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The Whats, Whos, Whens and Hows of Community Metrics & Analysis


by Lauren Hart Piper , Vice President, Product Management and Marketing,
One of many hats a community manager wears is that of the data analyst; they might not tell you upfront, but numbers are a big part of job. In The State of Community Management 2014,The Community Roundtable found that almost 60% of community managers prepare community metrics reports monthly, and about 25% prepare reports more frequently than that. This frequency depends on the community’s level of activity and community management resources needed to prepare reports.

As a community manager you are faced with a massive amount of data to distill into insights on community performance and then assess that performance against your end goal.  To help focus your analytical efforts, you first need to determine the metrics to concentrate on.

To help community managers define their own mission-critical community reporting metrics, The Community Roundtable asked veteran community manager, Jillian Bejtlich (previously at AutoDesk, currently with TheCR), to share her tips for analyzing the never-ending stream of data and staying focused on the end goal. Jillian broke down this daunting task into four areas: the whats, the whos, the whens and the hows.


  • “What is the end goal?”  This is without a doubt the single most important question you need to answer.  Define your end goal right from the start and refer to it daily.  You’ll need to know your end goal before you can begin attempting to create metrics.  Stay focused on this goal no matter what, even as the data becomes overwhelming.  If your data isn’t helping you move towards your end goal, abandon it in favor of more useful data that substantiates the end goal. It doesn’t matter if you find the data interesting or engaging – the first rule of community reporting is answering the question you set out to.
  • “What don’t I know?”  Ask this in relation to the end goal. Is there a question you can’t answer related to reaching your end goal?
  • “What are my constants?”  Know the information that will not change.
  • “What could go wrong and possibly slow me down?”  Make sure you build in contingencies, especially in large analytics projects in case of something which threatens to derail the entire project (like a computer crash) occurs.  Have a plan in place.
  • “What is the best possible outcome?”  As you assess your numbers, look for the ones that are helping you with your goal and the ones that are hurting the goal.  This will help you to think about how to solve the problem in the future.  For example, if you are looking at the Net Promoter Score and the goal is to be two points above the industry standard, you can assess those numbers that are helping that goal and those that are hindering it.


  • “Who is the result for?”  Asking this will help you to prioritize your reporting requests.  A request from your director to present to the executive staff will clearly take precedence over less important requests.
  • Who is the question about?”  Community-related metrics often involve people (employees, participants, new users, members, etc.).  Know the type of person you’re researching.
  • Asking “Who are the players in the formula?“ can help limit the variables in the formula
  • Asking “Who can help you find the answers you need?” will help you to set timelines for delivery based on the availability of those who can help you find the information. Make sure to build this time into your reporting schedule – just because tackling the numbers is your priority doesn’t mean everyone can drop what they’re doing to get it done.


  • “When is this due?”  Obviously this helps with project prioritization, but can also inform the scope of the analysis.  For example, a request due three days from now will only include the essentials as opposed to a report with a due date three months from now (for which you will probably go all out).
  • “Is there a relevant date range?”  Date ranges help to put the information in context.  Dips in data could significantly impact short-term reports, but have little significance for, say, an annual report.  For example, some European workers may have up to three months off a year.  That will have a significant impact on participation rates in those communities and forums.  Knowing the date range will help you to determine the reason behind any declines in the data.


  • “How will I get my data?”  Know where the data resides and make sure you have access to those tools and training on how to use them. Sometimes you will need to put your foot down if you get a request and do not have access to all the data.  You should not feel pressured to make promises to deliver on data that is impossible to provide, so be firm on this point up front to save yourself stress later.
  • “How will I share my report?”  Information will be shared differently if it is shared verbally as opposed to written.  In the case of written reports, you’ll want to know all of the recipients because in some cases the data may be confidential, and that report circulating outside its intended audience could be disastrous.
  • “How can I verify my results?”  You’ll want a standard to which you can compare your results in order to understand if your company performance is within an accepted range for your industry.

Using this question-based framework you can start to develop a comprehensive reporting plan for your community. As always, prioritizing stakeholders up front will help you determine what reporting is a must have and what would be a nice to have.

Almost 50% of the communities surveyed in the SOCM 2014 reported that they are able to measure the value of their community. Communities that can measure value were more likely to measure the following metrics: volume of new comments and content, new member activity, behavior flows, resolution time and questions answered.

What’s your approach for defining community metrics and managing the stream of data?  Would you add any questions to this list?  Does your community platform have built-in reporting dashboards that makes defining, creating and collecting metrics easy? We want to know!


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