Three Metrics Every Community Manager Should Track
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Go beyond "vanity metrics" to understand and communicate the value of your community
When I first started as a community manager almost four years ago, one of the things I had the hardest time learning was metrics: numbers that would help me benchmark my success and communicate the value of the community program back to company leaders. Gathering and reporting the right metrics felt necessary for gaining the trust of my team to rely on the community as a voice of customer, growing my program in ways that required budget and resources, and importantly, growing my own career.
In my personal experience and from what I’ve heard other community managers express over and over, it often feels like the impact that communities have on businesses is too abstract to quantify. Communities can be like branding in this way—everyone knows good branding is important, so much so that every company invests in it. But, measuring the impact of creative, perception-based work can be challenging. Richard Millington of FeverBee put it well with regards to community— “the things that count are really hard to count.”
But, in my years of managing the community at Teachable and growing my understanding of the community field, I’ve honed in on a framework for measuring and reporting community metrics. This framework breaks metrics down in three buckets: engagement within your community, your community’s impact on larger business metrics, and your community’s impact on other teams. Although the metrics you track and report will vary heavily depending on the goals and setup of your community, especially for community managers just starting out (or those who manage a community alongside other core responsibilities), these are good bases to cover first.
Measure engagement within your community.
Tracking engagement metrics (likes, comments, and impressions) is one of the most popular, but controversial metric buckets to track. Some in the field refer to them as “vanity metrics,” because they are largely self-referential, and they don’t have a lot to say about the impact of a community program. These are popular for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they’re extremely easy to get. Almost every community platform, from Facebook Groups to owned community platforms (like the one I use, Circle), will have native reporting tools that will tell you things like how much your community grew, how many comments you got on average on a particular day, popular times of day to post, etc.
What’s more, these types of metrics are popular because they feel satisfying—everyone can understand what they refer to, and you as the community manager feel like you have this robust suite of information to share. I used to be a big culprit of over-reporting engagement metrics, mostly because I didn’t know how else to quantify my community efforts. I created lengthy reports that included everything from ‘number of likes on engagement posts’ to ‘average number of posts per day’ and more. I thought that sharing lots of information meant I was being thorough—but my reports were ultimately not very useful in achieving my goals because they failed to contextualize the information I was sharing. If my ultimate goal was to help my organization understand the value of community and to benchmark success, these reports didn’t do that.
I’ve since learned that engagement metrics are not as insightful as they may immediately seem. The number of comments on a certain post says very little about the efficacy of your community program when shared in isolation. To combat this, I only share information like this with context.
Engagement metrics are not as insightful as they may seem. To combat this, I only share information like this with context.
For example, if I were to report on membership growth month over month, I might say, “We gained [number] new community members this month. This is up [percent] based on last month’s growth trajectory. This suggests that our efforts in [acquisition strategy] were effective. That’s good, because we think that our customers stick around longer when they are part of the community.”
The most important engagement metrics that you should generally track and report are membership growth and percentage of active members. A monthly report is fine. These are decent health checks for a community and are really about as granular as you need to go when reporting engagement metrics outside of your immediate team.
An exception to this caution on going too deep into engagement metrics: I do use more granular engagement metrics (like tracking comments, likes, active times of day, etc) on an ad hoc basis when I want to check the efficacy of my strategies. I sometimes also use this information to estimate my workload for various days or periods of time. But, this normally just means I’ll check into my dashboards regularly when I’m planning content. I do not report on these metrics to outside teams unless there is something specific I’m trying to communicate—for example, I might reference metrics if I shared a piece of content that was so popular I wanted to make the case for it to be formalized into a blog post or workshop.
Don’t overreport engagement metrics. Focus on the big picture—membership growth and percentage of active members—to communicate community health.
When you do share engagement metrics, have a purpose. Contextualize the numbers with your expertise and goals.
Use more granular engagement metrics to gut check the success of your engagement strategies.
Measure your community's impact on business metrics.
