Measure the Growth, Activity, and Experience of Your Community (Correctly) with These 4 Metrics

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Want a step-by-step plan for tracking, measuring, and monetizing social media? Learn more about DigitalMarketer’s Social & Community Mastery Specialist training and certification program today.

December 16,2016 by
Suzi Nelson

Are you measuring your community metrics WRONG?

Or worse… not at all?

It’s vital to have the correct metrics in place so you know when to take strategic action and beef up your community’s growth, activity, and experience.

A vibrant community affects your business’ bottom line in many ways by…

  • Increasing retention
  • Curtailing churn
  • Improving customer satisfaction
  • Reducing returns
  • Growing sales generated by word-of-mouth recommendations

…And many more, depending on the purpose of your community. 

There are a few metrics traps that community managers typically fall into when they attempt to measure the health of their communities.

Today, I’m going to cover weak metrics in areas of community growth, activity, and experience and then break down the measurements that really matter—and what to do when those metrics decline.

Let’s start with…

Measuring Growth Correctly

It’s fairly common for once-strong communities to decline.

Circumstances change; people move, switch jobs, or simply become bored. It’s only natural that community growth has a bit of ebb and flow—but it’s important to track the rate of these fluctuations in growth correctly so you can take steps to intervene if your community growth rate is declining too quickly.

What You’re Measuring: Total Number of Members

Think of the total number of members in your community like followers on your Twitter or Facebook account. It’s a nice number to have, but in most cases, it really doesn’t mean anything unless you can turn those users into other conversions: comments, posts, sales, or whatever else you want them to do.

Total number of members is a “vanity metric” – feels good and looks nice on paper. But generally speaking, the number of followers on your Twitter handle or registered members in your community will always grow.

This number doesn’t mean anything unless they actually do something.

This is true for most communities as well. Growing the number of members in your community is obviously an important step in the community-building process, but there are more important metrics to measure the health of your community.

That is, unless, you have a system for removing accounts that are “dead” (inactive) or otherwise no longer qualified as community members.

We measure this metric in our private Facebook group, DigitalMarketer Engage, because we remove members who no longer qualify to remain in the group (that is, when they cancel their DM Lab accounts).

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Because this system of removals is in place, we can use this metric to track the health of our community.

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If you notice the number of registered members is falling, you’ll know to take steps to beef up your acquisition efforts:

  1. How do potential members know about your community? Take a look at the process and adjust your marketing message to communicate excitement and the value of your community.
  1. What does your community registration page look like? If potential members can’t see the value immediately then you need to reinvigorate your page—from the copy to the layout.
  1. Is registration difficult to join or does it take a lot of steps? Go through the process and see if there are areas you can optimize for a smoother experience.

What You Should Be Measuring: Number of Active Members

Measuring the total number of active members will give you a much better sense of community growth than tracking registered members alone.

“Activity” is any action a community member takes that lets you know they are alive.  It can include:

  • Making posts
  • Commenting on threads
  • Sending private messages (if your community platform tracks that sort of thing)
  • Reacting (“liking” a post or comment)
  • Any other action community members make that lets you know they are alive!

As DM’s community manager, tracking activity tells me how many of our community members aren’t just hanging out on the sidelines. This is important because a community that becomes unengaged is a community that won’t last long.

You’ll want to take steps to grow the number of active members if you see this number decline. We’ll discuss interventions you can take to increase member activity in the section on measuring activity correctly…

(NOTE: Want a step-by-step plan for tracking, measuring, and monetizing social media? Learn more about DigitalMarketer’s Social & Community Mastery Specialist training and certification program today.)

What You’re Measuring: Number of New Members

Just like measuring the number of total community members, this measurement qualifies as a vanity metric.

It can be tempting to track new members, but in general, this number will almost always rise. Even if you only add new members sporadically, it won’t have any affect on your community unless some of them actually participate.

What You Should Be Measuring: Number of Members Who Made Their First Contribution

This is a much better metric to track to get a sense of what’s really happening in your community.

Not only will this capture brand new members who participate for the first time, but also members who have been in the community for a while and finally decided to make the jump and contribute.

If you see the number drop, I’ll cover some steps you can implement when we discuss the best way to measure activity.

And speaking of activity…

Measuring Activity Correctly

Your community can have all the members in the world and a high number of active members… and still fizzle out and die.

Why?

Because the number of members registered doesn’t mean those members are actively participating in the community.

And those active members might only participate by liking every post they see. Or creating new threads that just don’t generate conversation. Just like in real life, it’s hard to create meaningful relationships if you don’t communicate.

Think about your relationship with your closest friend.

You probably talk about all sorts of things—it’s what makes your relationship strong.

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In the online world, posts are the equivalent of these conversation starters—and relationships cannot form unless there are conversations (a ton of them) through the comments on these posts.

What You’re Measuring: Average Activity Level

The smart folks over at FeverBee use a formula for measuring the average number of times an active member contributes to the group in a given time frame.

It looks like this:

(Total Posts + Total Comments + Total Reactions) / # of Active Members = Average Activity Per Active Member

Let’s say that over the month of October, your community produced…

  • 1,425 posts
  • 10,266 comments
  • 6,971 reactions
  • 2,489 active members

The formula would be:

(1,425 + 10,266 + 6,971) / 2,489 = 7.49

This means an active member participated in the community an average of 7.5 times for the month.

