Measuring Online Community Health
In the post pandemic word, essential interaction has shifted to online, virtual spaces.
This has led to a new set of metrics which are needed to examine the growth and engagement within an online community.
Before we dive in, let's quickly define what an online community is.
For the purposes of this blog post, an online community is any group that uses the internet to communicate with each other. For example this can be Discord servers, Slack workspaces, Reddit subreddits, etc. There can be many different goals and reasons for these communities to form, but at the crux of it, each person who joins a community is looking for a place that feels like home, where they feel like their contribution is valued, and where they feel comfortable to communicate openly. Community engagement is promoted by this feeling of comfort and home.
How to measure community health?
If you do a quick google search, you will find numerous posts suggesting various metrics to track in order to monitor your community’s health. According to the 2021 community industry report, 65% of community professionals use active users as one of their top 10 metrics. A lot of the other top 10 metrics can fall under the umbrella of engagement, such as new user/member signup, number of posts/comments, attendance at events.
There are many ways to define an active user. The simplest way would be to see which users interact with the community on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. You could set a level at which you think consists of an interaction, whether that is simply logging in, making a post, or writing a comment.
Boosting Active Users: In order to gain more active users, it is essential to make the onboarding process easy so that the user can easily gain access to the community, but also start participating immediately. It can be intimidating for a user to try and integrate themselves into a pre-existing community, and if they do not feel comfortable, they will not have an incentive or desire to engage with the community.
Taking the active user metric one step further is retention. This can help measure the longevity of a community by measuring the length of time the average user remains active in the community.
Boosting Retention: In order to retain users, it is important to ensure that there is a variety in content within the community, as well as events and new opportunities for interaction, so that users feel like there is value in investing their time to engage with your community.
User Generated Content (UGC)
This is another metric that is similar to active members, however this time we are solely tracking content that the user generates, such as comments, posts, or messages in a channel.
Boosting UGC:Ensure there are multiple ways a user can interact with other users or content. For example, this might look like creating a discord channel for a specific topic, or ensuring that comments can have multiple threads. It might also be encouraging users to share their individual thoughts by making posting easier, or by starting conversations with questions of the day, etc.
In order to get a better understanding of your community health as a whole, exploring an active user’s actions can be beneficial. One can track what a user clicks most frequently, if they post or comment more, if they have sent any direct messages etc. This goes beyond engagement with the community and looks at more personal connections as it relates to the goal of the community, which gives a better idea of how integrated a user is with the community.
Why Engagement is Important
Now that we have discussed these various metrics, you might be wondering why this matters.
Let’s take a step away from the virtual communities for a second and look at traditional, in person communities. Some of the ways to measure success/health in these communities included the following:
- Strength of relationships
- Achievement of personal goal/community goals
- Member development
Arguably, it was easier to see this play out in non-virtual communities. You could measure attendance at live events or talk to people face to face and have a better understanding of their personal wants/needs, and since in person communities tend to be smaller than virtual ones, it is easier for the organizer to form one to one connections with members and help them achieve their personal goals as they relate to the goal of the community.
The way this translates online is through engagement. Since these online communities can become very large and oftentimes no longer synchronous, it is not enough to count people in a room at an event. Rather we must adapt and look at the way conversations are carried out and the number of connections being formed so that we can get a better understanding of the health in a community.
How to differentiate your community using these metrics
No matter what smaller metric you chose to focus on, success for that metric will be driven by member satisfaction.
It can be hard to quantify and measure member satisfaction. One can send out surveys or questionnaires, but a less intrusive way to see satisfaction is to do “sentiment analysis” on your community. This will allow you to see what people are saying about the community, if the content produced is generally positive, etc.
In order to ensure your community’s health, make sure that the individual member is satisfied, whether this is through consistent engagement with content that members ask for/desire.
Although the medium of communication might have changed, human interaction and communication largely remains the same.