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How to Evaluate Online Community Membership

Healthy online communities are vibrant and active. Members are helpful and enthusiastic. Unhealthy communities aren’t updated often and the members appear to be there only to promote their own causes or interests. Sometimes these communities aren’t updated at all.

As a community manager, you can’t set up a community and hope for the best. You have to take the necessary steps to keep it going regularly and positively.

Determining whether you’re meeting your goals has more to do with watching what’s going on than crunching numbers and checking stats. You also need to observe your community to determine why folks are coming back each day (or why they’re not!) and what they do when they’re visiting.

Your members are offering important clues as to how successful your community is. How they comment, how often they comment, and what they’re saying gives you the ammunition you need to create topics, as well as help create the types of promotions that will drive both membership and sales. How do your members use the community? See whether you recognize these different types of conversations:

  • Company or self-promotion: Not everyone who visits an online community does so to engage in chat or learn about a new hobby. Plenty of people join up because they feel it’s a great way to promote their personal or professional brand. Most promotion is subtle. For example, blogs and forums allow signature lines in every post where members can post links to their blogs, websites, or sales pages.

    However, some people get a little more “in your face.” Most obvious promoters are called on their actions by other members of the community, moderators or community managers No one likes to participate in a social network and receive spam instead of conversation.

  • Community engagement: How do members respond to discussion topics? Are they commenting or lurking? Is the discussion free flowing? Do they need you to hold their hands to keep the topic flowing?

    While you’re there to help keep things moving along, the healthiest communities can function even in your absence. In fact, in the best communities, the community manager is one who is active, but not so much that he’s the dominant force. The members should be front and center, not the community manager.

  • Shared resources: Like a neighborhood, members of a healthy community work together to achieve a common goal. If the goal is find out more about a certain topic, members work together to achieve that knowledge and share tips, advice, and online resources.

    While all communities do have a self-centered member or two, the healthiest communities feature members who aren’t all out for themselves and do what they can to help each other.

  • Responses to promotions: You know what isn’t fun? Throwing a party where no one shows up. So if you offer coupon codes, discounts, prizes, or freebies to your community, you want to monitor the response.

    A healthy community will have plenty of takers. You won’t receive 100 percent interest, but if a good percentage of your most active members and even many of your inactive members participate, your community efforts are a success.

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