Tagged: online community roi

#OCTRibe Topic: Valuing Participation in Online Communities

Note: This is cross-posted from the Online Community Report.
I’m pleased to be kicking off the 2nd topic in the #octribe discussion, following the kickoff topic of “Influencers” by Gail Williams two weeks ago.

How OCTribe works

Write something tomorrow (Tuesday, July 28), tag it #octribe or tweet it as #octribe, and your post will be linked from the recap page. Moving forward, each 2nd Tuesday and 4th Tuesday of the month, the call and the recap will be hosted on the site of another one of the bloggers in the loosely defined OCTribe group. This conversational project is just starting, so please join in!

The Topic: Valuing Member Participation and Contribution in Online Communities
Admittedly, this topic is a bit of a double edged sword: Assigning financial value to online community member participation and contribution.

On one hand, a community manager could can paint a compelling portrait of value for internal stakeholders by determining a financial value to member participation (assistant moderate, guiding discussions, welcoming new members, etc.) and assigning value to member contributions (support forum posts, tutorials, reviews, feedback and ideas).

On the other hand, if an organization were to make the valuations of member participation and contribution public, it would likely set off a firestorm of debate about member compensation, legal boundaries around “volunteer opportunities”, and ultimately, force the host organization to account for true cost and true value of the activities and content created in their online community.

It seems clear that it would be useful for organizations to have at least notional values for member contributions and participation. What is less clear is how (if at all) to talk about this value with the community, and how (if at all) social capital is exchanged for financial capital in online communities.

The questions I would like to explore in this #octribe series are (feel free to pick one, all or explore your own!):
• Do you currently assign an internal financial value to member contributions and participation?
• Do you use an assumed value as part of your communities ROI reporting?
• Do you account for social capital in your system of accounting for online communities?

Reading the following article from forbes (2001) spawned the “participation value” question for me. In the article, staff writers sketched the value of the cost savings AOL benefited from via their volunteer program.


“How much has AOL saved by using volunteer labor during the past nine years? That’s not an easy question, and with AOL involved in litigation, the company is not eager to furnish the answer. But even with the most conservative numbers available, we estimate that by using volunteers AOL escaped nearly $973 million in expenses since going public in 1992. That poses the question: Would AOL have thrived-or even survived-on Wall Street without free help from volunteers during its first seven years as a public company? Not likely.

The many jobs that volunteers have performed for AOL would be compensated at a wide range of hourly rates in the labor market (see story). To be safe, we used a conservative figure of $15 per hour-about equal to that of a security guard-as the median salary for today’s AOL volunteers. We adjusted the hourly rate backward using an annual rate of inflation of 4% (historical note: Inflation hasn’t been as high as 4% since mid-1991). For the purpose of the model, each volunteer is assumed to have worked 10 hours per week, 50 weeks a year.”

Please note that I am including the article because it is one example of valuing member participation.

So, to wrap up:
• Please post your thoughts on valuing member participation on Tuesday, July 28th
• Tag the posts and any related tweets as #octribe
• I’ll compile a wrap up post that includes all tagged posts by the end of the week

If you have any questions, please email me.

Online Communities: Thriving in the Downturn

Cross-posted from the Online Community Report.

Your Input Needed: Surviving & Thriving in a Downturn

I’ve been working with my research team at Forum One to put together a short survey about the effects of the economic downturn on online community budgets and strategy in the near term, as well as the effects on 2009 planning. If you currently run an online community for your organization, I would love to have your input.

The survey can be found here:

If you decide to participate, there are few things to note:
• All participants will receive a copy of the final (aggregate) report.
• All data will be processed and compiled in aggregate. Data will not be reviewed or presented in a personally (or company) identifiable way.
• All participants are entered in to a drawing for 1 of 10 $25 Starbucks coffee cards.

If you have any questions about the study, please feel free to contact me. We hope to close the survey portion of the study by December 12th.

Online Community Research Network: Our Research Agenda

Cross-posted from the Online Community Report:

Over the last 3 years we’ve conducted research with over a 1000 organizations actively engaged with online communties, including Fortune 500 companies, cutting edge community-based startups and some of the world’s leading non-profit organizations.

We are currently conducting 6 studies annually, and we typically release the research reports (for a limited time).

Currently available (free) research reports include:
Identity, Reputation & Ranking:
The Identity, Reputation & Ranking research project studied current practice with online identity, member reputation (including reputation systems and programs) and content ranking techniques.
Key findings from the study include:
– Members typically don’t fill out non-required profile fields;
– Slightly less than 1/3 of the respondents (32%) have, or plan on making member’s profiles portable in the next 6 months;
– Slightly less than 1/3 of the respondents (32%) have, or plan on implementing a universal ID solution in the next 6 months;
– The majority of respondents have, or are developing a reputation system for their communities.
Download this report (free).

