Sustainable Online Communities Begin with Measurement

Screen shot 2010 09 20 at 3 25 24 PM 630x298

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” –Aristotle

Sustaining social media communities over years is one of the primary topics in Welcome to the Fifth Estate. Given how much time and financial investment goes into building a successful community, it only makes sense for enterprises to stay in touch and sustain critical online relationships, social web properties and communities. Ultimately the answer to not only achieve success online, but to remain successful begins with measurement.

Today measurement is not built into strategies from the onset; it’s an afterthought, a late addition at the end of the process (if at all), then forgotten about until it’s time to pay the piper (yay, CFOs). To be fair, there are many great practitioners who do measure effectively from the onset, but the vast majority of social communications occurs without tangible business outcomes.

Further, the measurement presented tends to focus on weak influence barometers that fail to measure how a community actually interacts with an organization, and through which media forms. Failing to understand these data points hurts an organization because they have no idea if their grassroots networks are strong or weak. Unfortunately, they find out when it’s tested several times during campaigns.

More importantly, strength of community measurement — understanding media usage patterns and changes, and what organizational actions inspire a group of people to act — forms the basis of long-term success. Through understanding how a community constantly shifts over time, one can manage effectively and move towards new tools and media forms. The behavior indicators and changes point to which media are growing in strength, which ones are waning, and what information the community prefers.

In essence, a community is like water. Water always takes the path of least resistance towards the sea. Similarly, communities tend to migrate towards the most fun, easy to use community platform. Note: Fun does not include being spammed by marketers. Measurement lets you understand which route is the fastest to the sea, and which ones to avoid. People’s actions will show you.

Successful bloggers know this. They tend to maniacally review their analytics, at least during the period of time when they are becoming successful. Rare is the successful blogger that does not check their statistics at least once a week. Note once a week, not once a year to pay the piper. Dell, one of the most successful companies in social media over time, also pays close attention to its metrics with a weekly report to the management team (including Michael Dell).

The ability to measure weekly, daily, even hourly is one of the greatest features of Internet media. The actual practice of measuring is the cornerstone of understanding a community of people, and how to successfully serve them over time. In measurement, we find sustainability.

Related reading:

Debra Askanese: 10 Trends in Sustainable Social Media

Aspiration Tech: Gunner Speaks About Sustainable Social Media (PPT linked to in post)