Is your online community healthy?

by Venessa Paech September 4, 2019

What does the word ‘health’ mean when it comes to online community?

The best way to think of it is the existential state of your community at a moment in time.

Is the community on track toward its goals? Are its operating and engagement models sustainable?

Is it generating outcomes that have relevance and impact for members and your organisation?

How are members feeling in relation to the community and its offering? And is this translating into behaviour?

Capturing online community health requires a combination of measures suited to your community context. Measures often shared across different types of communities including: sense of belonging, needs fulfilment and trust. Other measures, such as ‘value generated’, should be specific to your organisation.

My community’s engaged, isn’t that healthy?

Engagement on its own is noise.

It doesn’t tell you anything of deep value, and if you’re not careful, it can muddy the important signals buried within.

Some of the most dysfunctional, even harmful online communities, are spilling over with engagement.

The ‘engagement trap’ (discussed at length by Rich Millington) is a central challenge.

Talking, posting, sharing, commenting – these actions alone may not be unique or connected to your community premise.

What are people doing that is specific to your community – aligned to its purpose and the ROI it brings to your organisation?

Volume isn’t health, and if you measure it alone you’re setting yourself up to fail.

This trap is even more risky if your community is on social media networks, where in-built tools and metrics are geared toward surface-level attention metrics.

If you’ve found yourself struggling to translate vanity metrics (likes and shares) into an analysis of how well your community is actually doing, you’ll know what I mean.

Instead you need to ask, is your engagement qualitatively right for your community?

Is it drawing new members, driving desired behaviours, converting regulars, and generating the outcomes that line up with the community’s reason for existing in the first place?

Or is it modelling the worst kind of behaviour, driving possible members away, and dissuading contributions that aid community goals?

How and when should you measure community health?

There are a number of popular frameworks for reporting on community health, and many community teams or organisations create their own.

Models like the Community Health Index (CHI) use member self-reporting on dimensions such as:

  • Sense of belonging;
  • Conviviality;
  • Influence (on each other and the community as a whole);
  • Needs fulfilment (emotional and practical);
  • Agency;
  • Skills acquired; and
  • Goals met.

This is then married with data analysis around behavioural patterns to give you an overview of community health.

This data can be anonymised if your community uses avatars or pseudonyms.

A good health check should isolate patterns, opportunities, vulnerabilities and deliver recommendations.

Communities need their health regularly assessed, just like a doctor’s check-up. And, just like that check-up, how often you measure health and the tools you use to do that measurement is impacted by your community’s pre-existing conditions, such as subject matter, goals, age, life-stage, technology and resourcing.

As a baseline, communities should have their overall health measured quarterly (four times a year).

Annually isn’t enough.

As we’ve learned when it comes to cultural metrics like employee surveys, a once-yearly snapshot is often too little too late. If something isn’t working – if a community’s health is imperiled – you need to know now, so you can intervene and test solutions.

Most communities build slowly, by design. A regular cadence of health reporting gives you clear insights to refine tactics around your strategy, or adjust the strategy itself.

If community members are reporting that trust is in decline, you need to roll-out activities and interventions to repair it. If members are leaving, you need to know why before they’re all gone. If members are struggling to wield influence, create more and better ways for them to make an impact. Can the community do better at meeting business objectives? Perhaps the purpose needs refining. Is there a growing decline in newcomer to active member conversions?

Don’t wait a year to unpack it and course correct.

Read more: It’s time we build healthier workplaces

Why is community health important? 

Put simply, if you don’t measure health, you risk wasting your time, your budget and in some cases, your job.

If you’re not tracking health and using this as an input to your overall plans, you may spend money and effort on the wrong things, leading your employer or client to question the value of the community and your work.

No matter how, when or where you measure online community health, it’s critical you marshal ownership of this analysis. It helps you push back on requests to measure things you know don’t matter, or that don’t feed into community purpose and goals.

We know prevention in medicine is preferable to treatment.

Community health checks are a preventative tool to get your community living well.

If you haven’t measured yours in a while – or at all – it’s never too late to start.

Quiip offers health checks for established communities at all stages. We’ll set up a model you can run over time for benchmarking, and offer recommendations based on what we uncover. Drop us a line to learn more.

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