Online Community Revenue and ROI Techniques:
The Online Community Revenue and ROI Techniques research project studied revenue streams of online communities as well as monetary and non-monetary measurements of value.
Key findings from the study include:
– Respondents generally valued non-fiduciary dimensions of value, like loyalty, over direct revenue.
– The most effective revenue generating techniques were advertising and charging for community subscription.
– A member-first attitude is needed when considering the addition of fee-based or revenue-generating services. The best way to find out what your members do or don’t want? Ask them.
Download this report (free).

Marketing & Online Communities:
The Marketing & Online Communities research project was intended to study the intersection of current marketing practices and online community building.
Key takeaways from the study include:
– A list of community marketing tactics that community hosts engage in;
– Feedback on the most effective marketing tactics;
– Host policies that marketers must adhere to;
Download this report (free).

Research Reports Available to OCRN Members:
Online Community: Marketing, Growth and Engagement Report / July 2008 (also available for purchase)
Online Community ROI: Models and Reports / February 2008
Online Community ROI Research Report / April 2007
Online Community Metrics: February, 2007
Online Community Metrics: Best Practices Survey / March 2006
Blogs, Wikis and Workspaces: June 2006

Our Research Calendar for this quarter includes:

Online Community Compensation (team structure, titles and compensation packages from over 250 community professionals): to be published August 2008
Community Vendor Satisfaction (Platform & Services): to be published September 2008

In addition to all the research reports, OCRN members get an active say in steering the research agenda, and also help shape the research instruments.

To find out more about the OCRN, please feel free to ping me.

Online Community ROI: Models and Reporting – Research Study Posted

Research is a large part of the activities that I and Forum One Networks engages in. The Online Community Research Network studies and publishes 6 times a year on topics that matter to those responsible for guiding online community and social media activities in their organization.

The Online Community ROI Models and Reporting research study was initiated in February of 2008. The study was created in order to investigate further into the ROI research that we conducted in the last half of 2007, and to gain insight into specifically how organizations were valuing and reporting on their online communities activities. Further, we wanted to gain insight into who the stakeholders were for ROI metrics, and how the reports were being received.

I will be blogging highlights of the report over the next few weeks. To obtain a full copy, as well as access to all of our other research, and the professional network of online community pros, please consider joining the Online Community Research Network.

We received approximately 150 completed surveys. Participants included large software companies, large community destination sites, niche community sites, platform providers and interactive marketing and advertising firms.

Q16: Which of the following quantitative and qualitative metrics are critical for communication ROI at your organization? (question 16 from the study)
The top-ranking metrics are: Traffic patterns & statistics; Community member engagement; Unique number of visitors; New Member Registrations; Member Satisfaction; and Product Feedback / R&D ideation.

The middle-ranking metrics are: Number of referrals to the community by members; WOM generated by community; transition of lurkers into active community members; impact of the community on revenue; organization or brand-mentions on other sites; and ratio of comments per post.

When looking at the data segmented by type of respondent organization, Traffic patterns, member engagement and unique community visitors scored consistently high.

Top-ranking Metrics

Middle-ranking Metrics

Lower-ranking Metrics

Q23: What were the 1-2 compelling sources of value from your community or social media efforts that you constantly communicate?

This question was intended to solicit the “elevator pitch” stats or metrics that community managers and strategists use internally to their organization to evangelize community and social media efforts. Answers ranged from the unique ability of online communities to create value to cost reduction of existing communication channels and corporate functions.

These were all write in answers. The main themes are as follows, with selected quotes inline below. (full report contains all write in data).

1. Community helps problem solve faster and more efficiently than Customer Support, saving our company time and money:
• “Customers are able to get faster response and answers to their problem utilizing the community over contacting Customer Support.”
• “Knowledge share, and hence problem solving, is more efficient due to the community model.”
• “Using WebBoard is more efficient then email, telephones or fax. It saves us time and money and increases our ability to service the consumers in our sector.”
• “The ROI on employee time devoted to the forums far exceeds the returns on the usual support methods.” [Thus saving our organization time and money.]

2. Availability of information and content for specific areas of interest:
• “Expanded resources & knowledge for specific areas of interest and centralized resources.”
• “Niche communities, focused on specific areas of interest. Market leaders on-line and in print with high cross over traffic.”
• “You won’t find this content anywhere else – written by our members to raise best practice within vendors.”

