Calculating the business value of an online community

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I recently sat in on a webinar that was advertised as a crash course in how to calculate the business value of an online community. Although the webinar ended up being an over-the-top pitch for a software company, I did glean the following stats from my time staring at my computer screen:

  • 92% of community leaders believe their online communities have an impact on their business.
  • 35% lack meaningful metrics to report success in business terms.
  • 85% of companies struggle to make decisions because their data is captured and stored in disparate, disconnected systems
  • Firms with online communities achieve 41% greater average customer profit margin
  • Online community users also grow their customer retention rates by 15% year over year

While all of those stats obviously support the need for the speaker’s software, this presentation did bring to the forefront for me the importance of pausing and evaluating the online communities we help our clients develop and manage. To begin, are our social media efforts truly communities?

In short, most of them are not. In an article by Chis Newton, he noted that the “definition of an online community varies depending on who you talk to.”  He went on to quote several digital strategists that defined an online community as networks that blend content and collaboration, or people who come together for a common purpose.  Further, he noted that online communities aren’t simply a place to provide customer support; content should come from someone other than the community manager; and the effort must be nurtured.

Although I wish it weren’t so, most of the online communities we see in the construction industry are super good at pumping out information, but little content comes from the community itself. These communities, designed to be two-way platforms, are typically one-way conversations.  So, how to fix this conundrum?  Honestly, it is a tough one to fix in our industry. We talk a lot about, and measure engagement, but is that really what we are after? Or, should the goal really be content contribution?

I don’t have the answers, but I am craving to find them. I welcome your ideas on what you have seen work. How can our industry build online communities? 


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