What Makes A Community Successful?

Anyone who follows my research knows that community management is one of my favorite topics. As I speak with marketers about their branded community efforts, the questions that come up most frequently are, “How do I know when my community is 'good?'" and “How many members do I need for my community to be successful?” Interestingly, these are the same questions people would ask me when I was a community manager, before I came to Forrester. Since these questions are clearly on a lot of people’s minds, I set out to answer them — analyst-style.

For my latest report, Community Benchmarking Metrics, I surveyed marketers with branded communities to try to nail down some standard measures of success. What I found was:

  • Standards come in the form of percentages, not hard numbers. For example, in communities that perform on par with averages, 8-12% of the unique visitors to the brand’s main website will visit the community. Of those community visitors, 4-6% will convert to become community members.
  • “Average” performance is consistent across communities of different types, from different industries, and with different goals. 
  •  To achieve typical results, community owners need to go back to basics: Make the community visible and don’t forget to promote it.
  • There are a few things marketers can do to beat the averages. My favorite: have at least one full-time community manager.
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How I'm Using Google+ (Hint: It's About Relevance)

If you were to glance at my Google+ profile, you’d probably think I’m practically inactive. But what you’re seeing is the public view of a very targeted set of actions, based on relevance.

I like to have different kinds of conversations with different people, so when I share content it’s with circles that designate not only relationship but topics too, and Google+ makes it really easy for me to be highly relevant in this way. Take, for example, politics. I like to talk about it, but I’m rarely interested in fighting, so when I share a politically focused news article, it’s not enough to be in my Friends circle. To see it, you have to be in my Friends-Politics circle, where I’ve included people who I know I’ll have an interesting conversation with that won’t result in insults and multiple exclamation points. 

There is one thing missing if relevance is an aim of the platform. As of today, my relevance-based circles only apply to what I share with others. What would be especially helpful would be a way to limit the content I see from others in that circle to the topic I’ve assigned it. For example, I’m following Christian Oestlien, one of the Google+ product managers, specifically for updates about Google+. So while the YouTube music videos and Onion articles he posts are probably funny, I can’t say I’m particularly interested in seeing them from him. Now, if one of the people in my Friends-Hilarious circle posted them, that’s another story . . ..

So what are the implications for brands?

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