting and analyzing metrics is one thing; reporting on them in a way that is understandable to the appropriate stakeholders and leaders is another. Finding a way to deliver metrics and analytics so they can be appropriately interpreted is a common challenge. Community leaders will likely have to generate multiple reports depending on the audience (e.g., sales, product, and customer support teams might all receive different business impact metric reports highlighting what’s relevant to their department).

Community analytics and intelligent growth

Surfacing metrics and generating analytics is hard, especially when using manual processes and spreadsheets. It’s just too much work (and a lot of math) for any one person or team to handle. You have more important community building to be doing!

Yet because metrics are so critical to understanding and driving community growth, failure to consistently produce accurate and actionable insights will ultimately hinder business growth. For a community-led growth strategy to succeed to its fullest potential, an organization must invest in intelligent growth.

Intelligent growth involves using technology to enhance community growth and community-led growth initiatives. Intelligent community growth operationalizes community data with AI and ML technologies to automate manual processes and surface insights with context so community leaders can execute a CLG strategy.

Common Room is the leading intelligent community growth platform that enables multidimensional data analysis and reporting on community, customer, and product data. The platform solves the common challenges associated with community metrics, delivering intelligent insights as well as automated engagement that helps organizations drive success across the entire customer journey for increased engagement, greater product adoption, and stronger revenue results.

If you’re interested in leveraging metrics for community-led growth and want to learn more, check out this article on how to quantify community-attributed revenue.

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