ROI is often a four letter word in our world. I honestly don’t believe I’ve seen community professionals get more heated, or disagree so strongly, on any other subject. In fact, whenever it’s mentioned on #CMGRHangout, we tend to joke that we need at least an hour to cover the conversation. On #CMGRHangout presents: How do Community Managers demonstrate our value?, Brew and I chatted with Dom Garrett, David Hurley, Jennifer Sable Lopez and Ben van ‘t Ende on this very topic.
While I’ve always intuitively believed that community is inherently essential, I haven’t always known why in a way that I could easily explain to anyone else. Initially I was taught that you shouldn’t need to prove ROI; however, I have since come to understand that at the end of the day, if your team needs to cut down to essential staff, you’re seeking a promotion, the company’s going through a restructuring or you simply need to justify additional budget—you need to be able to demonstrate your value both internally and externally and you better be doing so already.
So, how do we prove our value as community professionals?
Understanding Your Value
Before you can prove your value, you need to understand your value yourself. While this may seem obvious, I’d like to believe that I’m not the only one who has ever struggled with being able to clearly explain why what I do matters.
My favorite community professionals to learn from when it comes to ROI are Joe Cothrel and Evan Hamilton. Both of these gentlemen have a strong understanding of how to classify the value of a community.
Last year I was able to attend CMX Summit East where Evan shared on
How to Measure the ROI of Community in Your Organization as well as LiNC (Lithium Networking Conference) where Joe and his team covered ROI during the Community Manager II certification course as well as spoke on Metrics, metrics and more metrics as well as Measuring Value from Total Community.
In one short month, my ability to understand the value of community increased exponentially from these two. Here’s what I learned:
- Community value is usually centered around one of three things:
- Save: Cost Reduction / Support Deflection.
- Sell: Revenue Generation / Acquisition.
- Satisfy: Customer Satisfaction / Retention.
- You can determine which of the three is applicable to your community by knowing your company’s business objectives.
I know that sounds really simple, but simple is what we need.
If you don’t know what your company’s business objective is, ask your boss. Then identify which of those three values your community aligns with in your company and always keep that as a central focus.
When you understand your value, it becomes easy to demonstrate your value.
Demonstrating Your Value
As I mentioned before, I used to think it wasn’t essential to demonstrate your value as a community professional. Unfortunately intuition, even if your employer shares your intuition, only gets you so far. Being able to say “Our community achieved ______ this month.” or “If we implement this program for our community, it will benefit the company based on ______.”—that has power and success.
Demonstrating your value starts with knowing which KPIs to measure, which metrics actually matter. Don’t measure everything or you’ll be lost in a maze with big data and no application. Choose two or three key metrics to focus on based on your understanding of your community’s goals and value. For example, your metrics could be focused around:
- Save: What is the proposed call deflection rate as a result of your community? How often are community solutions accepted? How often are community accepted solutions viewed?
- Sell: How often is your community activity converting into sales? Are sales sessions starting in or going through community pages? If so, how does the order value of a community member compare to a non-member?
- Satisfy: Are your community members finding the answers they’re looking for? How do community member NPS scores compare to scores for those who are not involved in the community?
Once you’ve learned which metrics to measure, it’s time to learn how to translate what you know as your community’s value to what your C-levels care about. In other words, give them their numbers but also tell them the story around the numbers, the “So what?” element. Generally this takes place in the form of a dashboard.
If you’re unfamiliar with community dashboards, I highly recommend reading Caty Kobe’s post on How to Create a Community Dashboard that Maps to your Business Objectives. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Keep it short. Present your dashboards in a tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) fashion. Assume your stakeholders have 1,000s of emails crossing their desk on a daily basis and ensure you’re a priority for the time they’re willing to take.
- Put it in their language. For me this has also meant adapting the dashboards to others interested in the data. For example, our product team finds it helpful to know which boards are most active as they’re categorized by different product areas. Our documentation team also uses this knowledge as a hint to where we might need more coverage.
- Make it easy to read. Yes this means to channel your inner designer or recruit one. Some of my early feedback on the dashboards was suggestions for improving or consolidating graphs.
- Be open to feedback. Listening to interested stakeholders means you can improve. Don’t let your ego get in the way.
While regular dashboards are helpful in demonstrating your value, sometimes it’s entirely appropriate to share little (or big) wins along the way. As Brew always says, “screenshot the awesome” and share with whomever you feel is appropriate. Maybe this is via email or maybe you have a dedicated Slack channel to share community feedback with the team. Do whatever works for you.
One last word of advice: Don’t forget to share what you’re doing with your community as well. When your community understands how you advocate for them internally, they become your biggest advocates and celebrate together with you.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to understand your value and how to prove your worth. Prioritize the time so you can start planning on how to advocate for the budget you need to really and truly empower, elevate and help your community succeed.
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