The Simple 3-Step Model for Measuring Community

David Spinks
July 6, 2021
May 3, 2024

It was lunchtime on a recent Wednesday afternoon when I sat down for coffee with a community pro who’s been an active member of the CMX community for some time.

We love meeting up with members of the community to learn about the challenges they’re dealing with. People tend to share more over coffee than they would in a feedback survey. It turns out, there’s one challenge almost all community professionals are facing.

And so the conversation went as most of my conversations with community professionals tend to go…

“How’s everything going?”

“Oh, it’s SOOO good,” they said with enthusiasm. “I love the team, the community members are so amazing and supportive. I really love what we’re doing!”

“That’s awesome! So glad to hear it.”

“Yeah… the only thing is I’m having some trouble figuring out how to track everything we’re doing. I know it’s valuable, but I don’t know how to show it.”

“What are you tracking now?”

“Oh you know… the number of posts, comments, activity, and all that. But I’m not sure what to do with the data and how it can convey the value that the community is bringing to the business.”

This is a conversation we have with members of CMX on an almost daily basis. While more and more companies are investing in community, very few have been able to actually build a thorough measurement strategy around it.

So we wanted to share the simple model that will help you understand how to bring measurement into your community strategy.

Starting with the End in Mind

The first mistake a lot of companies make when putting together their metrics and KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] is that they will aim far too high with their metrics: they’ll hope that they can measure everything across the board, but they don’t know what that data is meant to help them learn.

Measurement is about answering questions.

“Did this experiment work?”

“How much value did the community bring to our business?”

“Is our content strategy working?”

By first figuring out the questions you want to answer, that will help you figure out what you need to track and how you’ll track it.

To begin with the end in mind, decide using the SPACES model which business value your community will drive. Then you can start to reverse engineer your measurement strategy.

The 3 Levels of Measurement

The second big mistake a lot of companies make is they try to measure the value of individual pieces of content without understanding how those fit into a larger community strategy.

If you’ve ever had a boss ask you, “What was the ROI of this event?” you know what I’m talking about.

Businesses want to see the value of community, but community value doesn’t come directly from one piece of content or programming. It’s a combination of efforts over time that will, hopefully, create an engaged community and ultimately drive business value.

So in order to track your work building community and the business value it will drive, you’ll want to think of measurement in three levels:

  1. Content and Programming: Is the content and programming we’re creating for our community working?
  2. Community Engagement: Are community members engaged and participating in the community on a regular basis?
  3. Business Objectives: Is the community creating value for the business?

All three types of metrics are important to different stakeholders in the business.

You can view it as a 3-step process like this:


You create content and programming… that fuels an engaged community… that drives business objectives.

So the point of content and programming is almost never to create business value directly. The point of community content and programming is to create an engaged community that will then drive that business value.

Let’s take a little bit of a deeper look at each of these three levels.

Content and Programming (C&P)

If you haven’t already, we recommend you freshen up on the Community Engagement Cycle framework.

Using this cycle, you can lay out your C&P plan. Now, each piece of content you create should have its own metrics.

For email, it might be click-through rates or subscriber numbers.

For articles, it might be views or time spent reading.

For events, it might be RSVPs or survey ratings.

Your goal with measurement on this level is to know if your content and programming is working to engage your community. So every piece of content and programming you create should be given a “success rating”. This will help you review all of your content and programming later and quickly see what worked and what didn’t to engage your community members (who then drive business value).

We recommend putting this all into a content and programming tracker where you look back every month to see how your content and programming performed, and use that information to help you plan your content calendar for the next three months. You can choose your criteria for success, and it’s okay if it’s a subjective measure. In the example below, we used participation, reputation, and revenue generation as our criteria for success.

Content and Programming Tracker

This is a super simplistic template. You can get more complex from here. Basically, this tracker is meant for you and your team only, not to be shared with executives. They’ll be most interested in the third level of metrics almost exclusively.

Community Engagement

At this level, our goal is to ensure that all the content and programming we’re creating is resulting in a growing, engaged community.

In order to do this, you first need to define the levels of engagement in your community.

Again, looking back at the CMX Social Identity Cycle, you can see there are six levels of engagement in every community as a member becomes more and more engaged in your community (over time, a growing number of members should become more committed):

  1. Potential
  2. New
  3. Passive
  4. Active
  5. Power
  6. Inactive
Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 11.56.30 PM

Now you have to define what it means to be “passive,” “active,” “inactive,” and “power” members.

