Your online community is only sustainable if it makes sense from a business standpoint. Here are some indications of direct ROI.

Your online community may not seem like a revenue driver in the traditional sense, but you can get some real bang for your buck when you have a well-managed community. Here are three areas where your community is supplying your organization with a direct return on your investment.

1. Members can get answers to specific questions they’ll never find by Googling.

Google is a phenomenal tool to have at our fingertips, but sometimes a member has a query that requires a much more definitive, specialized response than they’re likely to find on Google or a FAQs page. When your members come to the online community looking for specific answers, odds are they’re going to find exactly what they’re looking for, not only from your staff but from other users who’ve been in a similar situation in the past and found the perfect solution – and these peers have a lot of credibility with fellow members. The beauty of this is that you can actually increase engagement by helping members help themselves.

2. Encouragement to attend conferences and in-person events to meet the people members have been talking to/reading about in the online community.

Regularly and consistently engaging with your members can ramp up their engagement and spur them to crave even greater involvement. When they feel an already established connection with, say, keynote speakers at your conferences, they’ll be more likely to want to be there in person to listen to or even meet those speakers. The value members get from being part of the community network can translate into fees paid and seminars attended, and the online community gives you a prime opportunity to market your products and events to them.

3. When there is a bigger investment in the organization, people are more likely to continue with the organization.

When you can elicit members’ interest in checking in to the online community at regular intervals, you’ve gotten their attention and their commitment. Now, you have to hang onto it! Nir Eyal, in his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, describes a sort of philosophy of habits, with four key requirements for making product usage a habit:

  • Trigger
  • Action
  • Variable Reward
  • Investments

Let’s look at Facebook as an example. A Facebook user is triggered by receiving notifications. He takes the actions of signing in, reading the notifications, and perhaps responding to them or posting other topics. When the Facebook user gets a lot of “likes” or responses (engagement of his own, if you will) he gets a variable reward – in this case, a sense of gratification that his presence was acknowledged. Since our Facebook user has made such an investment in the platform – by creating an account, checking it daily, interacting with friends and colleagues – he’s unlikely to abandon it and will in all probability remain invested and involved in the Facebook community.

It’s the same with your community. If you take the time to build the relationship, supplying a variety of triggers that evoke actions and offering rewards – often just intangible feelings of satisfaction or inclusion – your users will continue to stay loyal to you, which will bring return to your business for years.

Anyway you slice it, there is a cost associated with starting and running an online community. While it offers a lot of intrinsic value for your members, ultimately its implementation needs to be the right business decision for your organization. Be on constant look-out for indications of direct return on investment, as it will help ensure the sustainability of your endeavor.