The super-smart team at The Community Roundtable recently released the 2014 State of Community Management report. With social technology and business strategies evolving at a rapid pace, they do a great job adapting each year’s report to reveal information that is useful to today’s business leaders.

Every page of this report contains valuable insight. I strongly encourage you to read the 2014 State of Community Management report cover-to-cover.

The State of Community Management 2014 from The Community Roundtable

Here are some of the key takeaways for businesses, associations, and user groups:

Top Online Communities Have Processes in Place to Measure Success

In their research, the Community Roundtable categorized online communities based on level of maturity using their community maturity model. The fifth that were the most mature online communities were labeled “best-in-class.”

“Of the top performing communities, 85% can measure the success of the community vs. 48% for the average community.”

It is unclear whether the data says that measuring success leads to better performing communities or that higher performing communities have their act together in many areas and measuring success of the community is one of them.

“The most common metrics communities are tracking include: total membership, active members, volume of new content and contributing members.”

Advocacy and Leadership Programs Lead to Higher Engagement

“Community advocacy and leadership programs are a key element to the most successful community. 33% of communities without leadership opportunities are able to measure value. 71% can measure value with formal advocacy programs.”

Fostering volunteer leadership and creating opportunities for members to engage each other plays an important role in developing sustainable online communities. Advocacy and leadership programs can range from content creation to participation in advisory groups and committees to leading entire sub-communities.

“Community advocacy and leadership programs can have a significant impact on engagement rates. Those with multi-tiered programs see some of the highest engagement rates with 46% of members contributing and a much higher percentage of members collaborating. However, higher engagement rates require more community managers/work.”

The Best Online Communities Have Higher Degrees of Executive Participation

“In best in class communities, 58% have CEO participation vs. average CEO participation rates of 36%”

The study found that participation by C-level executives in online communities leads to higher engagement by all types of community members. This is especially true when CIOs participate in the community.

“Getting executives comfortable in participating in the community is a critical success factor in best-in-class communities.”

Community Management Matters More Than Ever

It is still the case that organizations with dedicated community managers have higher performing online communities.

“Communities with dedicated community managers are almost twice as likely to be able to measure value.”

According to the research, the typical community manager is responsible for both strategy and tactical functions. Community managers not only contribute to the daily operation of your online community, they play a critical role in measuring success and moving the community toward the next stage in its maturity.

“Best in class communities have more than twice the number of community managers as average.”

Community managers also plan and deliver consistent content and engagement programs in online communities. Consistency matters. The report indicated that communities with consistent programming have higher engagement profiles, as opposed to those with occasional programs.

“The content and programs that had the most dramatic link on engagement included those that required and/or spotlighted member communication, working groups, regular offline events and member profile promotion.”

This data about consistency supports long held views about all types of customer engagement and member engagement.

Policies Should Be Designed to Enable Activity, Not Crack Down on Community Members

Shape community guidelines and governance policies around the ideal behavior of community members, rather than focusing mainly on restricting specific activities.

“Best-in-class communities are almost twice as likely (91%) to have enabling policies vs. restrictive ones compared to the average (51%).”

More Online Community Software Functionality Leads to Higher Adoption and Engagement

Next time your boss or a board member asks why you can’t just build your online customer or member community in Facebook, LinkedIn, or a low-cost platform, bring them this data.

High Performing Online Communities - State of Community Management

The report’s data links communities run on dedicated online community software platforms that integrate with other places where community member engage with higher community maturity in many areas, including:

  • Community strategy
  • Culture
  • Leadership programs
  • Content
  • Community policies and guidelines

“These platforms have a more mature engagement profile with a lower number of lurkers (53%) than communities with less integration and flexibility (65%). They are also significantly more likely to be able to measure value (71%) vs. communities on platforms that are not responsive to the community needs (49%).”

As communities mature, they need more features to provide value and keep members engaged.

Online Community Management Takeaway

More mature communities deliver more value. However, it takes planning and resources to attain and maintain high levels of engagement.

Building community is not a simple, quick process. Viewing your online community strategy and investment in stages, such as the Community Roundtable’s maturity model, help organizations identifies where their community is today, set stakeholders’ expectations, and lays out a roadmap for growth.