Is your community sick?
How do you measure the health of your community? Better yet, should you care if your community is healthy?
A strong and active community affects your business’s bottom line in many ways…
- Increasing retention
- Curtailing churn
- Improving customer satisfaction
- Reducing returns
- Growing sales generated by word-of-mouth recommendations
…And many more, depending on the purpose of your community.
There are ways to check on your community and signals to look for so you know when to take action. It all comes down to some very important metrics.
You measure community health by tracking three specific areas: Growth, Activity, and Sense of Community.
Today, we’ll examine all three so your community can continue to positively impact your bottom line.
Let’s start with…
It’s fairly common for once-strong communities to decline.
Circumstances change; people move, switch jobs, or simply become bored. It’s only natural that community growth has a bit of ebb and flow—but it’s important to track the rate of these fluctuations in growth so you can take steps to intervene if your community growth rate is declining too quickly.
Growth Metric to Track: Number of Registered Members
This first metric is a tricky one. It won’t apply to every community across the board.
Think of registered members like followers on your Twitter or Facebook account. It’s a nice number to have, but in most cases it really doesn’t mean anything unless you can turn those users into other conversions: comments, posts, sales, or whatever else you want them to do.
We call it a “vanity metric” – feels good and looks nice on paper. But generally speaking, the number of followers on your Twitter handle or registered members in your community will always grow.
This number doesn’t mean anything unless they actually do something.
This is true for most communities as well. Registration is obviously an important step in the community-building process, but there are more important metrics to measure the health of your community.
That is, unless, you have a system for removing accounts that are “dead” (inactive) or otherwise no longer qualified as community members.
We measure this metric in our private Facebook group, Digital Marketer Engage, because we remove members who no longer qualify to remain in the group (that is, when they cancel their DM Lab accounts).
Because this system of removals is in place, we can use this metric to track the health of our community.
If you notice the number of registered members is falling, you’ll know to take steps to beef up your acquisition efforts:
- How do potential members know about your community? Take a look at the process and adjust your marketing message to communicate excitement and the value of your community.
- What does your community registration page look like? If potential members can’t see the value immediately then you need to reinvigorate your page—from the copy to the layout.
- Is registration difficult to join or does it take a lot of steps? Go through the process and see if there are areas you can optimize for a smoother experience.
Growth Metric to Track: Number of Active Members (over 30 days)
Measuring the total number of active members will give you a much better sense of community growth than tracking registered members alone.
“Activity” is any action a community member takes that lets you know they are alive. It can include:
- Making posts
- Commenting on threads
- Sending private messages (if your community platform tracks that sort of thing)
- Reacting (“liking” a post or comment)
As DM’s community manager, tracking activity tells me how many of our registered members aren’t just hanging out on the sidelines. This is important because a community that becomes unengaged is a community that won’t last long.
You’ll want to take steps to grow the number of active members if you see this number decline. We’ll discuss interventions you can take to increase activity levels in the next section…
Your community can have all the registered members in the world and a high number of active members… and still fizzle out and die.
Because the number of members registered doesn’t mean those members are actively participating in the community.
And those active members might only participate once every 30 days instead of multiple times throughout the month. Just like in real life, it’s hard to create meaningful relationships if you only drop by every now and then.
That’s why it’s important to not only track the total number of active members your community has, but also the level of activity. There’s a big difference between five members who contribute twice a week and two members who contribute five times a week—the latter is a sign of a much healthier community.
Activity Metric to Track: Total Number of Posts/Comments/Reactions (over 30 days)
Think about your relationship with your closest friend.
You probably talk about all sorts of things—it’s what makes your relationship strong.
In the online world, posts are the equivalent of these conversations—and relationships cannot form unless there are conversations (…a ton of them).
Since the goal of community is all about relationship building, you can see why measuring the number of posts is vital to measuring community health. It’s even more powerful if your community platform gives you a way to separate out discussions from other types of posts, like surveys, so you can measure what’s really important: the conversation.
You should also keep tabs on how many comments and reactions are made over the same 30-day period, so you can figure out the average number of contributions per active member…
Determining Average Activity Per Active Member
Now that you have the total posts, comments, and reactions over a 30-day period, you can determine the average activity level per active member.
The formula is…
(Total Posts + Total Comments + Total Reactions) / # of Active Members = Average Activity Per Active Member
Let’s say that over the month of October, your community produced…
- 1425 posts
- 10,266 comments
- 6971 reactions
- 2489 active members
The formula would be:
(1425 + 10,266 + 6971) / 2489 = 7.49
This means an active member participated in the community an average of 7.5 times for the month.
If you notice the average activity per member is declining, here are some steps you can take to intervene:
- Create strategic content that initiates discussion and encourages members to talk about themselves. When people self-disclose information, emotional connections are more likely to form and members will find themselves participating in the community more often.
- Introduce members to each other. If you know that some particular members share a common bond (maybe they live in the same area or share a hobby or a job title), take the initiative to introduce them to each other.
- Take a look at how you welcome your newcomers. Communities will die without new blood – reevaluate the ways that you are getting your new members involved in the community, because if members don’t feel welcomed and included, they’re sure to leave.
This leads us to our final metric…
Measuring the Sense of Community
It’s relatively easy to determine the growth and activity metrics for an online community… but how do you measure how people feel about being a part of the group?
Decades of research by behavioral psychologists have determined there are four elements that work together to establish a healthy sense of community:
Do your members feel like they are a part of a special tribe? Do they get a sense of emotional safety and belonging?
This idea looks into what common bonds of identification, like language or symbols, the community utilizes to recognize each other.
This concept includes the level of influence a member feels they have in the community, as well as the influence the group has on the member.
Integration & Fulfillment of Needs
Integration is the emotional reward members get out of participating in the community.
In order for a member to feel a sense of community, they must get some sort of intrinsic reward for participating, whether that’s feeling supported or giving support to others.
Shared Emotional Connection
Can members identify the common bond that all of your community members share? Are they familiar with the history of the community?
A sense of shared emotional connection is a vital part of a healthy group.
In 1986, two behavioral psychologists developed the Sense of Community Index (SCI) that communities have used for decades to measure how communities feel in these four areas.
So how do you integrate this metric into measuring your tribe’s Sense of Community?
Luckily, you can find the Sense of Community Index online to adapt for your own use.
By surveying a sample of your community at least two to three times a year, you can score your community’s stance on the four elements. You can use this survey to track the number of members who take the survey, the total score, and average result, etc.
At this time, DigitalMarketer is working on implementing the Sense of Community survey to our members, and we’ll be sharing our results in a future post.
If your community is growing, has a high number of active users engaging in meaningful conversion, you most likely have a happy, healthy thriving community.
Use the tactics discussed in this article to keep it that way!
(NOTE:Want a step-by-step plan for tracking, measuring, and monetizing social media? Learn more about DigitalMarketer’s Social & Community Mastery Specialist training and certification program today.)