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The Health and Wealth of your Online Community - Part 1

Khoros Oracle

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There are a lot of proverbs that have been credited to Americans that help keep us on the right path. 

A great example is the old saying, “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”.  The American founding father, Benjamin Franklin, is who we all point to as the originator of that little diddy. But history and research know better. 

That particular saying goes all the way back to Aristotle and variations of it were also published in a few other treatises during the 15th and 16th centuries as well.  Franklin just happened to give it some new life when he included it as a quote in one of his “Poor Richard’s Almanac” in the 1700s.  Almanacs were widely read back then and mostly taken to heart. Knowing the phases of the moon (one of the features contained within an almanac) was pretty helpful in schedule planning, given that there were no streetlights in those days.  

I love pithy maxims that history has handed down to us. They seem to have a timeless morality and a level of utility that can be applied to just about anything. Take, for example, the case of a teenager who just loves to sleep late.  Throw “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” in their face, and their habit of sleeping late will disappear.

Well, not really.  It will not.  But it might get a conversation going...or maybe even start an argument.  Historical pearls of wisdom, handed down through the ages, have a way of annoying us into doing what is right.  Going to bed early and waking up early will yield health, wealth, and wisdom?  Hmmmmm… let's distill this concept into something a bit more specific:

If I prepare and plan for my Online Community to be successful, it will be healthy, and then it will subsequently deliver some wealth.  Ok.  Sure.  That sounds good.  Works for me.

But how do we measure the ‘health and wealth’ of an Online Community? 

 

Any ‘healthy Community’ in the real world is primarily defined by the activity of its population. 

Are people interacting with each other to produce some kind of bounty?  Is there commerce?  An exchange of ideas?  A sense of solidarity, shared identity, and/or belonging?  What about the people just passing through town?  It is certainly possible for them to benefit from what is happening there even if they do not stay for very long.  

Fortunately, there are 5-6 Online Community metrics that will forever help determine whether our Community is *generally* healthy or not.  They are:

  • Visits
  • Unique Visitors
  • Registrations
  • Posts (a combination of the ‘conversations started’ metric and subsequent ‘replies’ metric)
  • Searches

If you are not measuring these things above, you’re doing it wrong. 

 

Where it gets interesting though is just how much more sophisticated we can get with these metrics. 

At one point in our company’s history, we settled on a single ‘score’ or number which would quickly reveal how healthy an Online Community was.  We called it the Community Health Index or CHI for short. 

CHI (as an aside, it rhymes with tie, chai, and fly) was our way of taking all of the data and wisdom that we had accumulated over 10 years in Community and making it work for the quick understanding of all. 

Remember, when you get your single little numeric cholesterol score, it is actually taking into account LDL, HDL, and an overall triglyceride count.  Our ‘Credit Score’ here in America (sometimes called a FICO score) also has similar mechanics in the formula. 

There were smoothing algorithms embedded within CHI so that the score cannot whipsaw around due to an extremely low or extremely high engagement month.  CHI was the work of a genius, but its adoption and longevity are still in question. 

Why? Because we balk or bristle at the idea of such a seemingly complex thing being represented by a 3-digit figure.  I do not think that the cholesterol score or the FICO score (both of which, like CHI, are 3-digit scores) are going away anytime soon, but that is because they reached a point of widespread adoption and industry acceptance.  Not because they are easy to understand.

 

In the absence of a single score, those 5-6 metrics I listed a bit earlier will have to do. 

You can, of course, measure many other metrics, but it is those 5-6 that will see you through every single time when it comes to helping you judge the health of your Community. 

However, what those metrics lack (and what CHI and other 3-digit scores have going for them) is a larger context to judge overall health.  Meaning that a simple 3-digit score can quickly be compared to an appropriate peer group to illustrate whether you are doomed or not. 

Anytime you measure something, in order for it to have value, you have to ask, ‘compared to what’.  So my cholesterol score of 500 might be considered very healthy or it might mean I am likely to die of heart disease in the coming months. It really does not mean anything until you take into account age, sex, height, weight, and perhaps a few other factors that are outside of the score itself.

Measuring the 5-6 metrics over time and seeing them gradually increase *probably* means that your Community is healthy….but only compared to itself.  You need a Community peer group to determine whether your Community is healthy in the larger sense. 

This is where ‘benchmarking’ becomes vital to your Online Community journey.  Here at Khoros, our Customer Success Managers (CSMs) take the time to delve into our data pool and grab the necessary metrics to properly compare similar Communities.  They take into account audience (B2B, B2C, or Internal), age, industry, and a few other factors when selecting a group to compare your metrics against.

 

The health of your online Community is best measured through a simple set of metrics, but that perspective on your performance will always be limited by the scope of measuring you against yourself.  Not a bad thing really, but there is so much more to be taken into account.  The almanac creators of old wanted their audience to have a handle on weather patterns, news events, and other bits and bobs so that their readers, who were primarily farmers, could be successful in their bucolic endeavors.  

Expanding one’s own perspective is crucial to know where you are at, how you are doing, and planning for your future.  Call that wisdom.  I suppose it is also important to go to bed early and also wake up early as well, but that is more of a nice-to-have than an actual requirement. And as an aside, whenever you think you are lagging behind your contemporaries, you do not have to have been a US President to appear on our dollar bills (Franklin is only one of two non-Presidents to appear on our dollar bills). 

Read Part 2

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