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I speak to dozens of teams every week and they all still share the same primary challenge: How do you measure the value of community?

Even organizations with large teams who are spending half a million dollars on their technology don’t have a clear answer. They’re making progress, but it’s not obvious.

The problem is in part because most companies are trying to extract a dollar amount out of community engagement metrics. “What was the ROI of that event/group/forum/swag/discussion…?”

“As a result of being engaged in our community, our customer spends more” is a common narrative we hear. The truth is, very few teams have been able to prove that community engagement has had an effect on dollars spent. And I haven’t seen anyone who has been able to show causation.

So is community valuable to a business?

Here’s the thing… community is a feeling. It’s a sense of belonging. It’s a kind of relationships that a person experiences. And measuring the value of a feeling or a relationship is, well… hard, if not impossible. Like measuring the value of your mother, as Gary Vee once said.

We don’t know how to measure the intangible and complex emotions that humans experience, let alone how to tie them to something like revenue.

The community isn’t for your business. The community is for your loyal customers. It’s something you do FOR them. The return comes later. The value comes because when your customers feel a sense of community and are motivated to want to give back. They’ll want to help you achieve your goals. They will become part of your team.

Stop measuring the value of community. Instead, measure the value of the contributions made by community members.

When you make someone feel like they’re part of your community, your success becomes their success. They’ll become advocates referring new customers, they’ll create content, they’ll test products, they’ll share feedback and ideas, they’ll answer questions for other customers, they’ll be an army that gives your business a competitive advantage.

Which business wins?

Business A: 100 employees

Business B: 100 employees + a community of 1000 loyal community members contributing to business goals

The business with an engaged community wins every time. The community can do things employees can’t do and at a scale teams can’t reach alone. This is a fundamental shift in how businesses function. Marketing isn’t one-to-many, it’s customer-to-customer. Product isn’t built in a silo, it’s built collaboratively with customers. That’s the value you measure. The value of the contributions made by the members of the community, not of the community itself.

Building community isn’t for the business. Building community is for the people. It’s being a people-first, or customer-first, business. It’s saying “we care about you.” Community is for them.

When people feel a sense of community, they want to contribute to that community. They want to give back. To better their community is to better themselves. THAT is where the value is created… in how they give back.

What does contribution look like?

Community members can contribute to an organization in a lot of ways:

  • Answering questions for other customers
  • Hosting events
  • Sharing their stories
  • Repping your swag
  • Giving you product feedback and ideas
  • Reporting bugs
  • Promoting your products to others
  • Creating content
  • Sharing your content
  • Speaking at conferences
  • Defending you in times of crises

All of these are measurable contributions. All of these can be tied back to revenue. This is what you should be focused on when measuring the value of community. The goal is not to be focused on a measure of community engagement itself, but on the contribution that comes as a result of community engagement.

Sure, your community members will likely also be more loyal customers. That’s awesome, and you can measure that correlation as another data point. But that cannot be your only data point.

Your community is an extension of your team.

Think of your community of customers and advocates like you think of your employees. You want your employees to be happy, engaged, and productive, so you do a lot for them. You give them tools and systems. You create fun experiences for them like offsites and parties. You build a great culture. You give them benefits. You take care of them and make sure they know you have their back.

Now, you wouldn’t measure the value of your employees by retention alone, right? Sure, retention is important because you don’t want to have to keep hiring new people, but employee retention on its own isn’t value. The value comes from their contributions of code, content, product, marketing, etc.

Your community of advocates, ambassadors, and contributors should be looked at the same way. Sure, you’re retaining them as customers, but the real value comes from their contributions. You give them tools, systems and experiences to make them happy and productive because you know that will lead to quality contributions.

Focus on how your community can contribute to your core objectives.

The value of the Yelp Elite is the reviews they’re posting on the platform.

The value of the Salesforce MVP program is the product feedback and insights they contribute.

The value of Google Developer Groups is the code they create.

The value of Airbnb Super Hosts is quality listings on the platform.

The value of the Lyft Advisory Council is the feedback and ideas they contribute.

The value of the Skimmbassador program is the email subscriptions they refer.

The community engagement programming (groups, events, content, etc) isn’t for the business, it’s for the community members. It’s value TO them, in order to motivate them to give back.

The value is in the contributions.

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