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.

In addition to more findings and details, the report has a diagnostic tool you can use to figure out if your community should be achieving below average, average, or above average results. Forrester clients can dive into the full report here.

Even if you're not a Forrester client, you can learn more about this research and what other marketers have been experiencing this coming Tuesday, August 30th, when I’ll be leading a tweetjam on the topic of community success benchmarking. Join me and other community marketers at 2pm ET when we'll be discussing questions like:

  • What is the main purpose of your community (customer support, product ideation, thought leadership, etc.)?
  • What membership or activity goals did you set (or are you setting) to measure the initial success of your community? 
  • What factors contributed to whether or not you met those goals?
  • How did you initially promote your community? What kinds of ongoing promotion do you use?
  • How many employees are dedicated to your community and what are their responsibilities?

To participate, just follow the #IMChat hashtag at 2:00 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday. If you’d like to learn more about the rules of engagement, visit this community discussion. To read some past archives, visit the documents section of the same community.


The rise of the community manager

Melissa, thanks for your post. Interesting to see that it was similar across all communities what constitutes a successful community. What goals you need to reach and when it is successful from my view depends on the purpose of the community. Hopefully organizations defines these goals before they embark on their activities, how will they otherwise know when they have succeeded? But also, a community changes and evolves over time, so constant presence is a must.

I was also part of running research into community management specifically in the UK just a few weeks ago. We surveyed 250 marketers and found that almost three quarters (73%) of businesses are now running online communities, or looking to do so in the next twelve months. Still, there is a greater need for specialist knowledge and expertise, so your point about having a full time community manager is very valid. In the research, we also asked what qualities a community manager should possess, for example the ability to multitask. The report is available for download if you are interested

Would be interested to hear how you and Forrester view what organization's mainly use communities for and best practices in running them. Hopefully I can participate in the TweetJam, would be very interesting. Thanks!

[Realworld/Online]/[Natural/Generated] Communities

This should be an interesting session.

One thing to consider is the taxonomy of communities. I've been involved with a number of realworld community arts and media organizations over the years, as well as managing online communities for business organizations. Understanding the nature of the community can be critical to "managing" that community.

Some distinctions include:
* Realworld vs Online: Does the community have a meatspace function, or purely online, or a mix?
* Resource vs Opinion: Does the community exist to manage a resource like an exhibit space or is it people interested in the same topics?
* Natural vs Generated: Would this community exist without management? Or is it manufactured for a purpose?
* Open vs Closed: Is there a gatekeeper?
* Coherent vs Disparate: Are the community members all rather alike? Or are they quite different? What are the areas of conflict?

Many more of course!