What to Measure and Why: How to Track Community Engagement

By 
Saira Mortier
October 11, 2017
January 8, 2024

One of the easiest, most basic things to track is traffic — actual presence on your platform or post views. For websites, Google Analytics can be an invaluable traffic monitoring tool, showing how many people have come to your website, where they’ve come from, and what your bounce rate is. For tracking social media traffic, Twitter Analytics and Facebook Insights are valuable assets.

But why bother looking at how many people are coming to your site or seeing your posts? Seeing content does not necessarily mean that users are engaging with it or the community as a whole, right? While this is indeed the case, looking at these numbers shows us potential engagement. If 10,000 people viewed my site this month, that is 10,000 opportunities a potential user had to interact with my community. If, of those 10,000 hits, only 3 comments were posted, the potential vs. actual engagement ratio is pretty poor. This can offer intensely valuable insight into whether your engagement strategy is fostering the desired outcome.

Contributions

Measuring contributions is where the meat of tracking engagement lies. This is also where many communities diverge in exactly what contributions they should be tracking based on their goals. There are some things that most people will track, and then there are others that may make sense for only one group. Some of the more common metrics you can use to track engagement are:

  • Forum posts
  • Comments on forum/blog posts/social media
  • Reactions/upvotes/downvotes on posts
  • Group chat messages
  • Direct messages to businesses

Unique Products of Your Community

It may be the case, however, that you will want to measure at least some of the outputs that are unique to your community. The primary community I manage is a citizen science game in which players create 3D reconstructions of actual neurons. Apart from forums posts and chat messages, I often look at the number of players who contributed to a neuron challenge, how many neurons got fully reconstructed, and how often the community members helped one another to complete the challenge. Obviously, these metrics won’t work for everyone.

Building a network of amateur neuroscientists is not the goal of all communities (though I can’t imagine why not). For a community that exists to combat the overuse of plastic bags, it may be appropriate to measure how many reusable bags are sold as a measure of engagement. For the community of a specific tabletop game, perhaps it makes sense to keep track of the number of game-related events or tournaments. Whatever you do decide to track, be it reactions, posts, or neurons, creating a document to input your data will help you stay focused on what you are measuring, and how it may change over time.

But… Why?

Like community managers don’t have enough on their plates already, amirite? But here’s the dirty little secret scientists have known for years… data. is. POWER. The more information we have, the better equipped we are to update our strategies and deal with bumps in the road. In order to see whether your engagement has had the trajectory of a rocket ship or a raindrop (here’s hoping space travel is in your future), tracking and comparing your measurements over time will be key. Armed with this data, you can course-correct if need be or continue focusing on what is working. This doesn’t have to be a massive time draining task. Finding the metrics that matter and keeping track of them is very easily done if once a month you pop your measurements into a spreadsheet and forget about it until a handy calendar reminder prompts you to add more.

Engagement DOESN’T Equal Satisfaction

A quick disclaimer: you can have extraordinary levels of engagement and track every metric until your spreadsheets runneth over with data. But just because a community is active doesn’t mean it’s satisfied. In order to evaluate whether or not members are happy, further feedback (user testing) is needed. User surveys, post analysis, or just good ol’ fashioned asking how things are going, can go a long way to ensuring a happy, healthy community.

Saira Mortier
October 11, 2017
January 8, 2024

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