Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series on CMX’s community building models, which we teach in a 6-week online training program. Learn more about how you can dive deep into these models and use them in your work

It was lunchtime on a recent Wednesday afternoon when I sat down for coffee with a community pro who’s been an active member of the CMX community for some time.

We love meeting up with members of the community to learn about the challenges they’re dealing with. People tend to share more over coffee than they would in a feedback survey. It turns out, there’s one challenge almost all community professionals are facing.

And so the conversation went as most of my conversations with community professionals tend to go…

“How’s everything going?”

“Oh it’s SOOO good”, they said with enthusiasm. “I love the team, the community members are so amazing and supportive. I really love what we’re doing!”

“That’s awesome! So glad to hear it.”

“Yeah… the only thing is I’m having some trouble figuring out how to track everything we’re doing. I know it’s valuable, but I don’t know how to show it.”

“What are you tracking now?”

“Oh you know… the number of posts, comments, activity, and all that. But I’m not sure what to do with the data and how it can convey the value that the community is bringing to the business”.

This is a conversation we have with members of CMX on an almost daily basis. We dedicate a full week in the CMX Training program solely to measurement because it’s such a big topic. While more and more companies are investing in community, very few have been able to actually build a thorough measurement strategy around it.

So we wanted to share the simple model that we use in our training and workshops to help community professionals understand how to bring measurement into their strategy.

Starting with the End in Mind

The first mistake a lot of companies make when putting together a measurement strategy is they’ll just start collecting data without knowing what that data is meant to help them learn.

Measurement is about answering questions.

“Did this experiment work?”

“How much value did the community bring to our business?”

“Is our content strategy working?”

By first figuring out the questions you want to answer, that will help you figure out what you need to track and how you’ll track it.

The 3 Levels of Measurement

The second big mistake a lot of companies make is they try to measure the value of individual pieces of content.

If you’ve ever had a boss ask you, “how much money did this event earn us?”, you know what I’m talking about.

Businesses want to see the value of community, but community value doesn’t come directly from one piece of content or programming. It’s a combination of efforts over time that will, hopefully, create an engaged community and ultimately drive business value.

So in order to track your work building community and the business value, you’ll want to think of measurement in three levels:

  1. Content and Programming: is the content and programming we’re creating for our community working?
  2. Community Engagement: are community members engaged and participating in the community on a regular basis?
  3. Business Objectives: is the community creating value for the business?

 You can view it as a 3-step process like this:


You create content and programming… that fuels an engaged community… that drives business objectives.

So the point of content and programming isn’t to directly create business value, it’s to create an engaged community that will drive that business value.

Let’s take a little bit of a deeper look at each of these three levels.

Content and Programming (C&P)

If you haven’t already, we recommend you read our article about the Community Engagement Cycle.

Using this cycle, you can lay out your C&P plan. Now, each piece of content you create should have its own metrics.

For email it might be click-through rates.

For articles it might be views or time spent reading.

For events it might be RSVPs or survey ratings.

Your goal with measurement on this level is to know if your content and programming is working. So every piece of C&P you create should be given a “success rating. This will help you review all of your C&P later and quickly see what worked and what didn’t.

We recommend putting this all into a content and programming tracker where you look back every month to see how your C&P performed, and use that information to help you plan your content calendar for the next 3 months.You can choose your criteria for success, and it’s okay if it’s a subjective measure. In the example below we used participation, reputation and revenue as our criteria for success.

Content and Programming Tracker

Community Engagement

At this level, our goal is to ensure that all the content and programming we’re creating is resulting in a growing, engaged community.

In order to do this, you first need to define the levels of engagement in your community.

Again, looking back at the Community Engagement Cycle you can see there are 6 levels of engagement in every community as a member moves up the commitment curve (over time, a member’s level of commitment goes up):

  1. Potential
  2. New
  3. Passive
  4. Active
  5. Power
  6. Inactive

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 11.56.30 PM

Now you have to define what it means to be “active”, “inactive” and “power”.

For example, Twitter considers an active member to be anyone who’s visited twitter at least 7 times in the last 30 days.

Facebook “defines a monthly active user as a registered Facebook user who logged in and visited Facebook through our website or a mobile device, used our Messenger app (and is also a registered Facebook user) or took an action to share content or activity with his or her Facebook friends or connections via a third-party website or application that is integrated with Facebook, in the last 30 days as of the date of measurement.”

Once you know what qualifies a member for a specific level of engagement, you can track the number of members at each level each month.

You can then put that data into a simple community engagement tracker like this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 12.08.26 AM

Business Objectives

Finally, we have the big question. Is our community driving business value and what is that value?

Hopefully you’ve already figured out where community fits into your business. If you haven’t already done that, we recommend referring back to the SPACE model.

As a reminder, SPACE stands for:

  • Support
  • Product
  • Acquisition
  • Content
  • Engagement

Those are the five areas that community can drive value for a business. By figuring out which one is the top priority for your business you can then figure out how the community should be expected to drive that value.

To do this you have to define the “valuable action”, which is the action that community members can take that will drive the business objective.

For example, if you’re a P for “product-focused community”, then the value you expect from the community is product improvement and innovation. The valuable action may be things like feedback and ideas posted, bugs reported, or features requested.

When Dell launched their “Ideastorm” community, these were the kinds of metrics they focused on. They knew that “posting an idea” was the action that would drive value for the business. According to Bill Johnston who worked on that program, they were able to value an idea at about $10,000 which helped them define the ROI.

Or if you’re an A for “acquisition-focused community”, then the value you expect from the community is growth. So the valuable action may be referring someone to the product, getting signups, or sharing content to increase reach.

TheSkimm’s ambassador program (the Skimmbassadors) tracks the number of email signups coming from their ambassadors and found that 18% of their total email list growth comes from ambassadors.

If you need to show an ROI for community, then, like Dell did, you’ll need to assign a dollar figure to the valuable action.

  • For support, that might be the $ saved by a community member answering a question.
  • For product, that might be the $ value of an idea that’s used in the product based on how much you would otherwise spend on research, or the increased revenue that comes as a result of that idea.
  • For acquisition, it’s usually a lot easier because you probably already have a cost per acquisition and you can use that dollar figure here.
  • For content, you can look at how much it would have cost your team to create that article, write that line of code, host that event, etc.
  • For engagement, you’re building a community in order to fuel sales and retention, so it should be easier to assign a dollar figure to this one as life time value of a customer.

Now if you want to track that all in one place, you can add these columns to your community engagement tracker so now it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 12.11.33 AM

In Summary…

Now you have a really simple model that you can use to map out your community measurement strategy.

You’re basically collecting data to answer three questions:

  1. What content and programming performs best?
  2. Are the engagement levels of our community increasing or decreasing?
  3. To what extent are we accomplishing our business objectives?

Obviously you can go a lot more in depth into all this. You can get into A/B testing of content and programming. You can experiment with different new member onboarding flows. You can get much more detailed around community engagement to measure health, NPS, etc.

Hopefully this is a good, simple jump-off point for you to explore the world of community measurement.

And if you’d like to dig in deeper, you should join in the next CMX Training class where we go much more in depth and help you apply this model to your work. We’ve already worked with hundreds of students to put together their community measurement strategies. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Promise.

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David Spinks

David Spinks | @DavidSpinks

David is the Founder and CEO of CMX. Forever fascinated by how technology can bring people together, he's been studying and building communities since he was 13 years old. He's also really good at growing hair.