What Makes a Good Community KPI?

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This is post is a continuation of a discussion begun in the comments section of the post, “Where Does Community Sit on the Org Chart?” Thanks, Carrie Jones, for the insightful question
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) stand on the front lines of accountability for any role, community management included. But how, exactly, can you measure the tangible value of human relationship? How does a community professional show direct return from his or her efforts? And, how can we communicate that value to our superiors in business terms?  Just as challenging, and arguably most important, is selecting KPIs for community teams that tell us the truth, rather than what we’d like to hear.

KPI Inspiration from Community Executives

While the success for community teams under customer can be clearly measured in response time and satisfaction, community professionals across marketing and product can find this a bit more challenging. In these scenarios, I find it helpful to define community KPIs aligned with high-level business goals. As the Community Manager Roundtable pointed out recently, a new model is rising: that of the Community Executive, a community team leader reporting to the C-suite.

An early champion of this model with his Community Manager Manifesto, Tim McDonald, former Director of Community at Huffington Post, created KPIs for his team’s efforts that were hyper-specific, focused, and aligned with top-level company needs. “We measured booked Huffington Post Live guests as a percentage of total guests, new bloggers, increase of traffic to bloggers’ posts, number of comments, pending time of comments, and rate of deletion,” says Tim. “Rate of deletion tells us about the overall quality of submissions.” This is quite different than the KPIs of Tim’s new role at Be The Change Revolutions, a digital agency for purpose-focused communities and movements. “Our [client] KPIs are focused around impact… donation goals, pledge drives or registrations.” For both Huffington Post and Be The Change Revolutions, the KPIs are specific to their respective business models and indicators of success.

Likewise, Community Director Anna Shelton at reimagine.me, a community platform and curriculum program for cancer survivors and their supporters, also keeps her metrics focused on the community effort’s specialized contribution to larger organizational goals. “I’m measuring more than 200 data points monthly, but my executive summary starts with average number of visits per active member. Then I look at percentage growth in membership, and overall interactions per member — meaning, for Reimagine, total likes, replies, and posts divided by the number of members,” Anna explains. Anna reports directly to and shares her executive summaries with reimagine.me’s CEO.

For my team at GOOD, I’m targeting KPIs that show growth aligned with purpose. I look at the percentage of GOOD‘s most active members who are aligned with the community’s mission: sharing creative actions for a better self and a better world. I also want to see high rates of mutual following, to show that relationships, not just audiences are being built. And, I’m interested in how rapidly my team can respond to community members’ requests for help and guidance.

What makes a good KPI, anyway?

Explain the concept of KPIs to an eight-year-old kid and then ask her why people use them, and she’ll probably answer, “They tell you if you’re doing a good job or not.”

Simple, right? But it gets complicated fast. Easily measured, top-level KPIs such as total revenue can’t isolate community management from other factors. Product changes, marketing, PR, bugs, outages, price changes, seasons, sporting events, and even the weather alter metrics such as page views, logged-in session length, path length, visitors, and transactions.

A KPI that measures a Community team’s success should be:

  • Relationship-based
  • Tied to the day-to-day function of your specific community team
  • Goal oriented — what will moving this needle actually do for your organization?
  • Measurable, consistently and accurately

Even excellent KPIs are imperfect. There’s always something besides community management affecting user behavior. So, control for that by noting major changes or events as you record and graph relevant date for your community KPIs over time and by comparing to other teams’ KPIs to identify any surprising areas of alignment or divergence. At GOOD, we have one product team member with specific expertise in analytics measurement. When a metric shift is detected, she puts her thinking cap on and tests a variety of hypotheses which might explain the change.

Yes, Virginia, community CAN be measured

I’m surprised to still hear of companies who’ve been sold on the idea that “you can’t measure the value of human relationships.” If you’re doing community right, nearly all the business value you drive, from page views to sales,  will be, to some extent, a measurement of relationships.

To be clear, however, that’s in no way a cynical perspective on human-to-human connection. For example, in purpose-driven organizations such as nonprofits or social enterprises, that value can translate to fewer kids missing meals, more global neighboring, and even folks using online communities with greater mindfulness, building deeper friendships.

Some additional, relationship-focused metrics to think about as you review your community KPIs:

  • Churn — Are you adding 200,000 members and calling it a win as 100,000 head out the door each month? If so, you’re rapidly exhausting your total potential audience. It’s harder to convince someone who’s left to come back than to convince someone in your target demographic to try out a community ideal for them.
  • Change in rate of return by member —  If I visit you once and return eight days later, then make my third visit two days later and my fourth after just one day absent, I’m getting hooked on your community.
  • Number of neutral experiences — This one takes a member survey to measure, but it’s important. A “meh” reaction often equates to, “I’ll forget about your community by next month.” A bad experience can be turned into a good one (witness KFC’s charitable response to being scammed this week) but it’s hard to make a neutral experience exciting.

What KPIs are important to your community team? Do executives in your organization give you the support you need to accurately measure the specific impact of community management? And who do those metrics go to? Leave a comment below.

  • ZeroSeven

    Hi Felena,

    Awesome stuff you have here, I know this blog goes back to 2014, but this is one of the very few things I’ve found on the internet that really helped me to manage our community..

    I’m using my personal disqus btw… I need a lot of help with the new community I’m working on and I am completely oblivious of where to start with KPIs… Hoping someone could help.

    R.A.