I used this formula to track activity levels in our Facebook group for several months before realizing it wasn’t quite an accurate representation of what I needed to measure—mainly because it gives posts, reactions, and comments the same amount of love.

What would happen if a community had WAY MORE reactions and posts than they had comments? The activity level might look great, but it doesn’t give me an idea of the kind of activity that’s going on.

To address this issue, I looked to the folks over at Grytics, an awesome tool that provides analytical data for private Facebook groups (like ours).

For one of their engagement metrics, they multiplied the number of comments by 2 to give them more weight in reporting.

This makes sense—conversation and discussion, after all, are the most important part of a community. If everyone is posting and liking but not have any conversations, you’re likely to get a great activity level but still have a weak community.

What You Should Be Measuring: Activity Score

Taking a page out of Grytics’ book, I simply adjusted the activity level formula to create an activity score:

(Total Posts + (Total Comments X 2) + Total Reactions) / # of Active Members = Activity Score

Let’s compare the two formulas…

You notice that in the month of January, your community made:

  • 102 posts
  • 36 comments
  • 854 reactions
  • 125 active members

And for the month February the metrics look like this:

  • 113 posts
  • 13 comments
  • 934 reactions
  • 134 active members

Measuring activity level would report members contributing to your community an average of 7.9 and 9.2 times a month, respectively. This looks great! Activity levels are increasing and people are visiting your community more often.

But are they contributing in a way that actually builds community?

Activity score is an effort to address this issue.

If we take the same numbers and assign an activity score, a different narrative is revealed:

January Activity Score
(102 + (36 X 2) + 854) / 125 = 8.224 Activity Score

February Activity Score
(113 + (13 x 2) + 934) / 134 = 8 Activity Score

Weighting the comments reveals a decrease in the type of community activity that really matters: the conversation.

Measuring this over time will give you a little bit more of an idea of the kinds of actions our community members are taking and informs you when to intervene.

If you notice your activity score is declining, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Create strategic content that initiates discussion and encourages members to talk about themselves. When people self-disclose information, stronger relationships are more likely to form and members will find themselves participating in the community more often.
  2. Introduce members to each other. If you know that some particular members share a common bond (maybe they live in the same area or share a hobby or a job title), take the initiative to introduce them to each other.

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  1. Take a look at how you welcome your newcomers. Communities will die without new blood—reevaluate the ways that you are getting your new members involved in the community, because if members don’t feel welcomed and included, they’re sure to leave.

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This leads us to our final metric…

Measuring Community Experience Correctly

It’s relatively easy to determine the growth and activity metrics for an online community… but how do you measure how people feel about being a part of the group?

What You’re Measuring: NPS

A common way many community managers attempt to measure community experience is through a Net Promoter Score (NPS). While NPS is awesome for measuring loyalty and customer satisfaction, it doesn’t dive deep enough into the elements of what creates a strong community experience.

Allow me to explain…

What You Should Be Measuring: Sense of Community

Decades of research by behavioral psychologists have determined there are four elements that work together to establish a healthy sense of community:

Membership

Do your members feel like they are a part of a special tribe? Do they get a sense of emotional safety and belonging?

This idea looks into what common bonds of identification, like language or symbols, the community utilizes to recognize each other.

Influence

This concept includes the level of influence a member feels they have in the community, as well as the influence the group has on the member.

Integration & Fulfillment of Needs

Integration is the emotional reward members get out of participating in the community.

In order for a member to feel a sense of community, they must get some sort of intrinsic reward for participating, whether that’s feeling supported or giving support to others.

(RELATED: [CASE STUDY] How DigitalMarketer Activated 44% of Previously Silent Community Members in 5 Days)

Shared Emotional Connection

Can members identify the common bond that all of your community members share? Are they familiar with the history of the community?

A sense of shared emotional connection is a vital part of a healthy group.

In 1986, two behavioral psychologists developed the Sense of Community Index (SCI) that communities have used for decades to measure how communities feel in these four areas.

So how do you integrate this metric into measuring your tribe’s Sense of Community?

Luckily, you can find the Sense of Community Index online to adapt for your own use.

By surveying your community at least two to three times a year, you can score your community’s stance on the four elements. You can use this survey to track the number of members who take the survey, the total score, and average result, etc.

At this time, DigitalMarketer is working on implementing the Sense of Community survey to our members, and we’ll be sharing our results in a future post.

If you measure community growth, activity, and experience correctly, you’ll know when your community is happy and thriving.

Use the tactics discussed in this article to keep it that way!

(NOTE: Want a step-by-step plan for tracking, measuring, and monetizing social media? Learn more about DigitalMarketer’s Social & Community Mastery Specialist training and certification program today.)


Suzi Nelson

About Suzi Nelson

Suzi Nelson is the Community Manager at DigitalMarketer. She has a degree in Journalism (Strategic Communications) from the University of Kansas and is an avid defender of the oxford comma. You can find Suzi connecting with our customers and followers across any of DigitalMarketer's social profiles, and in our DM Lab Facebook mastermind group, DM Engage. Connect with her on Facebook.

View all Posts by Suzi Nelson