The Perfect Community KPI

4 minute read

September 14, 2022

The Perfect Community KPI

What is the most important metric I can use to gauge my community’s success? People ask me this question (or questions like it) all the time. The answer is never simple—and a good one requires access to their community priorities, tech stack, and available data points. 

One thing that is simple and clear is this: there is no single, perfect, one-size-fits-all community KPI. Let’s talk about why—and how to determine the best ways for you to showcase the success and health of your community.

Community Tech Is Diverse

There are over 80 community platforms on the market today. In addition to those, there are even more Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions, email marketing solutions, event platforms, and customer support solutions. Needless to say, tech stacks differ widely. 

Within each platform, various reporting options are available for you to view, pull, and analyze your community data. Most have their own dashboards, and a few even have proprietary “North Star” metrics (like Khoros’s Community Health Index). Others let you pull only some raw data into a CSV file for further analysis. Some, like Facebook Groups, give you very little to work with at all. 

Because the data points are not the same, your KPIs will need to be customized to what you can access. 

KPI Creation Processes Differ 

KPIs are created differently from organization to organization. This makes it difficult to name one KPI “the best” and call it a day.

Some companies have top-down goal-setting while others take a more democratic or holacratic approach. Some have top-level KPIs but don’t create KPIs at the department level. Some have department-level KPIs that ladder up into the top-level KPIs. And within some companies, departments may even differ in their approach to KPI creation. It’s a wild world out there! 

This means that even if someone could give you “the perfect community KPI,” it is unlikely to translate from one company to the next. You have to customize your approach to the way that your organization works. 

Your goal should be to create your organization’s most effective community KPI (exactly what my team and I do when we consult organizations), not one universal KPI to apply across all contexts. 

∗This webinar details how to set the Most Impactful KPIs for your Community. Watch it on demand here.

Goals Differ 

Finally, communities themselves serve a variety of business goals. Above all else, this is why there is no perfect community KPI.

Every organization should have unique, clearly defined goals for its community. Some organizations’ communities have one overarching goal, and others have department-specific goals. While every organization’s goals will look different, communities typically impact one or more of these seven goals: 

  1. Innovation. Innovation-focused communities focus on creating new value for stakeholders, typically in the form of product feedback or co-creation. 
  2. Customer and stakeholder retention. Retention-focused communities focus on keeping customers involved with the organization, often referred to as ongoing customer engagement. 
  3. Marketing. Marketing-focused communities prioritize growing the organization, typically through advocacy or ambassador-type efforts.  
  4. Customer service. Customer service-focused communities focus on answering customer questions, typically with technology products.  
  5. Talent recruitment and retention. Talent-focused communities focus on attracting and retaining employees or partners in the organization’s ecosystem. According to research published by IDC in 2021, alumni employees can account for upwards of 10–20% of annual hires for organizations. 
  6. Advancing movements. Movement-focused communities aim to create a fundamental shift culturally. This is often the case for non-profit or activist organizations investing in communities. 
  7. Community forum. If your business model is membership-based or advertising on a social network, you are likely focusing here.  

Your KPIs should tell you how you are progressing toward the goals that matter to your organization

For instance, some organizations will care greatly about how their community impacts revenue generation. Others will care about how their community impacts recruitment of staff members, cost savings, idea generation, and far beyond. 

Using tailored KPIs to tell your community’s story and how it’s driving one or more of these outcomes will help you connect to your executive-level leaders, some of whom may struggle to understand the value of community. Creating your organization’s KPIs bridges the day-to-day work of community building to its big-picture impact for your company leaders. Customizing your KPIs is therefore an exciting opportunity to educate the entire organization about the value of community. 

What can you do to define your perfect community KPIs? 

Like your community story, the most effective KPIs for telling your community’s story will be unique to your organization.  

Here’s what you can do to begin to define your KPIs: 

  1. Study up. If you’re not already familiar with KPI creation, there are plenty of resources to help you anchor your understanding. For general KPI information, I recommend the work of Bernie Smith. For community-specific KPI information, you can check out my resource and list of the most common KPIs for communities.  
  2. Establish yourself as a facilitator. Most organizations need stakeholder alignment before determining any top-level KPIs. Determining these KPIs has major implications for day-to-day operations. That’s why it’s important to view your role not as the expert who can’t be questioned but instead as the facilitator of conversations, who will lead the team to define great KPIs collaboratively. Practice facilitation and active listening to co-create KPIs that will stick and feel meaningful, year after year. 

There is no perfect KPI, but that’s good news for you. At the end of the day, that means there are no right and wrong answers. This takes some of the pressure off of you. Take what you can from learning from peers and industry experts, then customize away.

Interested in learning more about Community KPIs? Carrie details it all in this free access webinar. Watch it here!

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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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