3. Increases site traffic / more engaged relationship with us:
• “The more we invest into community, the more organic traffic we get.”
• “Our members consume 49% more average page views per session every month than non-members.”
• “Our community sites get more than 3 times the engagement for solutions, capabilities and use case content than our traditional sites.”
• “Our forum generates more page views than the site itself.”
• “Our community traffic by far exceeds traffic to all traditional product areas.”
• “Increasing site traffic proves that there is an interest and demand from our customers to have a more open and engaged in relationship with us.”
• “Our programs on average engage participants for 45 minutes each time they visit.”
• “Time spent on the site is higher on forums pages than anywhere else on the site, indicating that community members are more engaged.”
• “Views of photo albums remain the most popular area of the community. Members may not wish to participate in discussions, but they do want to see photos of their events.”
• “An online discussion moderated by subject matter experts that followed an in-person event with the same moderators achieved the most participation of any attempts to engage our users.”
• “Our social media content generates more content and discussions off site, increasing our reach.”
• “The ability of our blogs to drive customer engagement and PR activity.”

4. Idea Creation / What we learn from members of the community:
• “Ideas for our books.”
• “It’s all about what we learn from the developers through our community interactions.”
• “We will have the opportunity to get first hand feedback on products and ideas for improvements and enhancements.”
• “We discovered some problem areas in usage and service adoption that caused us to change our materials and strategy.”
• “We have been able to gather more than a thousand best practices/lessons learned in two years use.”

5. Lead Generation / Conversion:
• “Converting contacts, acquaintances, and other informal relationships into donor relationships.”
• “Converting contacts into activists and issue leaders.”
• “When we enlist our community members to represent us physically or virtually, our reach and conversion metrics dramatically increase.”

6. People are saving time / building skills by using our site:
• “In our Sourcing Professional Forum, procurement professionals are constantly sharing templates and best practices across organizations, bootstrapping their RFP effort, saving time and increasing value.”
• “People creating and building productive relationships with people that help them improve their practice or do their work better.”
• “The National Board of Certified Teachers can share best teaching practices with ease never before possible.”
• “In our premium areas, customers are using online training and certification to manage global implementations, knocking down traditional barriers to skill building in an online, social learning setting.”
• “Our users have access to every single college coach in the country. This is something no other site offers. Our site is always free to the users and they will never be charged. All of our competitors charge users to use their recruiting website.”
• “Our community members credit participation in our community with their increased skills in using our products.”

7. Build customer loyalty:
• “Anecdotal stories of knowledge sharing, connections made for business purposes and special access created through connecting members.”
• “Community members are more likely to volunteer their time, services, advice, and financial support than non-members.”
• “Employees who belong to the community almost never ‘turn over’. They are consistently the best performers out in the stores.”
• “Offering a community to your clients where they can speak to you and each other significantly increases customer loyalty.”
• “More connected members spread the word and come back frequently.”
• “If you want to understand your stakeholders and develop the relationships, you have to think in communities.”
• “Online dialogue creates a more open environment that deepens trust and team work throughout the organization.”
• “Our community has one of the highest net promoter scores for our brand of any corporate offering.”
• “Our members say that they like the site and related services – direct comprehension of value, esp. during account meetings.”
• “Research shows that customers in a community can have a sense of involvement with the company as long as we make sure they are heard and that involvement can lead to great loyalty.”
• “Our community members are actively engaged with the brand and don’t hesitate to tell us what they like, and don’t like. They feel a real sense of ownership of the brand.”
• “Our ability to personally communicate with future users of our product substantially influences their perception of our company.”
• “Increasing site traffic proves that there is an interest and demand from our customers to have a more open and engaged in relationship with us.”

8. Online community is growing our membership base:
• “In a climate where professional associations, and especially manufacturer associations, have struggled to maintain members, we have consistently and significantly increased in membership year-over-year for the past 5 years. This growth directly coincides with our implementation of online community services. Over 85% of our members find our member-only e-mail discussion groups alone to be worth the price of annual membership.”
• “95% of our members would recommend membership in our online community to other parents raising children with food allergies.”
• “Our blog has increased community participation by 80% over the past year.”
• “We boast membership in 125+ countries.”
• “We have 8000 registered members across 95% of local authorities.”
• “We have doubled the size of our community membership in the last 6 months. 2 years ago, only 34% of our Company’s upsells and renewals were also members of the Community. In 2007, 75% of our upsells and renewals were Community members.”
• “We have the largest active user community in the marketplace.”

Again, to get access to the full report, as well as other research and the professional online community network, please check out the OCRN site.

