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Guest Post: The Community Health Index for Online Communities

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

NeilB.jpgSomething special today: a quest post from Lithium's own Neil Beam, Director of Enterprise Programs in our Client Services group. Neil's recently been spending all his time immersed in metrics and numbers to help us describe what makes your community tick (and more importantly, how to keep it going strong). Today he's here to share some of the though that went into developing Lithium's newly announced analytics offering:


We are releasing today our new Lithium Insights suite, and Scott invited me to talk about it in more detail here on his blog.

We have amazing projects in the wings but today the first thing I want to show you is the Community Health Index.

The Index is the first step towards an industry standard – focused on what community practitioners should measure, report and be held accountable to in their daily practice. It does two things: 1) serve as a absolute measure of communities where you can stand them up side-by-side and say – “okay, now I know how to compare these communities” and 2) provide actionable measures that tell practitioners what to focus on first and what to do next that are specific and relative to the individual community – 6 health factors do this. Three are predictive and three are diagnostic. Note, we picked these 6 factors (Liveliness, Interaction, Responsiveness, Members, Content, Traffic) because they are an universal denominator common to most community platforms, even Twitter could fit this paradigm.

Case in point, when I was the project owner of a community in my past position I quickly discovered that simple metrics (page views, posts, registrations) only gave my management team a partial snapshot and single dimension of a very complex and dynamic system. It never felt good. How did I compare for my executives the other 5 communities on the Lithium platform at this company which were built for different products and completely different audiences and launched at different times? The Community Health Index addresses this.

So what does the Community Health Index look like?


CHI Acme sample.jpg

There is a lot going on here (it is the front page to a longer analysis) but this report shows a Community Health Index of 672 on a 0 to 1000 scale is a range of ‘healthiness’. We intentionally didn't scale the Index into the negative because this would immediately imply an unhealthy/healthy dichotomy, which isn't the case. Instead, the healthier a community is, the more likely it will accomplish the goals of the members and the company. Obviously a Community Health Index around 100 or 200 is not accomplishing as much for the members, guests and the company a community with a score of 700, 800 or even 900. You can always improve your health – and what is really important is that the 6 health factors tell you exactly what to focus on first. Here we point out Responsiveness and Interaction as target areas in the Compass. This customer got specific recommendations based on those health factors.

Finally, you'll notice that the methodology and formulation of the 6 health factors and the Community Health Index are fully disclosed in the white paper. We did this so practitioners could land on a common dialogue.

So, how did we do? We welcome the feedback because the point is to continue to improve methods for helping our customers derive value from their communities, and help the industry grow as a whole.





Congratulations to Lithium!  Social Media has been more of an art than a science, and I think the work that Lithium is doing here, by describing the interdependencies of these variables, establishing their relationship in mathematical formulae,  and sharing this openly via the  white paper is truly ground breaking.


A lot analytics provided by consultants and researchers tend to be very 'black box', and so I think it is incredible that Lithium is able to be this transparent, and thereby invite discussion from analysts, practitioners, and other SaaS providers.  Clearly a leadership move.


I look forward to applying these operationally, and to some of the even more exciting capabilities you have in development pipeline now.



Lithium Alumni (Retired)

We are getting some really great pickup on the Community Health Index thanks in part to Jeremiah Owyang and his blog.

One question that surfaced recently: "Is the Community Health Index dependent on size, age or typology (form and function) of the community.

 Answer:  No. The index is robust in this regard. Of the 6 heath factors – those which you use to action decisions, 3 are specifically size independent: Responsiveness, Interaction and Liveliness, the other 3 are size dependent.


The Community Health Index itself is normalized in such a way that size, age and typology each are taken into account by looking at the change in these characteristics over time, discounting outliers (like the edge effect of a community launch on registrations, seeding from data imports, and spikes due to campaigns). There is a decay function over 50 weeks that accounts holds onto the memory of recent activity, but historical changes loose relevancy.


I like to think about it this way: Just like for an individual, a single workout may indicate an effort towards overall health, but the sustained and steady improvement of the factors is what really counts: Community Health must be managed, in a sustained systematic manner without major fluctuations to achieve maximal health. We see examples of this with registration drives to attract new members. A spike in registration may effect Members and Liveliness for the short term, but these effects are discounted in the calculation of your Index if the effort is a spike. In fact, the volatility caused by such a spike is often a detriment because of the disruptive nature to the overall continuity of the community.


With regards to the type of community (support, marketing enthusiast, innovation, etc) we do see differences in the individual health factors. For example, Interaction for a support community typically ranges between a value of 2 and 4 for its health factor, but enthusiast communities Interaction is above 6. What is really interesting is for companies who have the intention of running an enthusiast community and the data tells us that the behaviors displayed by the members suggest otherwise.


Thanks and keep the questions rolling.

Neil @nbeam

It will be interesting to see how well the CHI can be applied to smaller communities such as ours.
Not applicable



I filled out the form to receive the Community Health Index white paper but the form seems to be broken.  I get to the SFA page but then it just hangs.  Could you please email me a copy of the white paper at your earliest convenience?


Many thanks in advance!



Caitlin Angeloff

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hi Caitlin,


Thanks for letting us know! I will be sure to follow up with our web marketing team to email you a copy of the whitepaper, and to check out the form as well.



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‎05-17-2012 07:49 PM
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