Why Community Analytics Matter, and the GEAR Framework
Building individual relationships with members is so important for communities that analytics, a critical piece of scalable community management, is often overlooked.
Why should it matter? Specifically, what metrics matter, and how can you make sure you're making data-informed decisions for your community?
I'll share the original framework I use to think about community analytics, and go deep on each of these questions.
Let's dig in 👇
When I built a data analytics team in the early days of Uber Eats, I worked with products across all parts of the business. The one consistent thing across all of them was that understanding our data was essential when making product decisions.
Your community is a product, too.
As much as you'd like to, you won't be able to build and maintain 1:1 relationships with every member of your community as it grows. Even if you hire a team, it will become more difficult over time.
Maybe you're hearing from a few members that they want you to add more Slack channels, but the data shows you that engagement with existing channels is lower than you'd like — in that situation, spreading out to more channels is usually a mistake.
While you should always continue talking to members directly, data shows you the full landscape. Here are a few things you'll be able to learn faster:
Find Your Superfans
In the early days of a community, when you have < 100 members, it's easy to see who the most engaged members are. As memberships grows, and you add additional places for members to interact, it becomes more difficult to notice.
Tracking metrics is the only way to quantitatively understand exactly how much more engaged certain members are than others. Identifying your most engaged members will let you do new things — superfans will be willing to step up and help lead initiatives or run squads to get other members more engaged.
Notice Trends Early
Individual conversations with members won't show you everything that's going on in your community. At best, you'll overindex on the issues a few people are having and have to infer larger trends.
Setting up dashboards, alerts, and tracking metrics ensures you'll be able to see trends as they happen, which allows you to prioritize addressing them (or not) at the right time with with the right amount of resources.
Go Deep With Individual Members
Data isn't just useful at the community-level — it can also give you insight into individual members.
Expecting that members, even highly engaged ones, will bring up their issues or concerns to you proactively is a bad assumption. Having robust analytics will let you see when, where, and how the behavior of individual members are changing.
See Outside Your Platform
Your community members exist, talk about, and socialize with other members outside of just your Slack instance. These interactions are spread across platforms and hard for you to keep track or even be aware of.
Are you seeing fewer new members? Maybe that's because there's less buzz about your community on Twitter. Without setting up metric tracking, you'd never know, and any decisions you made would be misinformed.
While the exact right metrics to track for your community will be unique, there are four types of metrics that are important for most communities.
Growth, engagement, advocacy, and retention. I call this the GEAR framework, since these metrics will keep the gears of your community turning the right way.
Growth at all costs usually shouldn't be the goal of a community, but regardless of whether you are ready to scale or if you're maintaining a high level of curation, knowing how the makeup of your community is changing is essential. Some essential growth metrics:
- New members per week
- Net new members (New + returning - churned) per week
Having a lot of users means nothing if they aren't active in the community. Your community's value isn't based on how many people are in it — it's based on how much your members love it.
Even worse, have you ever seen a community with thousands of members, and lots of posts, but they're all spam with no responses? Engagement doesn't just mean posts — it means meaningful interactions. Some engagement metrics you can look at:
- Daily active users (DAU) — also weekly and monthly
- Time spent per session
- Messages sent per user per week
- % of messages sent via DM
If you build something amazing, people will talk about it all over the place. If you create a community where people get something valuable that they can't anywhere else, they'll want to tell others about it. You want people to be proud to be members.
This is incredibly valuable for you, too, because the best marketing is authentic. More than simply awareness like traditional marketing, advocacy builds the credibility of your community. Some examples:
- Mentions on Twitter
- Instagram bio appearances
If members stop being active or fully leave your community, you'll want to know who they are so you can reach out and learn more. At a high level, you'll also want to compare whether a higher percentage of members are leaving over time. Some retention metrics:
- Churn / drifter rate
- Returning members per week
- Newsletter unsubscribe rate
There are only a few comprehensive tools for tracking community metrics, and they're new and still evolving as products. However, two stand out:
Venture-backed startup Commsor is great for communities run by companies.
They have integrations with GitHub, Slack, Twitter and Hopin, but not Zapier or Discord yet. Other highlights include time-series charts and a resolution center to make sure members' accounts are correctly linked across platforms.
Like you'd expect from a B2B company, they also require a video demo before you get access to the platform.
They also have a great blog and a solid team — expecting big things from them!
Another venture-backed company, Orbit is looking to be a catch-all solution for any community. It has a Zapier which really gives you flexibility, and there's also no demo call so you can get started right away after signing up.
Their interface can be a little overwhelming, and I wish their were more charts, but you get a lot of information. They also include your Twitter followers as "Members", which can take a minute to get used to.
Overall, they're a good choice for communities that make use of no-code tools, and definitely for Discord communities.
Just because you've set up metric tracking doesn't mean your work is done. Building a data-informed community means you'll need to include data in your routines.
Make it a standard part of your weekly process, at least, to review all top level metrics. If you have a team, assign an owner for each metric and set goals. Tell the owners they are responsible for hitting or maintaining the goal. If you don't have a team, set goals for yourself.
Use your data as another information source, alongside qualitative signals, when making decisions.
When you're considering investing time and resources into any project, consider how it will help you achieve your goals. Will it reasonably impact your DAU? Will it get members excited to talk about your community on social media, or inspire them to share resources and knowledge within the community? How does it impact the goals you set?
Without alerts, you run the risk of losing touch of the health of your community and being able to respond quickly enough to reverse course.
There isn't a great community metrics alert tool yet (this is probably a venture-backable startup idea), so you'll need to set these up manually. Build Zapier automations that track and alert you (via email, Slack, Discord, SMS, wherever) when metrics exhibit unexpected behavior. Some examples:
- Your Discord server's DAU has fallen by 20% in the last 2 weeks
- Your community has been mentioned half as often on Twitter in the last month compared to the month before
- Certain, highly engaged community members are only posting in certain channels
There are tons of possibilities and, just like in software development, having alerts is extremely important.