Online Community Unconfernece East: A report back

(This is cross-posted from the Online Community Report)

We had a fantastic OC Unconference East in New York City last Thursday. Over one hundred online community and social media professionals were in attendance, and we had over 40 collaborative sessions. I’ve captured highlights below. I’ve also just opened up the Unconference wiki, so you can check out the session notes for yourself.

Organizations in attendance included:
AOL, MTV, Consumers Union (consumer reports), Cyworld, Business Week, Socialtext, IBM, Mzinga, Spinvox, Twing.com, Salon.com, Harvard Business, MediaBistro, KickApps, HP, TV Guide and Zagat.com.

Sessions ( a partial list)
– What is necessary to start a successful social network?
– Social Movements/Communities with a Cause:
– Enterprise And Large Organizations Meets Community
– User Managed Communities: where users make the rules
– Community Building: Resources and Considerations
– Virtual Goods 101
– Social Media Optimization
– Customer/Consumer Communities for Co-Innovation
– Twitter Strategies for the Enterprise
– Culture vs. Community: Intention-based content
– Community Analytics: measuring success & failure
– Social Networks: Likes/dislikes and what you want to know
– Virtual Goods and Virtual World Interactions
– Building Enterprise IT: Colloboration & interface to internal systems (using wikis)
– Open ID & other user-centric identity technologies (Higgins, Infocards, SAML)

You can see pictures from the Unconference here:


Again, the wiki is now open to the public for reading. We do restrict the right to edit / post to Unconference attendees.

Blog posts about the Unconference

Online Community Unconference East – KickApps Blog
Online Community Unconference 2008 – Updates – Modern Metrix Blog
Live Blogging at ForumOne’s Community Unconference 2/21 – Aaron Strout / Mzinga

Next Unconference:
Our next Unconference is the Mobile Communities Unconference March 20 in Palo Alto. If you are interested in exploring the opportunities with community building via mobile devices I would encourage you to come check it out.

Marketing & Online Communities Research Report Released

Our Online Community Research Network (http://www.onlinecommunityresearch.com) initiated the The Marketing & Online Community research study in June of 2007. The study explored the current state of marketing to online communities, from the perspective of both the online community host, as well as from the perspective of the marketer.

The research participants included large software companies, large community destination sites, niche community sites, platform providers and interactive marketing and advertising firms.

We discovered early on in the research process that while community hosts and practitioners were willing to share their experiences, most marketers were not. At the beginning of the research I conducted several in-person interviews, it became clear that most marketing and advertising agencies have not met with great success in their community marketing efforts, and are unwilling to talk about their experiences. What limited success marketers have had is generally viewed as proprietary knowledge within the agency, and is closely guarded.

I’ve included excerpts from the report below. To download the full report, please go here (short registration required).

What are the biggest challenges you face working with third-party marketers?

It is clear from the survey responses that most online community hosts are still negotiating the relationship with third-party marketers, their messages, and their methodologies.

The main challenges in working with third-party marketers included:

• Third-party marketers want to control content/context in which their ad will be shown.
• Difficulty matching ads with content
• Overhead associated with helping marketer understand community culture
• The lack of a pre-screened third-party ad network
• Marketers seem to have no affinity with community / company brand
• Advertiser push invasive or unusual advertising to get results
• Difficult to determine fair rate and cost basis

What general advice would you give a colleague that was considering incorporating marketing and advertising into their community?

Respondents shared valuable advice about incorporating marketing and advertising activities into communities, from their direct experiences.

Recommendations included:

• When introducing marketing messages into your community, be very cautious and attentive to your member reactions, and open to their feedback
• Understand your audiences needs and sensitivities to advertising messages
• Establishing a good relationship with the agency account manager is key
• Establish creative and messaging guidelines for marketing to ensure appropriateness
• Make sure ads are appropriate and add value to community
• Be clear about policies and ensure that policies are available to and understood by community
• Involve the audience. Surveying members to determine which brands / types of messages they would
• Ensuring the right mix of content to ads
• Test and refine based on marketing effectiveness and feedback

Again, to download the full report, please go here (short registration required).

Online Community ROI 2007 – Report Released

We publicly released the Online Community ROI report last week. The research project was conducted as part of the Online Community Research Network agenda, and was initially released to OCRN members in May. The study had many interesting findings, including:

• Only 22% of respondents could clearly articulate ROI on community efforts
• The majority of respondents gave a high priority to establishing an ROI model in the near term
• 49% were reporting some dimensions of value back to management on a monthly basis
• “Value” of online community efforts are contextual to an organizations goals and objectives

Download the full report here, free of charge.

This was cross-posted from the Online Community Report