Online Communities in 2020: 28 Key Facts + Statistics to Know

Community Strategy // Online community stats from The State of Community Management 2020, an annual report by The Community Roundtable, covering ROI, use cases, and engagement.

Elizabeth Bell
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Every year, The Community Roundtable releases the State of Community Management Report. It’s always filled with insightful analysis on how online communities, both internal and external, are making a difference.

This year is no different.

2020’s report, The State of Community Management: Changing the Way the World Works, highlights three big themes:

1. Advanced communities create generative value.

2. External communities elevate the customer experience.

3. Internal communities reveal untapped potential.

We pulled out 28 stats from this year’s report that illuminate big community topics.

But before we dive into those stats and facts, don’t miss out: The Community Roundtable provides incredibly helpful analysis on three trends in the report, along with specific recommendations you can apply at your organization, all available in the full report below.

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

We’ll look at stats in each of these categories:

  • Online Community Costs and Return on Investment (ROI)
  • Online Community Outcomes and Use Cases
  • COVID-19’s Impact
  • Online Community Strategy
  • External Communities
  • Online Community Teams
  • Online Community Engagement Stats

As you read through the stats, remember these distinctions that The Community Roundtable highlights:

  • Internal and external communities. Like it sounds, an internal community is employee-facing, while an external community is customer- or user-facing.
  • Average and advanced communities. The average overall stat is the average of all the communities in the research, while the advanced overall looks at all communities with approved, operational, and measurable strategies.

Let’s dive in!

Online Community Costs and Return on Investment (ROI)

1.  Thriving communities yield more value for every participant than they contribute.

  • On average in an advanced community, a member contributes $67 of value per year and receives $614 of value per year.
  • On average in an advanced community, an organization invests $153 of value per year and receives $682 per year.

2.  As communities age, the cost per member decreases dramatically – dropping significantly after year three.

3.  Communities have incredible ROI.

  • Average overall communities see 4,530% ROI
  • Advanced overall communities see 7,071% ROI
  • External average communities see 6,130% ROI
  • Internal average communities see 1,967% ROI

4.  Average community ROI goes up as communities age.

  • <1 year: 1,469%
  • 2 years: 2,778%
  • 4 years: 4,136%
  • 7 years: 4,782%
  • 10 years: 5,315%

5.  Advanced external communities generate higher ROI than average external communities.

  • Average generate 6,130% ROI
  • Advanced generate 9,888% ROI

Online Community Outcomes and Use Cases

6.  Communities are making a positive difference for brand and culture – 70% of communities positively impact culture and brand.

7.  Communities positively impact a wide range of business outcomes.

  • Top 3 business outcomes of the average external community:
    • Customer loyalty (67%)
    • Lower support costs (48%)
    • Awareness and branding (47%)
  • Top 3 business outcomes of the average internal community:
    • Organizational and cultural change (54%)
    • Communications efficiency (49%)
    • Awareness and branding (43%)

8.  Communities empower members.

  • 57% feel seen frequently or all of the time
  • 63% feel heard frequently or all of the time
  • 78% ask questions frequently or all of the time
  • 70% provide solutions frequently or all of the time

9.  “Community engagement supports every member’s success by giving them access to the knowledge and value of the entire community. By supporting them in their work, it inspires their loyalty. It exposes people to new ideas, prompts product and service use, and rapidly surfaces shifting needs.” – The State of Community Management Report 2020

10.  External average communities named these as their top five use cases:

  • Customer support (71%)
  • Networking (59%)
  • Community of practice (48%)
  • Marketing (45%)
  • Innovation (42%)

11.  Internal average communities named these as their top five use cases:

  • Collaboration (76%)
  • Community of practice (72%)
  • Networking (70%)
  • Corporate initiative (59%)
  • Community of interest (56%)

12.  External communities address an average of 3.4 different functional use cases.

13.  Internal communities address an average of 4.2 different functional use cases.

The CR also did additional research on the impact of COVID-19 on community programs.

COVID-19’s Impact

14.  Changes to community plans due to COVID-19:

  • 12% say it significantly accelerated
  • 28% say it accelerated some plans
  • 24% say it made little or no change
  • 26% say it stalled plans
  • 9% say it significantly stalled plans

15.  Hiring outlook:

  • 20% of programs put hiring on hold
  • 10% of programs reporting lay-offs or expected lay-offs
  • 14% of community programs are still hiring or expecting to hire

Online Community Strategy

16.  There is a range of strategic maturity across communities.

  • 22% have no documented strategy
  • 24% have a draft strategy
  • 14% have an approved strategy
  • 17% have an approved, operational strategy
  • 22% have an advanced strategy

17.  Out of those with an advanced strategy:

  • 55% have a dedicated budget
  • 61% have HR-approved community roles
  • 70% have integrated platforms
  • 70% have community teams
  • Measure cross-functional engagement objectives 45% of the time
  • Report to cross-functional executives 51% of the time
  • 88% can calculate community value, and 70% can directly link community to business outcomes

18.  “For communities that can connect engagement directly to business value, 77% of Advanced External Community programs impact customer loyalty – a top line, complex objective being pursued aggressively in today’s business climate.” – The State of Community Management Report 2020

External Communities

19.  External communities contribute to these business outcomes:

  • Customer Loyalty
  • Lower support costs
  • Awareness and branding
  • Product improvements
  • Communications efficiency
  • Product usage
  • Quality improvement
  • Innovation
  • Revenue growth
  • Productivity and efficiency

20.  Community ownership sits in a variety of departments.

  • Over 50% of External Communities sit in either Customer Support, Marketing, or Product groups, while a smaller handful sit in External Communications, Operations, Learning & Development, Knowledge Management.
  • About 10% operate as an independent department.

21.  28% of communities have formal advocacy and member leadership programs.

Online Community Teams

22.  The average community team has 5.7 staff members.

23.  25% of communities include executives in their decision making.

24.  34% of community programs have formalized roles.

25.  16% of communities have a funded roadmap.

26.  31% of communities had a budget increase for 2020.

Online Community Engagement Stats

27.  In the average community, member engagement varies.

  • 52% are inactive
  • 25% validate
  • 11% share
  • 7% act and answer
  • 6% explore

28.  In an average community, the average member gives 0.5 answers per year, while an active member gives 6 answers per year.

Communities are Changing the Way the World Works

And there you have it – 28 statistics illustrating the state of online communities today, from impacts to ROI to use cases.

We hope these facts have painted a picture for you of where communities stand in organizations, where they’re positively impacting ROI and functional processes, and where organizations can improve their community approach.

Want to learn more about how communities are advancing important objectives for organizations?

Download the full State of Community Management Report, below. 

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

Elizabeth Bell

Content Specialist

Elizabeth Bell is a Content Specialist at Higher Logic. She’s passionate about communities, tech, and communicating about both effectively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her cooking, reading, gardening, or playing volleyball.

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