In business, there are times where you should focus on the end of the race before you think about the beginning. Planning an online customer or member community is one of those times. There are many different ‘flavors’ of online community software and social business platforms. Though the tools and methods you use are largely determined by what you want to accomplish with them, the role measurement and analytics play in the success of your private online community is always very important.
Online Community Metrics are Business Metrics
You hear a lot of comments by people who are looking at adding a private online community to their marketing mix asking, “What do I measure?” or “How do I know when I am successful?”
The answer is, what are you measuring now? Or what do you consider a marketing and operations success now? Online communities and social networking are not a magic bullet. Many people see online communities and social networking as the goal, when in fact, it is merely a means to help achieve your goals.
When looking at implementing an online member or customer community you need to consider your existing organizational goals. Is it to add more customers? Get your current customers more engaged? Give a voice to your customers to improve your products, programs, and services?
These are goals you probably already have listed in a marketing plan, so the bigger question is: how can you add your online community to the plan in order to help you achieve the goals you already have.
Even though every organization will have different goals, there are some basic goals that you may look to achieve with online communities, for example:
- Learn something about our customer the company didn’t already know.
- Increasing customer retention while controlling costs
- Provide a way to share company or organizational information with customers and give them an easy way to share it with their networks.
- Have our customer learn something about our organization they didn’t already know.
- Get our members more involved with our organization.
- Get our customers to help each other and reduce support costs through online tools.
- Build a knowledge base of information for our industry.
And the list goes on. Your goals could include one, some, or all of the above goals, but hopefully you already have your marketing and support goals identified and an online community can become an added resource to help you achieve them.
Translating Goals into Metrics
Let’s talk about how goals translate into technology and ultimately what you need to measure to see if you are achieving them.
Overarching goals need to be broken down into measurable tasks. Once you know all of the tasks that need to take place for the goal to be met, you have an easy way to see if you are on track to hit your goals for the online community. Here is an example:
If the goal is to get your customers to help each other through online tools. It translates into technology you need in your online community such as Forum/ListServs or file libraries.
To be sure you are meeting your goals you could measure:
- How many questions are being asked?
- How many responses are being given?
- How many files are being shared?
- How many files are being downloaded?
Then you need to look at trends to see if the trend line is headed in the right direction. Check out The Online Community Planning Guide for more information on translating goals into technology.
So the overarching goal you have helps you to determine the software that will help you meet your goal. Then actions users take in the software can be tracked to see if the goal is being met. It is a simple formula, but when done right, can streamline the technology you choose, the actions that you measure to help you achieve the goals that are important to you.