man working at a computer
Online community managers believe they add business value but lack metrics to show it. PHOTO: Antoine Beauvillain

Online community managers believe their efforts drive business value but fail to document it through meaningful metrics.

That is one of the key findings in a new report by Leader Networks, a Belmont, Mass.-based strategic research and consulting firm. In the report, "The Business Impact of Online Communities," researchers found 92 percent of community leaders believe their efforts have a positive effect on the business. However, 35 percent said they lack the metrics to accurately communicate that fact.

Leader Networks surveyed 271 marketing and community leaders in industries including computers, healthcare, education, marketing and public relations, manufacturing, internet, consulting, publishing and legal. It administered the survey with help from Higher Logic and The Conference Board

Talk to Leaders

Vanessa DiMauro
Vanessa DiMauro

Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, told CMSWire community managers should put their communications and networking skills to work internally. They should get to know what the needs are from company stakeholders, such as those who ultimately fund the community.

"Get out and meet with the different lines of business to learn how they measure success, what is important to them and what keeps them up at night," said DiMauro, whose team developed a Leader Networks Business Impact Framework that's included in the report. "Then look to the community to see how it can support their needs."

Bring a metrics framework into the conversations with financial leaders and agree upon which ones are important to them, DiMauro said. 

"There are a lot of metric in the framework to chooses from," she added. "Select the categories of metrics that align to your business needs and focus there. Consistent reporting on a few, powerful success metrics are more important than trying to use them all."

Testimonials, NPS Reliant

What kinds of measurements do community managers currently use?

Respondents in the survey cited the number of member/customer testimonials gathered through the community platform and Net Promoter Score (NPS score) for customers in the community as two major ways they measure success.

However, report authors found that although important, these are not quantifiable metrics that link the community to the organization’s customer retention and intimacy goals. 

"Community leaders may not be measuring what matters most," they found.

Relationships Matter

They also may miss the mark demonstrating value in other ways. First, 37 percent of organizations have not integrated their communities with the company’s CRM system. This leaves them without the ability to sync interactions and data across the customer lifecycle. 

Online community managers also sometimes fail to highlight the community’s ability to create strong, long-term relationships. These efforts provide an edge over competitors. 

"Demonstrate its ability to analyze customer behavior and pain points to develop state-of-the-art, first-to-market solution offerings," members of the Cognizant Connections team said in the survey. "Community provides a platform for new ideas and thought leadership to emerge.” 

Retention Goal

Knowing what you want is the first step. What do community managers want out of their efforts? 

Customer retention (57 percent) and customer intimacy (48 percent) topped the charts when researchers asked, "What does digital competitive advantage mean to your company?"

It was followed by more innovation (40 percent), market awareness (40 percent) and increase sales (37 percent).

Other Key Findings

The report also found:

Money Matters

About 45 percent of marketing and community leaders said that their community helps their organizations save money.  

Yet still, 37 percent don't know if their community saves them money on support, customer retention, marketing or other expenditures. Nearly half of community leaders, meanwhile, say that their community generates or influences revenue.

Leader Networks survey

Who Runs the Show?

Marketers are the primary owner of the community for most organizations (79 percent).

Metrics Struggles

About 72 percent of community leaders said they face challenges reporting and analyzing data; 22 percent lack reporting tools.

“Measuring and reporting the benefits of new technologies is a challenge for most companies and is proving to be a barrier for broader digital transformation," said Alex Parkinson, associate director for the Society for New Communications Research of The Conference Board

CFO Meeting, Refocus

So what's the next step for community managers? Leader Networks offered some tips for community managers in its report. 

Here are a few:

  • Meet with your CFO to understand his or her expectations for developing a cost-benefit analysis of your community
  • Get your financial and business metrics in line
  • Review your community expenditure to ensure that it is commensurate with expectations and potential impact
  • Refocus your efforts to ensure that communities are aligned with organizational priorities and are measuring what matters. 
  • Think about using the community as a source of early stage, low-cost research that can inform customer service, market strategy or research and development.