2014-18-June-Sandbar-Shark.jpg“What gets measured gets done” -- we've all heard the saying. And business communities are no exception. But how do you measure something that you don’t understand – or understand something that you can’t measure?

It's unfortunately still the case that most companies don't understand community, judging by job postings on job boards and attempts to measure its ROI.

But it’s not their fault. Because community is not a discreet set of activities but rather, a foundational communication platform. Calculating the ROI of community is a bit like calculating ROI of email – as difficult as it is pointless. And yet understanding the business impact of communities is critical to being taken seriously by company executives.

Most of the challenges in defining -- let alone measuring --, communities stem from the following:

The Issues

Lack of definition

If you can’t describe something, how can you measure it? Such is the problem with communities in many organizations -- and an overall problem with our discipline. There isn’t much clarity around what community management is, what community managers do and where in the organization community “sits.”

The relative organizational success of other job functions, such as marketing or sales, is inextricably tied to clarity in departmental boundaries, job descriptions, organizational dependencies, reporting structures and budgets.

Let’s take marketing. When someone says “marketing,” you with some certainty can understand what is being described. While just about every business discipline is experiencing massive change, there’s usually a baseline agreement. I hate definitions as much as the next gal, but words matter, and lack of clarity makes it hard to do the job well.

A new model

This lack of agreed-upon definition is caused by the inherently cross-functional nature of community management. It’s not the kind of cross-functionality where you simply keep other teams updated – rather, it provides the connective tissue for the entire business, inside as well as outside. A community is a platform for activities to take place and for people to connect and work together, not a set of discreet activities themselves. And when you can be anything to anyone, you risk becoming nothing.

If it’s something that we can’t define, it means that we can’t build a strategy and hire the talent to execute on that strategy. The conflation between “social media” and “community” is not helping us either. And if we don’t know what something is, how can we measure it?

Not strategic enough

And herein lies the dilemma. Because community is everywhere and can be so many things to so many people and departments, no one knows where to put it. Is it marketing? Is it support? Is it customer success? Yes and yes and yes. To make matters more complicated, a well-run community “just happens” to the point where the how becomes invisible and the what becomes a given. While it’s many community manager’s ultimate goal to create a self-sustaining community, doing so may put it “out of sight, out of mind,” resulting in neglect.

Ultimately, community isn’t recognized as its own business function and ends up reporting to, most often, marketing or support. While the intention may be there to lead a cross-functional team, when push comes to shove, you are responsible for the unit where you report – and what gets measured, gets done.