Analytics. Metrics. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These are just a few words that have the tendency to make any non-specialist’s palms sweat and blood run cold. However, if you’re serious about making an impact with your online community, understanding how your metrics tie in to your business goals is an absolute necessity.
Analytics - The measurement, collection and analysis of internet data that helps businesses understand how their customers interact with their channels online.
Metric - A measurable value.
KPI (Key Performance Indicator) - A measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a business is achieving its goals. KPIs can be different from business to business, depending on organizational objectives.
Keeping track of the numbers that really matter will help you quantify your impact, and having trackable metrics is the first step every business needs to take to better understand what’s going on behind the scenes in their online community.
How can you implement and launch products if you have no idea what’s working, and what’s not? Ignoring your metrics is like taking shots in the dark – and when you finally turn the lights on, you won’t be able to tell which shot made the hole (if any did at all!). Even if your community is growing and improving, you won’t be able to attribute or understand the cause of that improvement if you aren’t properly tracking your metrics.
In the world of online entrepreneurship, some community leaders choose to ignore their metrics, or view number collection and tracking as impersonal. They think that it strips their community down to cold, hard numbers and flattens its soul. This is only a real danger if you allow your entire business and engagement plan to revolve around your numbers alone. It’s a symptom of bungled leadership, and not a problem with the metrics themselves.
We believe that metrics are one of the most important tools you can use to improve your online community, but to fully track your impact we recommend a three-pronged approach:
- Metrics – What are the numbers telling you?
- Feedback – Some of your members will be happy to provide you with comments. Back up the information that your metrics are giving you with a healthy dose of discussion with your community. Before making any big decisions, engage your community to see how their needs align with your vision. You’ll be surprise how happy they’ll be to provide you with a sounding board!
- Intuition – Use your common sense! This can be compounded with your own business and industry knowledge.
Using all three of these tools together ensures you get the full picture of how your strategies and tactics are stacking up against your business’ goals. There are many cases of businesses using only their intuition or their numbers to guide them, with results that don’t make impact.
Case Study: Why the Right Metrics Matter
Christine Thatcher is the leader of the designer mentorship community, Designing to Delight, where she helps new web developers learn practical design skills and business techniques that set them up for success in the web development industry. After Designing To Delight’s initial course launch, Christine implemented an online marketing campaign that had resulted in success for similar small businesses. She paid for Facebook ads, sent out free email content, and expanded her presence to other social media sites like Pinterest.
However, while the numbers seemed to be there, she found she wasn’t making the connections that were able to translate her marketing efforts into success – or into sales of her premium courses and content.
So where’s the broken link? Christine’s intuition and business sense were telling her that she should be seeing an increase in sales, due to an increase in traffic. But she hadn’t yet delved too deeply in her metrics.
To better understand why Christine’s courses weren’t selling at a healthy rate, Cliqueworthy started by evaluating her current marketing strategy to see what was and wasn’t working. After tracking Christine’s ad spend, examining her Google Analytics, and conducting a traffic assessment, we discovered that although Pinterest seemed to be Christine’s biggest traffic generating platform, most of her sales were originating from Facebook.
Armed with this information, Christine was able to get her focus back on making connections where they counted (Facebook), instead of wasting energy and time generating traffic to social media platforms that weren’t generating sales or helping to build her online community (Pinterest).
Now running a Facebook group with over 1,000 members (and growing!), Christine has seen her online community grow to self-sufficiency. Her third launch generated a 7x increase in sign-ups for Designing to Delight, which resulted in over $50,000 in revenue in 10 days.
Moral of the story? By paying attention to the numbers that matter, online community leaders can glean critical information about what strategies will help them see the most success. In Christine's case, these were the metrics that revealed where her actual sales were being generated, as opposed to a being satisfied with a general increase in traffic.
What are some of the most common top-level metrics, and how can you get started track them? We recommend you take a top-down approach and begin by analyzing basic KPIs, as these business-critical metrics can be early indicators of potential problems and give you important clues as to where to look for solutions.
Metrics to know (and love!)
Your growth rate is determined by the increased amount of community members over a specific time period.
To calculate your growth rate, follow this formula:
Your time period can be monthly, quarterly or annual but should represent the same type of unit of time across the entire equation.
We suggest calculating your growth rate not by the total numbers of members registered in your community, but instead by the total number of active members.
The definition of active can vary by community, and should be defined by your business’s specific needs. Generally, it will likely consist of the number of users who log in to your community, or who actively engage. To get the best analysis, we recommend tracking both.
It’s important to track the total net volume of growth, as well as the percentage of change every month.
For example, if you only have 100 members, 25 new members in a month is a 25% growth rate. However, 25 new members when you have 7,000 is only a 0.3% growth rate.