If engagement metrics are easy to get but not so valuable, this second type of metrics is really valuable, but really hard to get. However, measuring how your community impacts business metrics is one of the most concrete ways that a community manager can understand and communicate value. Getting this information is tough because it requires cross-team collaboration and the right tools—so start driving towards this as soon as you can.
I see this metrics bucket as a sort of ‘holy grail’ because it quantifies what many community managers already feel about their communities—that they lead to happier, healthier customers. In other words, it feels like ‘the thing that counts.’ And while you can’t usually measure happiness, what you can do is identify your business’ most important metrics (think about the numbers that are talked about in all-hands meetings or investor updates) and use cohort comparison to understand if being a community member has a positive impact on those metrics on average.
For example, if you see community as a retention tool, compare how long it takes, on average, for community members to churn versus non community members. If you use your community to supplement support, track if community members, on average, submit fewer help requests than do non-members. The important thing is to try to connect back the instincts you have about your community to the health checks that are shared across the company.
Doing so requires that you can actually match your community members reliably to account holders or leads in other systems—something that can be surprisingly hard. When I hosted my community on Facebook, I had no way of doing this. But, I was able to finally clear this hurdle this year by migrating my community to an owned platform called Circle and pushing to have Single Sign On between that platform and my company’s software (I talk a little bit about that process here). The decision to advocate for SSO was in no small part due to the fact that I had these metrics in mind for a long time and had never been able to track them before.
I’ve been a community manager at my company for almost four years and I’m just now reaching the finish line on getting this information—so don’t feel discouraged if quantifying this seems out of reach. I wanted to include this metrics bucket even though I haven’t fully realized it, because I think it’s important to keep in mind as a goal. Doing so will help you take steps toward this ideal whenever you’re making decisions about community platforms, or as your organization’s ability to support your data needs becomes more sophisticated.
A quick note on this type of metric—keep in mind that what you are tracking when you compare cohorts is correlation. If you find a positive correlation, be wary of stating that the community causes people to churn later or submit fewer help requests—it might be the case that your most engaged and successful customers are just more likely to self select as community members.
Choose a few of your company’s most tracked business metrics and compare community members’ average performance on these metrics vs. non members.
If you don’t have the data to do this now, don’t worry. But, keep it in the back of your mind any time you have the chance to take a step closer.
Measure your community's impact on other teams.
This is in my opinion the most under-tracked and reported on metrics bucket for community managers, even though it’s low-hanging fruit and strikes the perfect balance of being both easy to track and very impactful. This is something that any community manager can start incorporating right away. The type of metric I’m suggesting here is all about setting targets for output that have to do with how you see your community as a source of content and trustworthy insight.
Think about which teams you work most closely with. When do they turn to you for value? Perhaps your content team uses your community as a content pipeline. If so, set a target with that team member on how many blog posts they expect to source from community content per month, and the role they expect you to play in ensuring a quality pipeline. Or, maybe your product team uses community to source and qualify feature requests. Whatever the case may be, work with external teams to formalize the value and cadence they expect to get out of the community—and then share these things.
A lot of community managers skip sharing information like this because we’re taught that anecdotal information is inherently not valuable, and therefore we don’t value our communities as a source of stories and qualitative insight. This type of metric can help you start to place value back on those insights. Even the most data-driven teams and people need qualitative data to make sense of information and to figure out which lines of thinking to pursue—start to value your channel as a source of that information and find a way to quantify those expectations and deliver on them. If metrics are all about setting benchmarks for success and communicating value to your organization, this type of metric is not to be missed. It helps you communicate the ways that community can inform decisions, validate and generate content, and truly stand in as the voice of the customer.
Identify which teams you work with most closely and set concrete targets for how community will impact them. Report on the output to demonstrate value.
Start to place value on your channel as a source of qualitative data. Look for ways the insights in your community can color in decision making for other teams.
Need more personalized help figuring out what to track? You can explore ways we can work together here.
Lastly, you can get free resources on community building straight to your inbox —like a templatized guide to a community launch, a cheat sheet for community management job postings, and more—by clicking the button below:
Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear about your community metrics. Let me know in the comments what you track and the challenges you run into with metrics.