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Finding Your Focus on the Island of Misfit Metrics

Everyone is searching for the ROI in online communities and to be honest, most of those conversations remind me of the search for Bigfoot or an abominable snowman. In the end we have an assortment of articles and opinions similar to the Island of Misfit Toys.

There’s a reason why it should be this way.

Pull up an ice block and lend an ear.

Every business is different. Every business has different objectives. Every business has a different target audience. Every business has a different definition of success.

If every business has a different definition of success, why do we get so distracted discussing ROI and comparing notes when our results shouldn’t be the same?

It’s because we get lost in vanity metrics. You know, that first, uncustomized, dashboard you see when you open Google Analytics, or the numbers on our social media profiles.

Those numbers mean nothing by themselves.

Let’s be honest, we’re all able to bend those numbers to prove any point we’re trying to make. As Community Managers, this shouldn’t be our goal.

If my word isn’t enough, Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, has been writing about the danger of vanity metrics since at least 2009.

So how do I know where to focus?

Social media is a channel, and we can use that channel to move ourselves and our businesses forwards if, and only if, we know what it is we’re working towards.

To actually diagnose a community and the success of that community, we need to be looking at actionable metrics.

As someone wise once told me, if you’re not aiming for a goal, you’ll miss it every time.

Work with your team to understand your company’s mission statement and business objectives and use them to craft your target behaviors for your community.

For example, if your company has an objective to increase referral traffic, a target behavior could be to increase social shares of your site.

If your company’s objective is to produce toys for Christmas, you don’t want to be distracted measuring the number of children with candy cane triggered cavities.

With target behaviors written out and agreed on, creating actionable metrics is simple. If you’ve defined a target behavior as increasing social shares, then you want to measure how often your site is being shared on social channels.

When you follow this path of definition and measurement, showing value in reports is less like running from an abominable snowman and more like an adventure.

Where does engagement fit in?

As community managers, we love the word engagement.

Unfortunately, we’ve learned to lean on engagement as a magic crutch to use against all demands for ROI.

These two don’t need to compete.

With actionable metrics defined through business objectives and target behaviors, we can demonstrate how engagement enhances these metrics.

Yes, we’ve increased social shares, but now let’s look at why.

When your community feels connected vertically with a company and horizontally with each other, they obtain a sense of ownership. This ownership creates an environment where the community wants to share your site because they feel as if they are a part of the creation. It’s human nature to want to show off success we are involved in.

Knowing this, your time increasing engagement is justified through showing a direct correlation in how it increases those actionable metrics.

Is it really that easy?

I get it, we don’t all live in, or work in, a perfect world.

That’s why we need to learn, and to teach.

Put these actionable metrics in place as much as you can, and teach those around you why they matter. The more you put into practice, the more you can experience. It’s easy to ignore words, it’s difficult to ignore results.

Don’t just wander aimlessly on the Island of Misfit Metrics, take ownership for the direction of your community and demonstrate their value.

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