I am working on building my online community, both in number of users and increasing engagement. My boss has asked me to do research on what the ideal numbers are for the first year in an online community. After doing some research, I am unsure there is a concrete answer. What are your thoughts?
Excellent question and you’re right – there is no concrete answer. A lot depends on the nature of your community. For instance, a branded support community will be very different to a community of practice or a hobbyist community. A Facebook based community will differ greatly to a closed enterprise community.
Are you able to share any details?
I’d begin with a simpler questions. What’s the goal of the community? What are you trying to achieve? What kind of community is it?
Our community is centered around building advocates for our product. We want to help members succeed by learning more about our product and in turn help them make better, faster business decisions. Our community is open to visitors, prospects and customers but as you may agree, we believe the value comes from the engagement. The members are able to communicate one-on-one with product experts and build relationships with other users.
We have a customer base of about one million users but only have about 360 members in our community since launching six months ago.
Any ideas you may have that could point me in a direction for more research would be helpful! Thanks!
Excellent – thanks for those details.
How do your customers find out about your community?
So perhaps surprisingly, we don’t necessarily agree on this. Engagement in itself isn’t generally tied directly to value.
Specific types of engagement may be (e.g. discussions that drive search traffic), but we believe that the focus should be moving away from engagement metrics and onto much more specific KPIs.
This resource is a good one for figuring out exactly what kind of behaviours can be associated with value:
Calling in a few people that work (or have worked) in product based communities that may be willing to share their growth rates, either publicly or privately.
Although I don’t necessarily think that focusing on growth rates at this point should be your priority, I totally understand how it feels when management is asking for something that you want to deliver.
(Anyone else with insights please jump in)
I always liked this model when I first started building the Community where I work. There’s some good targets in there to aim for and think about. Like most things, I think you need to flex a few things, depending on your specific community, but it gave me a good framework to think about.
Totally agree with @richard_millington’s response about tying down your community’s reasons first, what I like to refer as the WHY. Are you able to share what your product is @karen.owens?[quote=“karen.owens, post:4, topic:5080”]
Our community is centered around building advocates for our product. We want to help members succeed by learning more about our product and in turn help them make better, faster business decisions.
I’d like to hear more about this, being honest the two sound a little bit at cross-purposes in terms of a WHY, although both valid. My own community, for a cloud based ERP company, is focused on customer success and support, members asking questions and getting help with their challenges. in turn, the value that they receive will hopefully help turn them in to advocates of the company and our products.
Sounds really exciting, dropped you a personal email too.
I’ll admit I had a cheat on my early growth goals.
I ran a community that was only available to our customers. When we launched we had roughly 100 organizations using the product. We didn’t know the # of end users though, as they often shared login credentials. When I left that community we had around 300 customers.
One of my goals throughout those years remained the same, regardless of the # of customers - we wanted AT LEAST one community member from each organization. Basically, we wanted to have at least one person at each company using the community; this person typically became our advocate in the org.
As far as end user growth - because the community was limited to customers, it couldn’t grow exponentially. Sales had to sell more, to get more users, to find more community members. My goal there honestly focused more on the # of engaged/active users, rather than total member numbers. This was partly due to using a platform THAT YOU COULDN’T QUIT, so the growth numbers ALWAYS went up.
Hope that helps a bit. You could start by looking at the campaigns you’re running to reach members - what type of reach do they have? What % do you expect (or hope) will join from those touch points?
I should add, my current community is a bit trickier. I run a space for a software company, which offers both an open source and enterprise product. The community should be for partners, customers, and open source users. BUT, we have no accurate tracking on the open source downloads, as there are several places you can get it that we don’t manage. So I could have A TON more potential members than I realize. My goals now are just around growth - the company wants more users and more community members talking. So, more new members, more active members … no real set metrics on HOW MANY that means, at this time.
It depends on what the ultimate goal for your community is and how that ties into your companies goals. As well as what the community value to your company is. For us, it’s ARR - Annual Recurring Revenue which we achieve a few ways (ultimate goals):
Awareness and Activation - Our objective this quarter is to increase the number of sign-ups and be able to monitor accurately how many of these progress into sales qualified opportunities.
Awareness - Our goal this year is to increase engagement (X% YoY Growth) through contributions - online and offline - made by community members, in order to increase developer retention rates (Active Members).
Engagement - Our goal for this year is to eliminate the need for our employees to answer questions in order to decrease support costs and improve developers’ experience.