Launching a new online community? Track these metrics
If you’re launching a new online community, there are several key business questions you’ll need to answer before you get the go-ahead to launch. Among these will be: How many users can we expect to have within the first three, six or 12 months? Is the community growing? How do we know if the community is succeeding?
This post will outline some key metrics which you can track to gauge whether your community is growing, and to help you identify what areas of your community might need to improve.
Success metrics can look different for different communities, depending on their business function. A customer support forum might be measured by whether the number of customer queries being resolved online increases, or whether the cost of customer support decreases. An online health forum might be measured by whether its number of active users is growing, or whether those users report that the forum is having a positive effect on their health behaviour.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume that you know the specific success metric your community is aiming for. This article suggests metrics for tracking the growth of your new community which are broadly applicable to all online communities.
Here are some metrics we suggest to track the growth of your community from launch.
Number of active users
Many companies make the mistake of tracking the number of registered users, but this is a misleading number, as many of those will be inactive users, or those who posted once and never came back. We recommend that you track the number of active users of your community. An active member is one who made one contribution to the forum in that month.
It is very difficult to predict how many users you will attract to a new community, but there is existing research that helps us predict how active visitors will be. Broadly, 1% of users will be super users, 24% will be regular users, 74% will be lurkers.
This research is drawn from a study of online health communities by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, so it’s most directly relevant to health communities but we believe it is broadly applicable across online communities.
So in the first year, it would be fair to aim for converting 20% of new users into active users (active users defined as posting once a month), converting 3% of regular users into high contributors (i.e. posts four times a month) and 1% of new users into super users (i.e. posts eight times a month).
Because super users are the backbone of internet communities, we strongly recommend that your launch strategy pays particular attention to how you will recruit and retain them as valued community members.
Number of visitors
Especially in a new community, you want to capture how many people are visiting the community, not just those who become active members of the forum. Over time, this metric will help you identify if you are converting more visitors to active members, or if you’re converting less visitors.
If you manage to increase the number of visitors (as tracked by a tool like Google Analytics), but don’t see an increase in the number of active users, this will tell you that your efforts at promotion are working to bring new visitors, but you need to improve what you do to convert new members to active users.
Number of contributions
The number of contributions made by your community members each month allows you to track whether the volume of contributions is growing or shrinking over time. Contributions are both posts and comments or replies.
Net promoter score
Net Promoter Scores (NPS) are used across the web as a way to gauge user happiness with websites, and they are useful for online communities too.
NPS asks users just one question: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?” It’s very simple but it allows you to assess whether your community is hitting the mark for your target audience. Your NPS score is the sum of users who gave a 9/10 or 10/10. That is, those who are extremely likely to recommend your community.
You can expect your community’s NPS to be negligible in the inception (beginning) phase of its lifecycle, and reaching around 24/100 when the community hits critical mass*, which might take anywhere up to two years. So while you’d want to aim low on this metric for the first 12 months, you could hope for it to increase by 10-25 by the end of year two.
*Critical mass for a community is a measure of it’s self-sustainability, so it’s a lifecycle stage rather than a set number of members. A community reaches critical mass when over half of the content is user generated.
What gets measured, matters
Make sure you regularly track the stats you’ve identified as important for your community. The launch phase is the toughest because you are in a labour intensive recruitment phase, and you have to work hard to gain every single new member.
Tracking the monthly growth of visitors, active users, and number of contributions over the first six months will give you valuable feedback each month on what is working, and what needs more attention.