Analyzing Online Communities: 44 Stats & Facts to Take Away for 2021

Community Strategy // Explore 2021 research from The Community Roundtable's annual report. These 44 stats will help you understand key findings and orient yourself for the rest of the year ahead.

Adrian Speyer
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2021 marks the 12th year of The Community Roundtable’s annual State of Community Management Report. Their research report offers an overview of how the industry has grown and changed for the better, but also thoughtful insights on how to move forward from here.

This year’s report examines three key findings in detail:

  1. Executive interest and engagement has increased dramatically.
  2. The strategic maturity of online communities has improved significantly.
  3. And community maturity correlates to increased value.

We’ve pulled out 44 stats illustrating these points to get you oriented for the rest of the year ahead and into 2022.

But you can get all the data and particulars for yourself, too. You’ll find comprehensive analysis and valuable proposals for your community in the full report.

These online community statistics are broken up between eight concepts, based on The Community Roundtable’s maturity model:

You’ll also find distinctions between a community’s maturity, and to a lesser extent, whether it is internal or external.

Maturity is described as Stage 1, 2, 3, or 4, from the youngest and least structured to the oldest and most integrated. Internal communities are employee-facing while external ones are customer- or user-facing.

Got it? Then let’s get to it!

Online Community Strategy 

1. 37% of communities overall reported having an advanced strategy – approved, operational, and measurable (up from 22% in 2020).

2. 29% of communities overall reported having funded roadmaps (up from 16% in 2020).

3. Communities in Stage 2 of their maturity were the only group with more funded roadmaps than advanced strategies.

  • Stage 1: 2% with roadmaps, 12% with advanced strategies
  • Stage 2: 19% with roadmaps, 13% with strategies
  • Stage 3: 48% with roadmaps, 65% with strategies
  • Stage 4: 60% with roadmaps, 90% with strategies

4. In 2021, executives became considerably more involved in strategic decision-making for their organization’s community programs.

  • Involved 67% of the time, up from 25% in 2020
  • Executives are involved in strategic decision-making for 53% of Stage 1 communities
  • For Stage 2 communities, it’s 65%
  • For Stage 3 communities, it’s 76%
  • For Stage 4 communities, it’s a whopping 90%

5. Communities are 2x as likely to have advanced strategies and funded roadmaps in 2021 than in 2020.

Online Community Leadership

6. Executives are more committed to community initiatives:

  • 83% overall report a “positive” perception of community potential
  • Of that group, 45% are in fact “very positive”
  • 80% of executives at Stage 4 communities report a “very positive” outlook

7. A majority of teams in mature community programs are leveraged as centers of excellence (CoE).

  • 67% of Stage 4 community teams are explicitly leveraged as centers of excellence
  • That’s only 11% for Stage 1 communities
  • 26% for Stage 2 teams
  • And 35% for Stage 3 teams

8. As communities mature, they devote more resources to community management and enablement.

  • Stage 1: 19% of the total budget goes toward technical support and training
  • Stage 4: 43% of total budget goes toward talent acquisition and training, plus reporting, consulting, etc.

9. Community programs are expanding to address more needs, which is reflected in the percentage of cross-functional performance goals:

  • 14% of Stage 1 communities with cross-functional performance goals
  • 23% for Stage 2
  • 38% for Stage 3
  • 50% for Stage 4

Online Community & Culture

10. The top four employee objectives addressed by internal communities are:

  • Faster answers (87%)
  • Networking (72%)
  • Professional development (70%)
  • New ideas (68%)

11. The top four customer objectives external communities deliver on are:

  • Networking (80%)
  • Faster answers (76%)
  • Inspiration and perspective (61%)
  • New ideas (60%)

12. 80% of communities empower members to ask questions.

13. 77% of communities help provide answers.

14. 69% of communities help members connect with others.

15. 65% of communities let individuals feel heard.

16. 59% of communities make members feel seen.

17. 30% of communities convince individuals to take leadership initiative.

18. 59% of communities directly impact business objectives for organizations.

19. 74% positively impact brand & culture for organizations.

20. Internally, communities:

  • 77% increase workplace efficiency
  • 64% support culture change
  • 52% increase speed of innovation

21. Externally, communities:

  • 56% increase brand awareness
  • 54% improve self-service support

Online Community Management

22. When maturing community programs actively manage positive feedback loops, 80% report that they can “very effectively” or even “extremely effectively” impact behaviors and culture.

