Now that you've opened up clear lines of communication and set up guidelines for your community, it's time to synthesize some community feedback. This allows you to establish benchmarks for your community's current sentiment and makeup. This is something many community managers skip as they dive into a new community. Don't skip this. It's non-optional. If you don't know what people want, how are you going to create a forward-thinking strategy? 

Once you have a benchmark, you can move forward with the fun stuff, like acting on their suggestions, instituting referral programs, telling their stories, creating ambassador programs, and so forth. But first you've got to figure out what you're dealing with.

This is much less daunting than it seems. I just go to SurveyMonkey (or use whatever tool you find best for surveys) and start a template.

As you're benchmarking, you should have three clear goals:

  1. Establish a basic profile of your community members (geography, age, education, gender, profession)
  2. Figure out why they're there and what keeps them coming back
  3. Identify people with strong opinions and keep them in your back pocket for the future

When designing the survey, keep the questions short, unbiased, and easy to understand. It should take no more than 5 minutes to fill out.

After I've run these surveys once, I'll run them again periodically with new users. It gives me a good pulse on what we're doing well and what we need to re-visit. Also, see if you can get your product or customer service team to establish exit surveys like the ones described here. For communities closely tied to products, that information is key. 

When you're just starting out, it's best to frame your questions around three key areas for benchmarking:

Establishing Community Makeup. This will help you to see the groups you should direct your outreach to as well as give you clues to their incentives. Ask about:

  1. Geographic information
  2. University or other affiliation (varies by community. I run an educational community, so university/major/club is obvious.)
  3. Education level, age range, etc.

Establishing Sentiment and Motivation:

  1. How satisfied are you with this community? (arrange this visually on a 5-point scale of extremely dissatisfied to extremely satisfied)
  2. Have you referred anyone to our product/community? If so, how did you describe it? (I got this question directly from the mind of Dejana Bajic, see more here). 
  3. What are your primary reasons for coming to this community? (List some examples here such as "helping others", "love of the subject", or "acquiring points" and also add a blank space for them to add in their own motivations). 

Establishing future relationships

  1. Can we follow up with you? 
  2. If so, how would you prefer to be contacted? List contact info here. 
  3. Which social media channels do you use daily?

Send this out to everyone in an email campaign (SurveyMonkey integrates with it, how lovely!) or using mail merge. Include a quick note that makes the call to action (taking the survey) very clear. No need to offer compensation here, but do let people know that their feedback will be product-changing! If you find that your response rate is less than 5%, then you can consider making a giveaway or thinking of other incentives.

From there, you can break down the data, see how your community members view your product and see where you can improve. Follow up with people in a private discussion afterwards as well about some of the reoccurring things you've noticed. This is where Skype and Google Hangouts will come in handy. This is the beginning of some really great relationships and a path towards positivity and responsiveness rather than negativity and crisis. Enjoy the ride!

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