When I listen to webcasts or read blog posts about measuring the value of a community initiative, I’m often met with the same initial advice: map your community metrics back to your overall business objectives. It’s a sensible recommendation because in order to get budget approval for your community, you’ll have to prove its value to those who are signing the checks.
Those who sign the checks tend to be higher up the corporate ladder, and the higher up the ladder you go, the simpler the objective is — hit the number. Really, that’s all that matters to most C & VP level executives, so if you can tie your work back to their numbers, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll continue to have money available to support the community.
Unfortunately that strategy is a lot easier said than done. Lets discuss exactly how to go about tying your work in the community back to your organization’s overall objectives.
Step 1: Clearly Understand the Objectives
Business objectives change often, sometimes even monthly. Before you start building reports, take time to clearly understand your company's high level objectives so that you don’t end up having to rebuild reports. Find time to speak each of the relevant, high-level stakeholders and ask them the following questions:
- What are your top objectives for this quarter/ year? What numbers have you committed to?
- What insights/ patterns from the community are you interested in?
- What format do you prefer your reports? Year-to-date trends, or data tables?
- How much information do you need? How many pages/ dashboard tabs will you look through?
High level stakeholders in community initiatives tend to be marketing, customer support/ customer success, and product/ engineering, but the departments involved will vary depending on your company. Depending on the size of your organization, some C-level executives may be involved as well. Arrive to your meeting prepared, try not to take more than 30 minutes of their time, and don't forget to take notes!
Step 2: Build A Framework
Now that you know exactly what numbers are pushing the needle forward, you can start the process of building the dashboard to map to those needs.
Dashboards tend to be the preferred reporting delivery vehicle for most executives, so you need to deliver your community’s insights to your executive team in the same manner. Dashboards are a combination of text, charts/ graphs, tables, and large numbers. Most reporting tools include dashboard building features, but you could also manually create the dashboard in some sort of a page layout software. Ultimately, you want to deliver a PDF or an Excel file where your management team can easily see your important community insights.
Start this process by building a basic framework of what you’re looking to achieve. And I mean literally draw/ write it out. List out ideas for reports, sketch the format of the dashboard, and write out the objectives in one sentence so they’re easier to understand. Include specific requirements from your executive team on the framework, like, “use line graphs for trends,” or “fit it all on 1 page!” A framework will help you get organized before you set to work in your reporting tool of choice, and will ensure you stay on track once you get in the weeds of reporting.
Step 3: Build Your Reports
Once you get the framework together, it’s time to build the reports that translate to those top-line objectives. Some objectives are related specifically to a number, for instance: “reduce customer support costs,” but others are a bit more broad, like: “make the community a place where customers get value.” Regardless of the goal, it’s your job to find 1-2 reports that clearly show the community is meeting the defined objective.
Objectives That Are Tied To A Number
Objectives tied to a specific number tend to be the easiest for building reports. If the marketing department’s objective is to increase organic search traffic in effort to reduce spend on PPC, show a bar or line graph of the community page views that originated from search engines by month.
If the customer support department is concerned with deflecting costs by leveraging peer-to-peer support, you might show a monthly trend report of topics that have been solved by other customers.
You could further blow your manager’s socks off by doing a direct deflection calculation and showing how much money is being saved by leveraging peer-to-peer support as a strategy.
Objectives That Are Not Tied To A Number
Objectives that are not tied to a specific number are a little trickier to build reports for, so you have to think critically about how the data shown in the report can tie into the overall objective.
For instance if the leader of a product & engineering organization’s objective is to gather more customer feedback, show them a table of the number of active ideas in each product-focused category in the community. You could take this a step further by segmenting the ideas by status so he or she can clearly see how many customer ideas have been implemented by their team.
You could take this a step further by working with your finance/ sales team to determine how much additional revenue has been gained by the release of these features.
A VP of Customer Success might be interested in ensuring customers are receiving value from the community. One way to show value is to show the number of revisits to the community on a monthly basis, or to show monthly active users.
There are many other ways to measure objectives, so get crafty with it!
Step 4: Put It All Together
The easy part is putting all of the reports and supporting text into a dashboard that’s easy to consume. Most community platforms will come with some type of built-in reporting, so see what your options are for building a dashboard. You can always build one manually if you have to!
Here are a few tips for making sure your final dashboard is effective:
- Keep It Short – C-level executives don’t have time to thumb through several pages of reports. Make sure your dashboard can fit on 1 page of paper when printed.
- Include Context – If your dashboard covers multiple functional areas, which I would expect it to, make sure to have a line of text that clarifies the overall objective to all who are reading. If you’re showing a report that maps to an objective where a quantitative value isn’t quite clear, add a line of text that clarifies the report.
- Be Mindful of White Space – Though you want your dashboard to be short, you also want it to be pleasing to the eye so that others take the time to read it. Be thoughtful towards the amount of white space between different text boxes and reports, and the overall layout of the page.
Step 5: Iterate
Once your dashboard has been shared, figure out a way to gather feedback from the recipients! Find out what’s working and what isn’t, and then continue to refine your dashboard until your management team is satisfied with the format and results. Don’t forget – business objectives change yearly, if not quarterly, so keep in mind that you will likely need to modify the dashboard to align with the overall needs of the business.
What is your process for creating dashboards for your community? What tips do you have to share?
I originally wrote this post in November 2013 for the Get Satisfaction blog. You can find the original here.