For example, Twitter considers an active member to be anyone who has visited Twitter at least 7 times in the last 30 days.

Facebook “defines a monthly active user as a registered Facebook user who logged in and visited Facebook through our website or a mobile device, used our Messenger app (and is also a registered Facebook user) or took an action to share content or activity with his or her Facebook friends or connections via a third-party website or application that is integrated with Facebook, in the last 30 days as of the date of measurement.”

Once you know what qualifies a member for a specific level of engagement, you can track the number of members at each level each month.

Choose a definition that makes sense for your business needs: members who are power members tend to create the most value for the rest of the members; active members usually have a sustained level of activity over a certain period of time, and “passive” members consume information but do not participate actively.

You can then put that data into a simple community engagement tracker like this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 12.08.26 AM

Business Objectives

Finally, we have the big, important metrics that need to answer this question: Is our community driving business value?

At this point, you should have already figured out where community fits into your business. If you haven’t already done that, we recommend referring back to the SPACES model.

As a reminder, SPACES stands for:

  • Support
  • Product
  • Acquisition
  • Content
  • Engagement (Internal and External)
  • Success

Those are the five areas that community can drive value for a business. By figuring out which one is the top priority for your business, you can then figure out how the community should be expected to drive that value.

To do this, you have to define the “valuable action,” which is the action that community members can take that will drive the business objective.

For example, if you’re a P for “product-focused community,” then the value you expect from the community is product improvement and innovation. The valuable action may be things like feedback and ideas posted, bugs reported, or features requested.

When Dell launched their “Ideastorm” community, these were the kinds of metrics they focused on. They knew that “posting an idea” was the action that would drive value for the business. According to Bill Johnston who worked on that program, they were able to value an idea at about $10,000, which helped them define the ROI of community.

Or if you’re an A for “acquisition-focused community,” then the value you expect from the community is growth of customers. So the valuable action may be referring someone to the product, getting signups, or sharing content to increase reach.

TheSkimm’s ambassador program (the Skimm’bassadors) tracks the number of email signups coming from their ambassadors and found that 18% of their total email list growth comes from ambassadors.

If you need to show an ROI for community, then, like Dell did, you’ll need to assign a dollar figure to the valuable action.

  • For support, that might be the $ saved by a community member answering a question or the value created in new knowledge bases.
  • For product, that might be the $ value of an idea that’s used in the product based on how much you would otherwise spend on research, or the increased revenue that comes as a result of that idea.
  • For acquisition, it’s usually a lot easier because you probably already have a cost per acquisition and you can use that dollar figure here to show that community is effectively delivering customer leads that close into sales.
  • For content, you can look at how much it would have cost your team to create that article, write that line of code, host that event, etc. and measure cost savings. Alternatively, as many are doing in this area, you can measure the number of active users once you have broken down the dollar value that each person on average drives for the organization.
  • For engagement, you’re building a community in order to fuel sales and retention, so the most common metric being measured here is retention of existing customers or internal employees.

Now if you want to track that all in one place, you can add these columns to your community engagement tracker so now it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 12.11.33 AM

In Summary…

Now you have a really simple model that you can use to map out your community measurement strategy.

You’re basically collecting data to answer three questions:

  1. What content and programming performs best?
  2. Are the engagement levels of our community increasing or decreasing as a result of this programming?
  3. To what extent is the community helping us to accomplish our business objective?

Obviously, you can go a lot more in depth into all this. You can get into A/B testing of content and programming and make your tracker extremely sophisticated. You can experiment with different new member onboarding flows as a new piece of content to see how that affects community engagement and track those efforts. You can get much more detailed around community engagement to measure very specific drop-off rates and re-engage members with new content. You can measure your community’s health by regularly surveying members’ sense of belonging. You can create multiple measures of business success like NPS, customer satisfaction, and more.

Hopefully this is a good, simple jump-off point for you to explore the world of community measurement.

And if you’d like to dig in deeper, you should join in the next CMX Academy class where we go much more in depth and help you apply this model to your work. We’ve already worked with hundreds of students to put together their community measurement strategies. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Promise.

If you’re looking to understand where this knowledge came from and how companies are measuring community’s value today, make sure to download our research report, combining insights from over 500 community professionals. We break down how businesses (IRL!) are measuring their community’s value today. No fluff. Just data and clear explanation.

David Spinks
Founder of CMX, VP of Community at Bevy
July 6, 2021
May 3, 2024

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