Using Community Behavior to Demonstrate ROI

Janna Crabb (@jcrabb) is director of online communications at CASE.

This is the third in a series of blog posts on community management, highlighting the keynotes at a conference on online communities and community management hosted by Higher Logic, the platform used for CASE Communities. While the conference focused on the association world, the keynotes’ ideas were relevant to anyone trying to grow communities online, including CASE member institutions. 

Rachel Happe, co-founder of The Community Roundtable, shares tips on demonstrating ROI.

Rachel Happe, co-founder of The Community Roundtable, shares tips on defining behaviors that generate value.

Many community managers struggle with proving return on investment in online communities. Did a tweet lead to a donation? Did a message posted to a community inspire a member to take action? What information should we focus on and how should we package it, given limited resources and data overload?

Rachel Happe, co-founder of The Community Roundtable, shared advice about demonstrating ROI through the lens of community management—and offered tips on finding the information that is most valuable to your institution.

Define a compelling shared purpose. Before you can see a return on investment, you need to have a community that keeps members coming back. For this to happen, you need to ask three simple questions:

  • What do your members want your institution’s community to be about?
  • What will make the community valuable for your members?
  • What does your institution want to achieve with the community?

Find the commonalities in the answers to these questions and leverage them to build a solid community with shared goals. Do your members want to learn about alumni events? Does your institution want to promote alumni events? This could be one, easily defined shared purpose. This will go a long way in not only making your community a success, but also giving you a way to measure whether both members and your institution see the ROI.

Invest in community management. If a post is made in an empty community, no one will read it, much less respond to it. Make sure that this doesn’t happen by investing in dedicated community managers, providing professional development opportunities for those working with your community and find and invest in advocates who will make it their mission to make your community a success. Without these champions, your community won’t be as successful and proof of ROI will be elusive.

Add ingredients for success over time. Experiment with new, small-scale approaches and learn what works and what does not. Watch, ask and listen to members as they engage with your community. Then, take the successful approaches and build an engagement profile for your institution. Use this engagement profile to encourage new members to join, come back and contribute to the growth of your community.

Measure what matters, not what is convenient. Sometimes the things that are the easiest to measure are the least useful. Rather than focusing on easy metrics, identify behaviors that generate value in your community—such as solving questions or participating in discussions—and focus your measurement on those behaviors. Use these metrics to educate your stakeholders and translate behaviors to financial value and ROI. As you work out which measurements best show the value of your community, be sure to adjust as your community grows and changes.

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