Getting Creative with Community Engagement Metrics
People join your community because they want to grow with others who they can meet and relate to. Your ideal members will tend to be on similar growth journeys, meaning they have similar goals and vision for their individual and collective future.
Engagement is a measurement of whether your members are taking actions that help them along their growth journey.
These actions should help them with their actual goals, not just make the community feel busy.
Because it’s become embedded in our lives, we can tend to define community engagement based on metrics from social media… likes, comments, etc.
We can do better than that! Your engagement metrics can and should be specific to your community’s growth journey, values, and goals.
How do you do that?
The first step in figuring out what good engagement looks like for your community is getting clear on your community’s growth journey. See diagram below.
Once you know who your members are (#1) and who they are looking to become (#2), think about what actions they can take within the community to move towards that (#3).
I encourage you to ignore your current perceptions of what an online community should be and get creative! Could you challenge yourself to list 100 member actions that would get your specific members closer to becoming who they want to become?
Later, you can narrow down the list to just a handful of actions that would be most impactful for your community to support.
To measure the actions you list, you might include traditional engagement metrics like posts, likes, and comments. But the magic happens when you include weirder and more specific things like # of miles run (for a running community), time freed up to spend with family (for a business ops community), tantrums avoided (for a parenting community).
The more you lean into the uniqueness of your community’s growth journey when determining what to measure, the better experience your members will have.
It doesn’t all have to be super easy to quantify. At BACB, one of our metrics is # of members who’ve made a new friend in the community. We haven’t figured out a foolproof way to consistently measure this. Yet, just having it as one of our goals guides our actions and the experiences we design and in turn, makes the community more engaging.
When you define engagement in this looser, more human way, the question shifts from… “how can I get members to like and comment” to… “how can I support members in taking the actions that will help them on their journeys.”
This shift of perspective is powerful in helping you design a community that is deeply aligned with your members and unique to your purpose and values. And it makes your job more fun!
To give you some concrete examples of what this looks like in practice, I asked a few members of BACB about the unconventional community engagement metrics they look at in their communities. Here’s what they said:
The Expert Author Community
What is it? A global coaching experience that nurtures business owners and change makers through their journey to become a non-fiction author of a book that builds their profile and reputation.
Engagement metric: Member helpfulness.
“For the business overall, we look at tangible ways to measure our metrics like the number of books that our authors release each year (it averages 20-24, which is the equivalent of what a small publishing house puts out).Internally, we look for how helpful members are being inside the community, answering each other’s questions (it’s usual for there to be 10 quality answers before one of the EA team has even seen the question).” — Kelly Irving
What is it? A virtual community center for folks who care about co-creating a more just and equitable future.
Engagement metric: Member involvement and leadership.
“When starting IMBY, I knew it had to be a community co-created by our members. Since we're dedicated to community care, radical generosity, and anti-capitalism, creating a structure that doesn't elevate me as the founder was essential. So I often measure success by our member's involvement in creating the IMBY experience--whether that's them jumping in to welcome a new member (something I used to be the one doing!), offering to host their own events for the community, or taking leadership in the community in some way. If they're participating and helping to shape the experience, I know we're doing something right.” — Sara Weinreb
Never Board Learning
What is it? A private online community for homeschool moms of unique learners who are embracing play-based learning and gameschooling.
Engagement metric: Kindness.
“The homeschool world can often feel divisive, but these homeschool moms support each other despite their homeschool philosophies, religious beliefs, and political leanings. They are all in NBL for one reason: their unique children and teens.We have one main rule and that is to be kind. So, when it comes to metrics, my favorite one is witnessing kindness within the community. It’s a member saying, ‘Your outlook on life is really amazing. I love how even in the hard times you still find the good and also reminds me to do the same even in the struggle’ to a mom with young children who have significant special needs. It’s a member saying, ’Congrats on all of the years, all of the hard work, all of the emotions you don’t want to feel, that you have worked through with your oldest’ to a mom whose son has multiple life-threatening congenital heart defects. It is a mom crying in her minivan writing, ‘I need a safe place to vent about health problems’ and having a sea of community members lift her up in support and check in on her daily for weeks.” — Cait Curley
Diversability® Leadership Collective
What is it? A members-only community for disability advocates to foster meaningful connections with resources and opportunities to help accelerate their disability leadership and influence.
Engagement metric: Paid opportunities secured by members.
“Many of our members have been doing advocacy work for a long time but have rarely been paid for it. We know that there is value in the disability experience and wanted to curate more of those opportunities for our members to build visibility and thought leadership (paid or volunteer). Getting paid is not our only metric of success (since we can't guarantee that) but it does make me proud that we are able to directly return money back into our members and our community. To date, our members have made over $32,000.” — Tiffany Yu
Age of Aquarius
What is it? A community for astrology lovers around the world.
Engagement metric: The % of members engaging in calls.
“One metric we track is the % of members engaging in calls. This is not how many members join our scheduled events via Zoom, but how many members use the ad-hoc voice/video call native feature on Heartbeat, our community platform.This is more like bottom-up, member-generated engagement. These are calls (group calls or one-on-one calls) that members themselves are initiating. Some members use this feature to call another member from inside the platform for a one-on-one chat. Other members create their own small group events either on a niche topic, or to connect with members from their geographical area (we have set up so-called "local circles" where members can connect with other members from their geographical area. Last month for example 13% of members engaged this way.” — Angelina Cepareanu
The Purpose Den
What is it? A membership community that gives women a place to come for support, resources and events to help them live a purpose-driven life.
Engagement metric: Member stories.
“In our community, it’s important that our members can confidently tell their stories. One of the ways we’ve recently encouraged and celebrated this is by publishing a book of their stories! Participating in the book was an opportunity for them to share their stories and give other women the opportunity to reflect and journal about how it made them feel. I wanted them to be able to come together and create a beautiful project together. Some were first-time published contributors. The beauty of measuring of success with stories is that it has inspired others in the community to be vulnerable and share.” — Pam Drzewiecki (You can get a copy of Inside the Den on Amazon here!)
What is it? A networking community for municipal managers in Pennsylvania
Engagement metric: IRL connections.
“Even though we are one, the idea of an online community is still unusual to many of our members. They are busy professionals working in government and they really value the trust that is implied in a handshake. The norm in the group is to build decades-long relationships. Because of that, our approach to engagement is to go slow and meet them where they are.
In terms of metrics that indicate that the community is helping members build these long-term relationships, it’s small things. When I reach out to invite someone to an event or to have a conversation, maybe for a podcast episode, and they say, with enthusiasm "Yes!" I know I am going in the right direction. When I get a call or inquiry for consulting work, and they mention a community member as a referral, I know I am going in the right direction. When I see a steady show of readers for my newsletter, I know I am going in the right direction.” — Nancy J. Hess
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