How can you access an accurate picture of how your online community is really performing? Confidently defining what you should be measuring and how often you should be measuring it are common stumbling blocks on the road to in-depth community data analysis.

Tracking just for the sake of tracking (or appeasing your CEO) will do you no good. And while most platforms come with built-in tracking features that analyze traffic and referrals, every community needs to define its own measures of success founded on goals unique to their organization. This is incredibly important to establish before building a community and equally as important to recognize that these goals and strategies will shift over time. So don’t get too comfortable.

How we define and measure success is constantly changing. And unfortunately, a metric for success that gets tossed around a lot is number of questions asked and answered – is a misleading and unfair metric.

Simply counting the number of questions asked and answered does not paint a clear picture of how many members are truly being engaged, who is reading the answers, the quality of the content, or its reach.  It also lends itself to an inaccurate portrayal of involvement as there could be dozens of questions asked and answered in one day by the same insular group of 5 super users or association employees.

In a digital environment where everything has the potential to inspire, convert and be tracked, there are so many more meaningful ways to measure success in online communities, 3 of which are outlined below.

3 Meaningful Metrics for Online Communities

1. Time between visits

It’s 2016, and associations need to stop defining engagement by number of members or subscribers. Modern engagement should be defined by frequency. Essentially, you want to become habit forming for your audience, and tracking how much time passes between users’ visits will tell you how important a place you hold in their daily online browsing routine.

Not shockingly, the best way to become a habit-forming community is to be a source of captivating and relevant content. This means not only writing great original content, but curating relevant and interesting content for them (which boils down to truly understanding your audience).

2. Active unique members

This seems like an obvious metric to track, but we want to comment on the importance of defining what makes a user “active” in your community. Instead of having bilateral definitions of active vs. non-active, your association should create a spectrum, and after measuring the number of unique users, place them into categories based on their activity. This way, you can track and compare more meaningful data and watch how members move throughout the spectrum during the community’s first few months.

3. New members per week

Steady growth of new members is a great indicator for community health and user base diversity. 

To promote a reliable stream of new members, work with your platform or development department to perfect the onboarding process and communications. Be sure you’re talking about the benefits of the community using detailed, transparent and supportive language. 

Associations need to curtail their obsession with how many people are posting and focus more on how many people are getting value from their content, and how often. The 3 metrics listed above are a great place to start your data collection and analytics strategy. 
Because it’s not always about who is chiming in – it’s about who is tuning in.