If you want to increase the number of members who are participating in your community, where should you focus your time to get the best results? Should you be promoting your community on Facebook and Twitter, or reaching out to members privately by email?

If 50 community members are complaining about a site change, what should you do? Should you revert back to the original design, should you survey members to find out more, or should you do nothing at all?

The answers to these questions and more are in your community's data. You must collect data to understand how successful your community engagement efforts are and what is or isn't working in your community. A data-driven community manager would look at which channels are giving them the members that actually convert to regular participants of the community. She would recognize the complaints, but would soon realize that what members get riled up about can actually be irrelevant to what they're doing. 

Once you start gathering data, you will begin to track and learn how your community is progressing through its lifecycle. From there, you can design interventions to increase engagement, improve the sense of community, and make your community a success. Measuring data is a critical part in knowing where you are now, it can help you:

  • Deal with unseen problems
  • Respond properly to vocal minorities
  • Allocate your time
  • Optimize your tasks

In the recording above, FeverBee founder and community consultant Richard Millington reviews the many important metrics you can gather data around, including: 

  • New visitors. This shows whether your outreach is successful. Always compare it to the previous month and six months ago. You should also analyze where these visitors arrived from and track how many of each progressed into active members. You can also track the success of each different source of members (where does the best quality traffic come from?)
  • New visitors to new registered members. This shows whether your website is optimized for converting a curious visitor into a member and whether you're attracting the right sort of visitors. You can go further and measure their progress through each stage of the registration form.
  • Percentage of members who make a contribution. This shows whether you are converting those that register into participants within the community. If this is low, you might be just collecting lurkers.
  • Members active within the past 30 days. This shows whether you are gaining or losing active members. When this number starts to drop, you have a serious problem and a limited amount of time to correct course.
  • Contributions per active member per month. This is an activity per member ratio. If this drops, members are less engaged in the community and this could lead to more members leaving. This might also show if a small number of members are dominating the discussions.
  • Visits per active member per month. This shows how often members visit the community. The less frequently members visit, the more likely the contributions will drop and the number of active members will depart. This may also show the popularity of events held in the community.
  • Content popularity. Each piece of content can and should be measured. How many people read it and how many responded to it. This will indicate which content items are most popular and which should be discontinued.

In addition to quantitative metrics, you may want to gather information about the the sentiment in your community. Feel free to use this Sense of Community Index to survey your members on an annual or bi-annual basis.

For more community management best practices, download half of Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities for free, then thank @RichMillington!

Metrics and Measurement for Community Health is part of the Ning Community Management Talks series. Past presentations cover topics including strategies for generating activity, managing growth, facilitating member engagement, converting newcomers into active members, and the science behind it all. 

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