If you’re a fledgling community, don’t be dismayed if your growth begins to slow as your grow. If you’re a large community, don’t be complacent in your progress.
Your retention rate is the number of retained customers/community members after a set period of time. A simple way to calculate your retention rate is to track the number of engaged members over a monthly period, versus the number of engaged members the following month.
To figure out your retention rate, follow this formula:
3 tips for properly measuring growth and retention
- Growth and retention can be measured in many ways, and can often be quite complex. It’s better to try to keep your analytics simple, especially if you’re a small community without a dedicated data specialist assisting you.
- Consistency is key. Measure your growth and retention rates the same way each month so that you can always make an accurate comparison.
Losing active members is called churn – your churn rate is the inverse of your retention rate.
To calculate your churn, follow this formula:
Understanding your churn rate is essential because it directly affects your growth rate. For example, if your community’s churn rate is 5%, you must first replace that 5% before you can show any growth.
Revenue growth isn’t always the same as member growth, and it’s important to monitor the relationship between the two. If your business model isn’t directly dependent on your members paying a monthly membership fee to participate in your community (ex. you sell products, or have a free tier), keeping a close eye on discrepancies between revenue growth and member growth can reveal clues about problems in your business model.
If your membership is growing at a much faster rate than your revenue, it’s a sign that either
- you’re bringing in more “unqualified” members that are unwilling to spend money, or
- you’re not making a strong enough connection with your new members to turn their membership into a sale.
This often happens when businesses place their initial focus on growing a community number-wise before beginning to sell their product. Initially, their sales will look fantastic because they’ve already built a solid trust with their members. However, as their community continues to grow, their sales won’t grow at the same rate because their new members do not have the same trust established (and are often being sold to before having any trust built up at all!).
Content Consumption (Optional)
In addition to a member forum or discussion area, many online communities offer courses or premium content available. Generally, members who watch video, read materials and do coursework are the ones who are most likely to stick around and participate. If encourage consumption of this extra content, the members who achieve good results from participating in it are likely to feel more satisfied with the value your community offers.
Depending on the type of media you offer, how you measure its analytics can differ. Your goal is it define what you consider to be a successful indicator of its consumption, and measure change and progress against that.
Examples of metrics indicative of content consumption:
unique plays, average watch time vs. total video length
click-throughs, downloads, feedback requests on homework
Live Calls and Webinars
registration vs. live attendance, drop-off rates during broadcast, playbacks
completion rate, time to complete
Getting all of the data you may require may be subject to the tools and platforms you’ve chosen to support your course or member content. This is something to consider if you’re just getting your community started, and know you want to access specific metrics once you’re up and running. It’s also important to note that metrics like downloads can be useful but don’t tell the full story of how your content is being engaged with once in the hands of its user. In some cases, the downloader may not take action with your content, and so tracking download numbers only will result in an incomplete picture of how your content is impacting your audience.
Keeping a close eye on content consumption will give you clues about what your members find useful, where they stumble and what they don’t value. This can be very helpful information as you evolve, create growth plans and evaluate how to increase the value of your content.
Metrics and Community Engagement
Community engagement drives both growth and retention. If your members are active in your community and enjoying their experience within it, they are far more likely to stick around. This is especially true if they are deriving personal value from it, or observing a cause they believe in being promoted in it (see Chapter One: A Common Purpose). A member in an engaged community is far more likely to actively promote the community in their social circles, online and offline.
Viral growth is the holy grail of marketing. It happens when each member in a community independently brings in two or more members on average, causing exponential growth. While we won’t get into too much depth about virality here, a definite link exists between an engaged community with a common purpose and viral growth.
As you move down the slide from engagement, growth, retention and churn, it’s easy to get caught up in vanity metrics. A vanity metric is a number that appears to show favourable results, but does not necessarily correlate to the numbers that are telling your full story. We’ve already mentioned one vanity metric in this chapter – the total number of registered users, including ones who are not actively participating. Other vanity metrics include raw page views and downloads. Sure, they make us feel great if they go up, but they don’t help us make any decisions that help us make sound, actionable decisions. They can be easily manipulated and don’t necessarily correspond to the numbers that matter
How to Choose Your Metrics
To get yourself started, ask yourself what specific business questions you have about your community.
- Are my marketing efforts really helping my business grow?
- What should be my next step for increasing profits?
- Are my members really happy with our community?
Next, identify the information that would help answer those questions – this will help you determine which metrics will provide the answers and information you’re looking for.
Which Metrics Matter to You?
Every time you decide to start tracking a new metric, ask yourself: will knowing this metric help me make a specific business decision that will help improve my retention, growth, or revenue? If the answer is no (or if it isn’t immediately obvious) we recommend tracking the data anyway, in case it becomes important down the road. In the meantime, don’t place too much importance on it – and by no means worry over it!
What is an Online Community?