Online communities, necessary but better metrics needed to measure success

One topic I found interesting at JiveWorld10 was all the discussions and presentations about communities.  Companies from RIM to Charles Schwab gave some great examples of how they were leveraging Jive Software to develop and manage their communities. However, what was interesting was the fact many of the discussions revolved around the total number of community members and the raw overall growth of the community. Too often what was showcased was the eyeballs that the community had captured. Smelled too much like 1999 when we would hear companies tell us (when I was at Forrester Research) of how many eyeballs they had hitting their web site, how they were growing at such a pace and that they would reach a critical mass of eyeballs…but what did that really mean?

Does it matter if your community has thousands of members, but what are they doing with their community? Similar to the late 1990s this smells like a land grab strategy – go out and grab the eyeballs and then figure out what to do with them. This did not work in the late 90s and it certainly will not work in today’s business. More than ever our cyber attention span is pulled thinner and thinner. At the same time, joining communities and other cyber groups are easier and easier, one or two mouse clicks and voila you are now part of ABC community or XYZ network. You will get push emails or text messages on a regular basis and what will you do? Most likely ignore them. So what does that mean for the company looking to leverage that community?

So we need to measure and highlight better measures for the success and value of a community. Could you leverage financial ratio type measures? Why not? No one looks simply at overall revenue when looking at a company’s finances, that would not give a good overview of the health of a business…I am sure I would have great revenues if I gave everyone a brand new dollar bill for $0.50 back in return, too bad my margins and business would not be so healthy. Ratios like inventory turns or ROI or ROA to measure the health of our business – why not have similar ratios to the health of our communities?

A ratio of unique comments over total members – your community might only have 70 members but have a high rate of comments and discussions. Or percent of members that are active – who have start a conversation or commented over a certain time span. Potentially member click through per postings.

Bottom line, if you are a community manager think about how to  better measure the success and impact of your community. Simple membership numbers is akin to only looking at a company’s revenue figure, does not tell you the true health and success of your organization.

Remember – revenue is vanity, profit is sanity. Determine how that works for your community

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Filed under Marketing, Online Community

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