As a community manager, it’s easy to slip into “auto-pilot” mode when handling the day-to-day operations of your community. However, like any other digital channel, it’s important to periodically audit its overall health.
Online communities are living, breathing entities made up of people, so it can be more difficult to use traditional quantitative measures that we’d use for channels like marketing or sales. That’s why its important to have qualitative measures to measure the health of your community.
Keep in mind that this is a high-level overview of how to approach auditing an online community. The mechanics of actually doing the audit, gathering data, etc. all have their nuances. So, this post is meant to help you strategize your approach to an audit. If you want the actual steps to perform the audit, there’s a lot more to unpack.
Let’s start with a more traditional way at measuring the health of your community:
Quantitative Methods for Auditing Community Health
Don’t shy away from using quantitative metrics to measure the health of your community!
While using numbers shouldn’t be the sole method for measuring community health, they can provide an objective measure that can be tracked and analyzed over time.
I generally break community metrics down into two categories:
Growth is about measuring how you’re adding or removing members from your community. However, in terms of online communities and measuring health, growth metrics can be somewhat of a vanity metric. Essentially, you could be growing your community, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthy community. Growth metrics only tell you how attractive your community is to outsiders. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that growing members isn’t the same as growing ENGAGED members. If you want to measure growth in your community, here are a few metrics to consider:
- Total Number of Community Members: This is simply the total number of community members over the reporting period. This number should account for net new community members, as well as off-boarded community members.
- Total Number of New Community Members over X Period: This is typically measured over a ‘rolling’ period (like the last 30 days). This is a great way to track the number of net new community members who have registered or signed up for your community.
- % of Total Membership On-Boarded to Community: For organizations that have a membership model, a great way to measure growth is to determine the percentage of your membership that has joined your online community.
Engagement metrics provide a quantitative way to measure the health of your community. The value your members receive from the community drives its overall health. A healthy community typically has good engagement metrics because members who benefit from it are more likely to interact with the community by commenting on posts, creating posts, or sending direct messages. Simply put, engagement is essential for a vibrant, healthy community. Here are a few metrics to consider when evaluating engagement:
- Active Users: An active user is one who takes one action in a community per month. This could involve viewing or commenting on a post or simply logging into the community. Although there are many definitions of an active user, I generally aim for 20–30% of the community to be active users as it matures.
- Engaged Users: Engaged users are those who perform 3–5 activities in the community per month. These power users are more regularly engaged with the community and are essential to its health. Ideally, 5–10% of the community should be engaged users. Keep in mind that this number may be lower for newer communities, as it takes time to build up engaged users.
- % of Returning Users: This metric measures the percentage of monthly active users who return to the community on a different day to perform an activity. If 50% of your monthly active users return as visitors, this indicates that they may become engaged members in the future.
- Post to Reply Ratio: This metric measures how community members engage with each other’s content. Engaging content has a 3:1 post to reply ratio, meaning that for every three posts, there’s one reply. While this ratio can vary depending on the community’s size and engagement, it’s important to monitor how community members interact with each other’s posts.
Qualitative Methods for Auditing Community Health
My favorite qualitative way to audit the health of your community is to do a deep dive on the entire experience your member goes through as they learn about, join, on-board, and engage with your community.
I’m vastly oversimplified the member journey here, but generally speaking, I like to break the journey down into these (3) phases.
- Marketing & Community Member Acquisition: This is all about what happens outside of the community BEFORE they become a member. Take a look at your website pages, emails, social media posts that promote your community. Is the messaging correct? Do you have an optimized conversion path to get them into the community? Is the process to sign-up for the community easy? Are there any “breakages” in technology as you move from one platform to the next?
- Community On-Boarding: What is the member experience like after they join the community? Does a Community Manager welcome them? Are there on-boarding activities they should perform? How do they learn about the community platform and how to use it? If you don’t have an on-boarding plan for your new community members, this is a wasted opportunity to get them engaged.
- On-Going Engagement: What programming do you have planned for your new community member as time goes on? Are you planning virtual or in-person events? Do you have content lined up to post into the community to spark discussion? What feedback loops are you building to ensure that you’re creating more programming that your members actually care about?
A Note About Surveys & Interviews
Keep in mind that issuing surveys to your membership is a great way to obtain both quantitative and qualitative data. Obtaining feedback directly from the community can be one of the best ways to assess the health of your community. However, be careful with the frequency of surveys. Getting feedback from the membership every 6–12 months can really help inform your assessment.
Additionally, don’t forget about focus groups or interview sessions with your engaged members. Having conversations with community members is another great way to gather feedback about the health of the community.
Bringing Together Qualitative and Quantitative Data
Once you have gathered both qualitative and quantitative data to inform your audit, it’s time to analyze the data and come up with actions to improve your community. There are various ways to summarize your analysis, but I prefer to keep it simple. As I go through the data, I group follow-up action items from the audit into four categories:
- What should we double down on? What should we keep doing?
- What isn’t working? What should we stop doing?
- What are things that we want to start doing immediately? Do we have the resources to do them?
- What are things that we want to start doing but need to do more research on?
After performing the analysis, we’ll summarize these action items, get the necessary buy-in from stakeholders (both within the community and within your organization), assign a project plan to them, and begin implementing them into the next iteration of the community.
Examples of changes that could occur to the community after the audit include updating the community’s charter, brainstorming a new content strategy, and developing a new messaging plan to attract new community members.
Although this is a high-level post on how to approach a community audit, I hope it has given you a good idea of how to use both quantitative and qualitative analysis to build and manage a stronger community. If you want to learn more about the mechanics of auditing your community or need a partner to assist you with the audit, feel free to contact me!
Need more ideas on how to acquire and engage new members to your community? Check out my monthly Members Welcome (Spotify) podcast.