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Stop Playing Defense with Your Online Community ROI

Online communities generate a huge increase in ROI for organizations, but most aren’t using that data offensively to grow their resources and staff, based on findings from The State of Community Management Report.

When it comes to online communities, the best offense is not a good defense. Why? Because playing defense might protect you, but it won’t grow your community.

The truth is that online communities are doing well (really well). Last year alone, communities generated a 2,374% increase in return on investment (ROI), according to the State of Community Management 2018 Report. But, sadly, most community programs aren’t calculating ROI, and if they are, most are using their amazing results to play defense. For example, this could mean using their ROI to defend their program, when they could also be using their ROI to grow their program. You probably agree with me here: this is a massive loss of potential.

One of the major findings we’ve been thinking about from the SOCM 2018 Report is that community management needs to involve growth not only within your community but also within your organization. Focus on the business impact of your community management role. This will help you grow your community just as much as solid engagement tactics will.

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

Communities have created huge boosts in ROI for organizations, but most use their ROI to defend that community’s worth, rather than looking for offensive ways to boost their community. Let me give you some stats:

  • Only 23% of communities actually calculate their ROI
  • 50% of that small group of communities calculating ROI use it to defend their program
  • Only 7.6% use ROI to change roadmap priorities
  • And only 6.3% use ROI to secure resources

Understand the value your community offers and communicate it to others.

Aside from the enormous ROI they’re generating, communities are also impacting organizations across sectors. As a community manager, make it your job to understand that value. The more you understand what your online community provides to your organization, the better equipped you’ll be to advocate for more resources, staff, and support. Communities contribute to multiple strategic objectives within organizations:

  • Revenue growth
  • Productivity and efficiency
  • Communications efficiency (as reported by departments like learning and development)
  • Marketing
  • Customer support
  • Knowledge management

Start calculating your ROI.

If you’re one of those communities who isn’t calculating ROI, start calculating it! Using “the value of an answer” as your foundation, you can easily calculate your ROI using The Community Roundtable’s community ROI calculator. From there, take it a step further by determining your community’s value to your organization by calculating your community’s business impact.

More than that, work to understand the other less apparent values your community may be creating for your organization, such as supporting cross-functional integration or increasing workflows. Communities can have “invisible” effects, such as empowering individuals to contribute in a way they wouldn’t have before. Dig deeper by interviewing people who use your community – try to understand how it benefits them.

Use your ROI offensively.

After you’ve prepared yourself with your ROI numbers and have practiced articulating the immense value your community is providing your organization, put that data to work.

Your executive team won’t invest in something that they haven’t seen data to support, which means your priority should be to prove to them that your community is worth the investment. Take confidence from the fact that 65% of executives support community approaches – and now you need to show them why they should make an even bigger investment. If you’re at an organization where executives don’t support your online community, your data can make a big difference in changing their views.

Start with these steps:

  • Strategize: Do you have a measurable, operational strategy laid out for your online community? If not, use the data you’ve found to put your strategy together. Prepare to show what business problem your community will solve and is already solving for your organization.
  • Ask for resources: At your next budget presentation, use your numbers to secure more resources. Emphasize that if your organization wants to keep seeing the benefit your community is currently providing, it will require more support, both budgetary and through increased staff. Show your organization that investing more into your community could also improve the great results you’re already achieving.
  • Change roadmap priorities: When meeting with your organization’s leadership, discuss strategy. If community isn’t currently part of your organization’s priorities, remind them of the tangible and intangible values your community is providing, aside from your ROI. Use your numbers to change roadmap priorities and/or reemphasize the value of making community part of the strategy.

Give yourself time to focus on your community’s business impact.

Overall, online communities are accelerating organizational transformation, and that fact deserves to be shared. It’s in your interests as a community manager to understand that value and be the champion of your community to your organization.

But let’s face reality. Most community managers are burnt out because they don’t have enough time or resources to handle the business side of their community, so the time they do have is spent is generating engagement and discussion within their community. They see the involvement side of their community as the most important, and it’s definitely important, but this effort can sometimes come at the expense of growing the potential of their community with leaders in their company. And much of the time that is dedicated to business is mainly spent defending their communities.

If you’re like most community mangers who don’t have enough time or resources to focus on business skills, there are ways you can get around the time crunch. It will take some work, but it’s worth it if you want to continue improving your business. Help enable others in your company to become pseudo-community managers so you can take some time working on the organizational elements of your community’s growth.

Additionally, remember that one of the best ways to deal with community manager burnout is to get more resources and staff to support you. And the best way to gain these resources is to present your organization’s leadership with hard numbers and budget requests. Show them how much your community is helping your organization and then ask for their support.

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

Elizabeth Bell

Elizabeth Bell is the Content Marketing Manager 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.