23. The top five behavioral changes that internal communities impact are (on average):

  • Large employee networks (72%)
  • Engagement between execs and employees (62%)
  • Willingness to be transparent (60%)
  • Asynchronous work (47%)
  • Agile work practices (36%)

24. The top five behavioral changes that external communities impact are (on average):

  • Faster response time (49%)
  • Increased product usage (36%)
  • Support done in the community (35%)
  • Higher renewal rates (22%)
  • Increase in qualified leads (20%)

25. Communities contribute positively to culture and brand sentiment:

  • External communities have no negative impact, 30% neutral impact, 50% positive impact, and 20% very positive.
  • Internal communities noted a negative impact of 5% or less, with 70% positive impact and about 10% very positive.

26. On community teams:

  • 83% have full-time staff
  • 54% receive training
  • 5 full-time staff
  • 7 part-time roles

Online Community Content & Programming

27. 60% of respondents overall reported “an informal schedule” or something even less structured for their content and programming.

>> Check out our new online community content calendar template to put more structure behind your community content.

28. Community teams enlist help by handing off the baton, and other groups have been producing or facilitating programs.

  • Community leaders or advocates (43%)
  • Peers in other functions (43%)
  • Members (41%)
  • Vendors/partners (15%)

29. But almost 25% of teams report none of the above groups produce or facilitate community programs.

30. What types of programs do teams produce for the community? There were no surprising shifts between 2017 and 2021, with the biggest differences being:

  • In-person workshops and training decreased from ~25% to ~10% while virtual discussions almost doubled
  • New member welcomes and onboarding account for almost 60% of programs in 2021, but were not recorded in 2017

Online Community Policies & Governance

31. Only 28% of community teams overall are designated as centers of excellence (CoE).

32. 52% do operate as informal CoE, for a total of 80% of community teams acting as CoE for their organizations.

33. As communities mature, they are more likely to be explicitly recognized as a CoE (refer back to #6 to see that the most recognition occurs between Stages 3 and 4).

Online Community Tools

34. 17% of organizations reported migrating to a new community platform in the past 12 months.

35. 17% are considering migrating but haven’t made plans.

36. 10% are planning to migrate in the next 12 months.

37. 56% have no plans to migrate.

38. Organizations are putting more thought into their community ecosystems, as 58% of respondents report their community platform is integrated with business systems (a 53% increase from 2020).

39. 26% of users would be “extremely likely” to refer a friend to their current community platform, up from 21% in 2020.

40. 14% of users would be “extremely unlikely” to recommend their platform, up from 7% in 2020.

Online Community Metrics & Measurement

Note: A greater number of very large organizations participated in this year’s research than in past years, which resulted in greater community maturity on average.

41. Since the shift of norms and priorities that came with the pandemic:

  • 71% of communities saw their visibility increase
  • Of those, 67% noted increased urgency as well
  • 74% of community programs report increased recognition of value
  • 62% of communities saw increased engagement, with 17% of it being a significant jump

42. Average community engagement rates:

  • 55% of members are inactive
  • 21% validate
  • 10% share
  • 6% ask and answer
  • 8% explore

43. Less than 50% of all community programs can calculate community value.

44. For the first few years of a community, the average cost per member grows, followed by a steep decline, which results in a modest early return on investment (ROI).

  • Year 1: ~175$/member
  • Year 2: ~275$/member
  • Year 3: ~275$/member
  • Year 4: ~475$/member
  • Year 5: ~50$/member
  • Years 6, 7, and 8: less than 50$/member

Online Communities Accelerate a Strong Future for Their Orgs

This year’s research has really emphasized the impact of strategically mature communities and hopefully given you a clearer picture of your community’s increasing returns.

To learn more about online communities (or get more data to validate and audit your organization’s approach), don’t forget to download the full State of Community Management report.

Adrian Speyer

Head of Community

Adrian Speyer is the Head of Community at Higher Logic, and has over 10 years of experience building communities. By combining his passion for digital marketing and community, Adrian works to create beautiful and functional online communities to help brands connect with their audiences around the world.

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