I love woodworking, and as my range of creations has grown, so has my arsenal of tools. Curls and shapes that previously took me ages with my jigsaw are now completed right the first time with a scroll saw. They’re more delicate and precise too. Although you can always make do, there are distinct benefits in using the right tool for the right job, and that doesn’t just apply to woodworking.

When it comes to marketing or customer support engagement, there is a tremendous amount of raw data generated as users flock to and become active in your digital communities. A host of interested parties from both inside and outside your business—ranging from individual contributors, to community managers, to business analysts, to marketers and sellers—all want insight into that data. Yet, as they have different goals, they need different types of insights.

Most community software comes with various tools to visualize and analyze raw community activity. Here’s an overview of which tools are right for which jobs:

Individual Insights

Anyone who has sent emails to a large group of people or a distribution list know that it’s been hard to get detailed feedback on engagement without investing heavily in email tracking solutions. Yet feedback is exactly what you need—for you, your customers, partners, advocates and employees. In an online community, the content you author can be tracked by the impact it makes on your audience. You can look at a range of fundamental statistics such as likes, shares and comments, and receive further insight from trending data on derived metrics, including reach, sentiment, impact and top referrers.

Different authors benefit from different insights. If you’re an employee blogging about a big product release, you want to make sure your message is heard the world over. You don’t want to miss reaching any members (especially not your top referrers from previous messages). You also want to know your audience is receptive to the announcement, because if they’re not, you may need do more research to alter your messaging, packaging, pricing and the like. And if you are a customer advocate, you might get a tremendous ego boost as well from these statistics that outline (either publicly or privately) your influence and reach in the community.

If you’re a community manager, you’ll want to stimulate behavior that improves the impact and drives numbers ever higher for subsequent posts. By tying content creation directly into quests and missions, you can unleash advocates to offer their views and opinions, which will of course help spread the word about your products and services.

Community Manager Measures

Community managers care about how their community (as a whole or for individual subsets) is performing. You need the same engagement metrics and activities mentioned above, but aggregated and tracked historically so you can gauge the impact of your efforts over time.

Some community managers are more concerned with the overall health of a community or place, while others have a specific business focus in mind. Overall community health reporting on user adoption as well as content creation and activity can be helpful for spotting trends in the past 24 hours, week or month. Other valuable reports might focus on specific business use cases. For example, a customer support team might need reports on average response times, time to correct answer, repeat views of correct answers and more.

ROI Input

Of course, when you say “metrics and analytics,” all of your organization’s analysts will look up and pay attention. That’s because the stream of data from the community can help them to refine their models and reports. For example, your marketing analysts can leverage the community to add to their insight on audience behavior by integrating with web analytics tools such as Google Analytics or marketing automation systems like Marketo.

Your business intelligence (BI) analysts might connect your community data in a data warehouses ecosystem with extract, transform, load (ETL) processes that combine and transform the data for different scenarios. For example, they might be able to determine whether there is a notable correlation between the number of cases in your support community and the price charged for premium support services. With community metrics, organizations can clearly establish community impact on the bottom line and articulate its value and the ROI it brings.

Sentimental Value

The previous three options all have one thing in common: they derive insight from hard metrics and absolute values. They look at the how often and the how much. Yet there is one more layer of value in your community that’s hidden in the conversation itself. Understanding what is being said opens a window into the minds of your audience, revealing behaviors, motivations and desires that are critical to retention and sales. By analyzing the activity and interactions in your community, you can uncover even more meaningful, actionable insight into the factors that drive satisfaction, loyalty and market success.

When combined with natural language processing and text mining, advanced sentiment analysis picks up on the subtle clues that reveal how your users really feel about your brand, your products and your programs. Through discussion analysis, you can better understand your prospect and customer needs and wants. You can pinpoint the key contributors and influencers in your community so you can give them the white glove treatment they deserve and invite them to join your advocate programs. You can track the top themes that live in your community and monitor how they change over time. In addition, you can get the rapid feedback you need to improve community engagement, hone your marketing strategies create better products, and even nip potential crises in the bud.

Your Community Analytics Toolbox

Your various audiences have varying expectations and needs for your community insights. The same community should be looked at through different lenses using different “tools” because no single tool does it all. A solid measurement strategy, coupled with useful reports, database analytics and rich APIs for data export, is the best way map your evidence to key measurement areas. With these tools, you have the information at your fingertips to truly measure community health and adoption, perceived value and ultimately, business value.