As a community manager, it can be difficult to get the full picture of what is going on in your community. Social media comments, for example, can be an easy metric to focus on, but they don’t necessarily provide a complete picture. You may ask yourself, how do I get a sense of the community’s activity as a whole? How can I tell when members are engaged? Is there more or less activity than last month? What is the meaning of life, anyway? (Whoa… hold up, this is a blog post, not a philosophy class). Of course, no two communities are identical – what fun would that be? The incredible diversity of any body of people, paired with its ever-shifting nature, means that each has its own unique set of needs and suitable assessments. Tracking engagement for a community focused on healthy lifestyles may not look the same as it would for a role-playing game or a medical practitioners group. However there are some fundamental approaches that can work for many.
Ultimately, the goals behind the existence of the community are the key drivers of what you’ll want to measure. Does your community exist to bring in sales, drive people to action, learn a new skill, or bring people together to better society? Perhaps it has more than one function. Understanding the reason why the group exists will help determine how to measure engagement. Keeping in mind your community’s why, let’s examine some possible metrics.
One of the easiest, most basic things to track is traffic — actual presence on your platform or post views. For websites, Google Analytics can be an invaluable traffic monitoring tool, showing how many people have come to your website, where they’ve come from, and what your bounce rate is. For tracking social media traffic, Twitter Analytics and Facebook Insights are valuable assets.
But why bother looking at how many people are coming to your site or seeing your posts? Seeing content does not necessarily mean that users are engaging with it or the community as a whole, right? While this is indeed the case, looking at these numbers shows us potential engagement. If 10,000 people viewed my site this month, that is 10,000 opportunities a potential user had to interact with my community. If, of those 10,000 hits, only 3 comments were posted, the potential vs. actual engagement ratio is pretty poor. This can offer intensely valuable insight into whether your engagement strategy is fostering the desired outcome.
Measuring contributions is where the meat of tracking engagement lies. This is also where many communities diverge in exactly what contributions they should be tracking based on their goals. There are some things that most people will track, and then there are others that may make sense for only one group. Some of the more common metrics you can use to track engagement are:
- Forum posts
- Comments on forum/blog posts/social media
- Reactions/upvotes/downvotes on posts
- Group chat messages
- Direct messages to businesses
Unique Products of Your Community
It may be the case, however, that you will want to measure at least some of the outputs that are unique to your community. The primary community I manage is a citizen science game in which players create 3D reconstructions of actual neurons. Apart from forums posts and chat messages, I often look at the number of players who contributed to a neuron challenge, how many neurons got fully reconstructed, and how often the community members helped one another to complete the challenge. Obviously, these metrics won’t work for everyone.
Building a network of amateur neuroscientists is not the goal of all communities (though I can’t imagine why not). For a community that exists to combat the overuse of plastic bags, it may be appropriate to measure how many reusable bags are sold as a measure of engagement. For the community of a specific tabletop game, perhaps it makes sense to keep track of the number of game-related events or tournaments. Whatever you do decide to track, be it reactions, posts, or neurons, creating a document to input your data will help you stay focused on what you are measuring, and how it may change over time.
Like community managers don’t have enough on their plates already, amirite? But here’s the dirty little secret scientists have known for years… data. is. POWER. The more information we have, the better equipped we are to update our strategies and deal with bumps in the road. In order to see whether your engagement has had the trajectory of a rocket ship or a raindrop (here’s hoping space travel is in your future), tracking and comparing your measurements over time will be key. Armed with this data, you can course-correct if need be or continue focusing on what is working. This doesn’t have to be a massive time draining task. Finding the metrics that matter and keeping track of them is very easily done if once a month you pop your measurements into a spreadsheet and forget about it until a handy calendar reminder prompts you to add more.
Engagement DOESN’T Equal Satisfaction
A quick disclaimer: you can have extraordinary levels of engagement and track every metric until your spreadsheets runneth over with data. But just because a community is active doesn’t mean it’s satisfied. In order to evaluate whether or not members are happy, further feedback (user testing) is needed. User surveys, post analysis, or just good ol’ fashioned asking how things are going, can go a long way to ensuring a happy, healthy community.
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