Every year, those in the community space eagerly anticipate the release of The Community Roundtable’s State of Community Management report. For those who just can’t wait another second, we’ve got some early results.

CMSWire talked with two members of The Community Roundtable (TheCR) team — Rachel Happe, principal and co-founder, and Ted McEnroe, director of research and training ­— to get the scoop on how the research has evolved over the years, as well as what they’ve seen so far in the 2016 survey.

Seven years strong, the State of Community Management has come a long way since TheCR first got started with the research.

rachel happe“We were flying blind seven years ago, just trying to aggregate what people knew about community management,” said Happe. “It’s gratifying to see how the research has matured. The way we look at the research isn’t changing, but it is getting more sophisticated.”

From Tools to Roadmaps

Happe told us about how the research has evolved from simply collecting information about which tools community managers should be using, to being able to use the information to provide strategic direction to community professionals.

“In the past, it was about collecting tools — how to pick the right tool and apply it in the right context,” said Happe. “Then, we put the Community Maturity Model framework together. We tried to organize practices in a frame to give people a good scope of what we mean by community management.”

Once they were able to recognize these patterns, she continued, there was a switch from qualitative to quantitative analysis.

Last year, Happe said they got to a place where they were able to auto populate a roadmap for communities, showing people what others in their community stage are doing.

“This helped tremendously on the executive side, where they don’t have a frame of reference because they don’t know about the workings of communities,” said Happe.

“We learned a lot about how to build successful communities. We took knowledge that was very implicit and made it very explicit to the market.”

Same Ole, Same Ole?

jim buckJim Buck, a community strategist who sat on this year’s survey committee, has also seen this evolution, though he noted that some people might find there’s not much variance in the information presented in the annual reports.

“Year after year, it seems like it’s always the same stuff, but one of the great things is that it’s fairly consistent,” said Buck. “There are similar types of questions that help you benchmark: Where are we? How are things growing? What are the hot topics where community managers are advancing?”

He added that the consistency of the research really shows the evolutions – not just within the practice – but what things look like from company to company.

“From an internal perspective, it gives a lot of fodder to make arguments around strategy,” he said. “Consistency and growth year over year is very important as managers are building out their strategies and roadmaps.”

Bring on the ROI

For all its consistency, the research continues its evolution, and this year, they’re looking more closely at ROI — an area which many community managers find to be quite challenging, said Buck.

“The vexing part of community management is ROI because it’s what every executive wants, but it’s so hard to calculate,” said Buck. “With community, ROI is typically subjective, usually based more on soft metrics than hard numbers.”

Happe agreed, adding that last year, they asked people to self-report their ROI percentage, but most who took the survey had no idea what to answer.

“The purpose of and how you use ROI tools is not well understood in the community management space,” she said. “People make it way more complicated than it needs to be. They’re looking for a really accurate number, but that’s just not possible.”

Because of this, TheCR brought in a workgroup of 10 community professionals to help develop a basic ROI calculation, as well as formulate the questions around ROI for the survey.

Buck said they wanted to ensure that the questions were not intimidating, but ones that people could answer with just a bit of research.

“We’re asking information about participation numbers that won’t force them to get too involved in finding data, but would require some digging to provide answers,” he said.

Some of those questions include:

  • Does your community program generate a financial return on investment?
  • What is the estimated annual financial cost of your community?
  • What is the average financial value of an answered question in your community?
  • Which percentage of searches in your community are successful?

TheCR is branding the ROI portion of the survey as experimental, said Happe, because they’re aware that the questions are based on assumptions that many community managers aren’t comfortable making.

The results will be included as a supplemental insert that will explain why the models are valuable, how to use them, and the limitations that community managers should consider.

Early Results

ted mcenroeHappe and McEnroe also shared some of the preliminary findings of this year’s survey. Here’s their quick take on some of the issues covered:

Strategy: “What’s refreshing to see is that things we saw in the past continue to hold true, including how the power of developing a robust strategy translates to other, stronger measures,” said McEnroe.

Funded Roadmaps: “We’re seeing that there are more funded roadmaps, and they’re being approved at a strategic level,” said Happe. “The discipline has gotten a lot more strategic since we started 10 years ago, when most communities had not seen strategic visibility in the C-suite.”

Shared Value: “The shared value piece is interesting,” said McEnroe. “It’s encouraging – but not surprising – that being able to talk about the shared value of the community and the organization has impact. Communities that are able to express shared value are doing better across the board.”

Programming: “There is a major impact for effective use of content and programming together,” said McEnroe. “This creates opportunities for members to come together around issues, and continues to have a strong impact on overall community engagement.”

Executive Engagement: “We expanded our questions on executive engagement to get more of which levels of executives are taking part in communities and what that means in engagement,” said McEnroe. “Our early findings show that engagement and maturity scores were more positively affected by getting second tier management – and not necessarily top tier – involved.”

Feedback: “We’re finding that communities that provide a more formal feedback process are scoring better across all areas of community maturity,” concluded McEnroe.

If you haven’t taken the survey, there’s still time. Just visit the 2016 Survey site by March 18 so you can share your community experience with others in the industry.

Title image "old glories" (CC BY-ND 2.0) by enki22