About once a week, I hear a community professional say something that sends up a red flag. 

And every time, the red flag is the same: they’re passionate about their community’s health, but they don’t know how to make executives care too. 

The ROI question rears its ugly head once more.  

Executives are also frustrated. They've hired a community manager, but they're unsure what that person does each day and how that work maps back to the numbers they use to define success.  

I shared how community managers can define their business value in a previous post. If you haven’t yet carved out the business value that your community drives, read that post first.  

Create a Content and Programming Tracker

Community managers should have content and programming tracking in place. While you won’t want to share every detail with executives, this content tracking is the foundation of your measurement strategy. It allows you to draw a line from your day-to-day work to later community health, and from community health to business impact. 

You can also measure experiments in a content and programming tracker, such as launching a new onboarding process, meetup series or landing page. 

Track things like:

  • Page views (a vanity metric, but will give an idea of how your reach grows over time)
  • High-quality comments
  • Social shares and referrals
  • Email signups from a blog post (or other signup, depending on why you’re creating content)
  • Number of attendees at an in-person event
  • Usage before/after event (if you’re managing a user group especially)

You can see a very rough version of what this might look like below. Personalize this for the needs of your community, but this should serve as a starting point: 

 community measurements

Measure the Health of the Community

With your tracking system in place, tie this to your community's health.  

These metrics should answer questions including: Who are your most active members and are they changing over time? What is the churn rate of your members? Is the community growing and retaining or is it growing and losing members? What is their sentiment?  

Like your content and programming tracking, the minutiae of this data will not be relevant to most executives. However, once you've defined your community’s clear business goal, you can put a number on the value of your members (as cold as that may seem) and then tie your community’s health to business impact.  

This is a paradox: while tying your members to a business number can seem heartless, it allows you to invest in your members more consistently, with the promise that it will have a positive impact on the business as a whole. It’s actually win-win.  

This is where your community health dashboard will come into play.  

A community health dashboard should incorporate metrics such as: 

  • Churn rate
  • Growth rate
  • Retention rate
  • Maturity and diversity
  • The percentage of users at each level of a commitment curve
  • Percentage of passive users turned into active users
  • Number of programs and content created by members

If you're looking for inspiration, Moz shares all of their community health stats once per month with their entire community.

The Pot of Gold: Tying Community Health to ROI

Armed with a firm grasp of the effectiveness of your content and programming and on your community’s health, you can tie those metrics back to the business value you determined: support, success, product, acquisition, content or sales. 

  • Support/Success: Possible key metrics include call deflection, product usage, maturity level of active customers in community
  • Product: Possible key metrics include number of community ideas incorporated into a product, bug reports submitted and acted upon, amount of feedback given to product team, speed in launching new features as a result of community input
  • Acquisition: Possible key metrics include number of referrals to paying members from ambassadors, number of events hosted by ambassadors, sales driven by advocates
  • Content: Key metrics must include growth and quality of the community’s output
  • Engagement: Possible key metrics include sales and retention for members versus non-members, average three-month spending of an average customer versus a community member

Hard Work Pays Off in the Long Run

While this work may seem tedious and even a bit boring, remember: you are laying the foundation for success. If you are unwilling to put in the effort to prove your community's value, why should anyone else care about putting time, money and other company resources behind it? 

Many corporations initially invest in community to create goodwill and increase sentiment, and then back down when they realize the time and energy building a thriving community requires. 

Don’t leave your community out in the cold. Have a strategy in place to measure the value of your work — it'll make investing in your members an easy sell.