People are the most important

How do you prove the value of a community?

On the In-Ear Insights Podcast, we like to take listeners’ questions and see if we can help them out. We recently fielded a question from a marketer about a situation where a tweet didn’t have a high engagement rate but did have a high impact. In other words, how do you prove the value of a community to a client?

It’s a good question. The important thing to understand is that the value of a community is one of those things that’s measured over the long term, and you need to be set up correctly to measure things in the first place.

Playing the long game.

The first challenge you’re going to run into when talking to clients about the value of a community is helping them understand that it’s a long-term asset. It’s not something that you can spin up immediately. You can just send an email, but a community needs to be actively cultivated and managed.

A lot of the time, it’s hard for clients to understand the difference, particularly if they’re under the gun and being pressured to show results quickly. Now, you can certainly reap the value of a community at any given time, based on where it is right now and what you’ve done to build that value (see here for tips on community management). But you can’t create a new one on the fly and have it be really effective at jump.

After all, the day you plant seeds is not the day you harvest the crop, right? It takes a long time to grow a community. Once you’ve got it going, and once you’ve got it growing over months, or years, or decades, then you can prove the value of that community fairly effectively. But it’s the growing part that takes the longest.

1. Set up systems to collect data and analyze it.

So what do you do in the meantime? You get your organization ready to collect a lot of qualitative data over time and set up a robust analytics infrastructure to analyze it. This gives you a way to show your work. But doing it the right way is no small task.

You need to have great web analytics, great digital analytics, a great marketing automation system, a great CRM, great integrations. And you need to be collecting data — a lot of data. Spend time gathering requirements. What is the purpose of your community? How do you measure success? What data do you need to collect? You want to cover everything from the basics of tagging and tracking where people came from online to the most important part, which is asking (and answering) some key questions about your audience.

That’s the part that most businesses don’t do — ask questions. Questions like: How did you hear about us? What made you come in today? What made you reach out to us today? When was the last time you remember hearing from us?

Pick the questions that most accurately reflect the value of the community you’re trying to validate and ask them all the time — at point of sale, at form completion on your website, in-person at the register, and online via digital outreach.

2. Build an attribution model.

The next thing you need to do is build an attribution model that has a very long timeframe. An attribution model shows you where all of your traffic is coming from, so you can see numbers for how many people are coming from Twitter, how many people are coming from organic search, etc.

Many out-of-the-box tools have built-in attribution models that do this kind of work for you, such as Google Analytics and Hubspot. However, you need to make sure your URLs are properly tagged when you share them so the tool gives your community the proper credit.

The most common pitfall we see with attribution models is only looking at analytics and attribution models over very short timeframes — a 30 or 28-day model — but that’s simply not enough time to measure the value of a community. You want at least a year of data, or more if possible.

3. Account for mindshare.

Attribution models are great, but they don’t necessarily reflect things like mindshare. And that’s the final piece of the puzzle. If you are building a community, and you’ve got all these systems collecting and analyzing data, then mindshare the cherry on top of the sundae.

When someone’s thinking about you — your blog, your newsletter, your products or services — and they’re Googling you, you should see that reflected in your data from Google Search Console. What you need to do is combine that with your social data and remap it as social data over time. That way, you can see which channels have the highest mathematical correlation to bumps in organic search data and figure out when they coincide.

In the original example about proving the impact of a tweet, you’d want to show that there was an increase in search volume or traffic after it was published. And the key here is that even if they didn’t come directly from Twitter, the extra organic searches were probably related to your tweet.

Putting it all together.

These are the general steps that you need to take to prove the value of a community to a client. If you do it, well, you can absolutely illustrate what a community is doing for you. And that means you can get more funding, more resources, etc. If you don’t do it well, if your company’s analytics infrastructure isn’t robust and/or its governance is bad, well… it’ll be hard to prove the value of pretty much anything.

There’s a lot that goes into proving the value of a community. We know we just made it sound simple, but it’s very challenging to put into practice, so set expectations for what it means to answer this kind of question.

It takes time to set up a robust analytics infrastructure. It takes time to grow a community. And it takes time to get a really good look at things because growth is, quite honestly, measured in years. But if you put in the work, you end up with ongoing metrics and analytics that can act as a diving rod, pointing you in the right direction for how you should best spend your time.

Want to join the conversation? You can do that in our Free Slack Group, Analytics for Marketers, where you can connect with 3,000 other marketers asking and answering questions about marketing and analytics.


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