KPI Community Basics: Part 2 – The ABCs of KPIs

6 minute read

July 22, 2020

KPI Community Basics: Part 2 – The ABCs of KPIs

How do we carve out that new path? Simply picking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) arbitrarily won’t help. Instead, we must step back to select KPIs meaningful to both our organizations and our community members.

Setting meaningful KPIs does not have to be an overwhelming endeavor, but it certainly isn’t easy. Sparking conversations about KPIs inside our companies is an act of leadership, and therefore requires courage and curiosity. But if you choose to step back and create meaningful KPIs, your impact will multiply. That’s because your work, directly and indirectly, impacts vital customer-related outcomes of your organization. Community will likely also impact revenue-related metrics, innovation, and can even help with cost savings. When you can tie your work back to these outcomes, you are getting somewhere.

Just a quick note: if you missed Part 1 of this post, KPI Community Basics: Part 1, I’d recommending taking a quick read before continuing. 

Now, If you’re ready to embark on this journey, you just have to start with the ABCs of setting community KPIs: Assess, Brainstorm, Choose.


Phase 1: Assess

The first phase of creating meaningful community KPIs involves stepping back to assess your team’s strategic objectives. Then you’ll determine the internal stakeholders you’ll need to engage throughout the rest of the process. If these objectives aren’t clear, you will need to speak with stakeholders to gather their input on the organization’s goals (which I’ve talked about prior as being part of an adaptive leadership process).

There are a few situations where this process must be adapted:

1.  Your leadership is unable to give you this information

You have two options: you can either bring this issue to leadership and offer to help (if you’re at a giant company or are new to the organization and don’t have established authority, don’t even consider this), or follow the advice for early-stage startups.

2.  Hobby communities

You should take a moment to check that your community’s purpose and goals are clear and documented. If they are, you can move to Phase 2.

3.  Early-stage startups or organizations where the target continually shifts and you just want to create objectives for your own work.

Don’t let others’ lack of clarity stop you from creating objectives of your own. Put together an educated guess of the strategic objectives and hold them loosely as you move into the next phase. Know your KPIs will need to shift when strategies shifts – far more often than you might like – and get ready for a wild ride.

The Assessment phase includes the following steps:

Step 1: Refer to your team’s strategic objectives

Strategic objectives are larger goals that your team or entire company has to achieve. In your organization, these may or may not be community-specific.

For instance, an organization’s goal may be to “to capture 80% market share by March 2020.” Now, how can community contribute to that goal? Or an education app may have the goal to “Connect more students than any other social learning site.” Your KPIs should contribute to meeting this goal, but only measuring what community can contribute to it.

Step 2: List your stakeholders

Your stakeholders should know that you are working on a KPI planning project and that you plan to loop them in as you solidify the KPIs, ensuring that their feedback informs your final decision. A few important stakeholders on KPI projects specifically include, according to KPI Strategist Bernie Smith:

    1. Data originators – people closest to where data is collected – probably includes you!

    2. Data aggregators – people who package the data together – usually IT

    3. Data analysts – Business Intelligence team members

    4. Internal users of data – people who need the data to make decisions

Additionally, if you see other departments in your organization doing a particularly good job of selling their impact, include them in some initial discovery and assessment, asking them how they set their goals and communicate them.

Step 3: Create a communications plan 

The most important part of a communications plan for setting KPIs is deciding who will help you make the decision about them and who only needs to inform the discovery process or know the final decision. Typically, your internal data users are the ones who should be part of Phase 2, but you need to talk to the others before and after you have a set of KPIs for them to refine with you, approve, or help you measure.

Phase 2: Brainstorm

The next phase of the ABCs of Community KPIs is getting together to brainstorm a long list of KPIs. This work is far easier with others, though could technically be done alone if you’re in a pinch or are a team of one.

Invite the relevant stakeholders defined in your communications plan together (as many as you can but ideally no more than 10) and make the purpose of the brainstorming clear: to create a list of possible KPIs that will keep everyone in the loop about the progress of the community. Together, brainstorm relevant KPIs for each strategic objective, by creating KPI Trees:

KPI Trees have their root in a strategic goal and then allow you to branch out into the following:

  1. Themes

  2. Tactics

  3. Measures

For instance, if one of our strategic objectives is to “be the best-performing gaming community in the world,” we might break that down as:

  1. Themes: Service, Experience, Experimentation

  2. Tactics: Respond to queries in less than 10 minutes, create an empowering experience, Offer tangible value to members, increase product feedback for games

  3. Measures: Response time, number of questions answered by the community, customer satisfaction rating in community, Net Promoter score, event attendance, customer satisfaction at events. These can be either leading or lagging measures of success (see Part 1 of this post for more information).

Sample KPI Tree

You’ll end the brainstorm with a long list of possible KPIs to measure in the last column. Your next job is the refine it solo or with 1-2 colleagues on your immediate team.

Phase 3: Choose

Now it’s time to choose the 3-7 KPIs that you can measure regularly. After the brainstorm, you are left with many possible KPIs, but you can’t measure them all.

At this point, you would rank them by:

  1. The accessibility of the data

  2. The ability to affect change after monitoring that KPI

  3. The level of impact on overall strategic objectives

  4. The priority of the strategic objective

Now choose the following:

  • How you will calculate.

  • The source(s) of the data.

  • The data collector and stakeholders.

  • The target for your performance period.

  • How often you will report.

Once you have chosen your KPIs, it’s time to set up a beta dashboard of those KPIs. The first time you run the numbers, circulate the dashboard internally and ask for feedback. Will you and your team be able to make changes to their strategic or tactical work as a result of seeing this dashboard? If not, refine.

Here’s an example of a community health dashboard, which could help you do your work on a daily basis.

community health dashboard

Back to Assess:

Now it’s time to come full circle: you’ll need to measure these KPIs regularly, report on them using the dashboard, and revisit them to ensure that they are meaningful in directing your tactical decisions.

How often should you do this? OpenTable’s CMO says, “I’ve found that people can really light the path and set more aggressive targets for 90 days out. Then you get information and signal in that 90 days, and then you set the next target.” But, for you, this may make more sense to do quarterly or even annually, depending on the culture of goal measurement in your organization.

If your KPIs continue to demonstrate insight that shows the value of your community work (which, if you follow this process, it should!), you’ll keep your KPIs or adjust a few, and then move forward full-speed-ahead.


Setting meaningful KPIs is a process that involves not only you as a community leader but your entire team or organization to help. Bringing your team together to determine meaningful KPIs will not only result in being better able to tell the story of the community in the future but will also help set you apart as a leader internally. Choosing meaningful KPIs is hard work. Choosing to do it thoughtfully and carefully already distinguishes you.

Good luck out there!

webinar how to set the most impactful KPIs


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Carrie Melissa Jones

Written by Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones is a community leader, entrepreneur, and community management consultant who has been involved with online community leadership since the early 2000s. As the founder of Gather Community Consulting, she consults with brands to build and optimize communities around the world.

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