Since the dawn of humankind, stars and constellations were a source of measure, meaning, and purpose. Communities of all kinds utilized the night sky for establishing trade routes, passing on values, creating agricultural prosperity, and providing pathways to freedom. Choosing what stars to align to and measure was critical to communities in the past. In business today, it is critical to choose the right community key performance indicators (KPIs) that ensure efforts drive lasting value for all community members. Choosing your North Star and aligning other constellations of data is an important activity of community management. Let us explore how to determine meaningful community KPIs. 

When it comes to measuring community, it can be challenging to designate quantitative metrics to an otherwise extremely qualitative human-centric effort. However, it is possible to balance both measures in your community by asking yourself the right questions and keeping any quantitative measures in alignment with your core values as the community managers.

It’s easy to measure the wrong things when there is an abundance of data and of ways to measure. Attempting to measure too many metrics, or choosing certain metrics while avoiding others, can move against our community’s principles, our operating practices, or worse, have membership churn. That’s where habitually following a strategic decision-making framework for establishing and re-examining community KPIs helps us ensure our strategies, community purpose, and membership are working in service of the community goals. While each community is unique in their application of a decision making framework, there are fundamental components to consider when determining community KPIs that can apply broadly to product-based communities. 

" It’s easy to measure the wrong things when there is an abundance of data and of ways to measure."

Community KPIs are determined by having a clear sight of why your community exists, the direction it is heading, and prioritized categories of measurement. Choosing your specific KPIs from varying categories of measurement will help you to achieve the blended goals of your community. We suggest a 3-step framework, each with questions to help you design your KPI measurement strategy. Walking through all three will point you toward a bright vision — your North Star — while minimizing noisy distractions. We examine categories of KPIs for your consideration, with examples of how your selection of those KPIs can contribute to your goals. Each category serves a purpose, but not all categories serve a purpose for all communities. Approach your category and KPI choices by starting with your mission and purpose to set a north star and align a constellation of other KPIs to support that purpose.  

Community KPI Decision Making Framework 

Step 1:

Define why your community exists and the direction it is going. Begin by looking at your community from the sky, the 30,000 foot view that allows you to see the community as a whole. Ask yourself these questions: why does your community exist? Why do members join your community? What value do your community members seek from being a part of your community? What is the mission or purpose that your community serves?

Consider the direction of your community in relation to your mission. In what direction is your community heading, or what direction does it need to head to maintain value to its members? What value will your members need in the future? What are your community goals, and will achieving the goals help you to provide value? Are the goals aligned with the mission that your community aims to achieve? How can you prepare for the future needs of our community?

Step 2:

Select and prioritize the categories of KPIs that matter most for your community. Categories of community KPIs are groupings of measurements that share characteristics aligned with goals. Understanding which categories your KPIs are in can help to ensure you are measuring towards your goals, and that your goals measure towards your purpose. 

Consider the following categories of community KPIs: attraction, retention, diversification, distribution, structure, internal and external measurements. Look closer at how these categories tie to your goals. Attracting new members measures towards the goal of growing your community. Measuring in the retention category prioritizes the goal of improving the quality of experience in being part of your community. Diversification includes metrics to ensure your community is inclusive and safe. Distribution helps to measure the balance of member roles, longevity, and leadership. Structure measures how well the organizational structure (many-to-many vs. few-to-many) of your community supports the current and future needs of your community. The categories of internal and external measurements provide metrics to understand your community in relation to internal factors such as resources, and external factors such as the total addressable community size. 

The combination of categories of measurement that matter most for your community will likely be different than other communities. These variations are quite alright. Optimizing your categories of measurement based on your goals is what makes your community uniquely special and valuable for your members. To help understand how to choose the categories of focus, start by asking these questions: What categories will drive results that help to achieve our goals and mission? Inversely, what categories will not help to drive results? Are we measuring in categories that may cause conflicting incentives for our community management team? Are there resources and data available to support having KPIs in the categories that matter to our community and our goals? 

Step 3:

The last step in the Community KPI Decision Making Framework is to choose your KPIs based on your prioritization of measurement categories. If your goal is community growth, you will likely prioritize metrics from the category of attraction. Metrics in this category could include the number of new members per month, or number of new members from a specific campaign or event. If your goal is to understand the quality of the member experience, you will likely prioritize measurements for retention over attraction. Retention metrics might include the member churn rate, net promoter score (NPS) and happiness indexes. 

To help determine the exact KPIs that will move the needle for your community goals, begin with asking these questions: How can we optimize our resources in each category that matters to our community goals? For each community measurement category, what metrics will indicate that the goal is being achieved? Could a specific KPI be counterproductive to our community goals? 

" Community KPIs are determined by having a clear sight of why your community exists."

Once you have narrowed in on the metrics that you would like to measure, try running through the Community KPI Decision Making Framework in reverse order as a way to check that the metrics align with your mission. For example, if one of your KPIs is the number of new active members in your community per month (Step 3), this tells us that community growth is an important goal for you and that one of the categories you are choosing to prioritize resources towards is attraction (Step 2). Meaning that ultimately you intend to measure the category of attraction because this supports the direction of your community by bringing greater awareness to those who can benefit from the value of your mission (Step 1). 

Follow your North Star

The North Star serves as a navigator of the night sky to explorers and stargazers. For community builders, this resembles a well-defined community mission to executives and managers leading communities. The mission of your community serves as the guide to help prioritize community efforts and maintain focus on only the metrics aligned with achieving your goals, thus narrowing the scope to reduce distractions. With your north star in mind as the guiding principle for all your community strategies, you are well positioned to determine your community KPIs.