20 May, 2024 6 min read

Reporting on the health of your community: What data do you need?

Online communities are made up of passionate and like-minded individuals who regularly interact with one another. But to prove your engaged community is valuable to your organisation, you need to be collecting the right data.
Reporting on the health of your community: What data do you need?

Data can often be viewed as an administrative burden, but data is essential for community managers to analyse the community's effectiveness.

Data can help you to:

  • Understand community members

  • Address stakeholder concerns or issues

  • Discover opportunities within the community

  • Improve the member journey

  • Predict future member behaviour

Here, we’ll look at the importance of data in community management and how to report on your community’s health.

Understanding the 'why'

Whenever you begin collecting data, you need to understand why you’re collecting it. The best place to start is by honing down on why your community was created in the first place.

Every community has a purpose; whether it’s to engage members, reduce support times, or encourage brand loyalty. The only way to discover if your community is serving that purpose is through data.

Data provides evidence that your community is valuable, which will ultimately help secure future funding and support. For instance, say your community’s goal is to increase product sales. The hope would be the more engaged your community members are, the better sales will be. 

As a community manager, you need to track metrics that demonstrate how community engagement leads to purchases.

Comparing types of data collection

Consider the following two sets of data:

Community data example 1

  • We received 10,000 post impressions

  • We have 200,000 followers


Community data example 2

  • It takes an average of 45 days to get a community member to purchase

  • Engaged community members spend 3x more than non-members

When we think of data, we typically think of the first type of statistics: vanity metrics. In other words, the big numbers that don’t really say much on their own. While vanity metrics have their place in data collection and reporting, it’s important that community managers don’t solely focus on them.

Instead, what we’re interested in is the second example. This type of data speaks to the success of the community and puts a spotlight on the community’s worth to stakeholders and senior leaders.

Let's explore this a little further by seeing how each data example would be collected and used.

“It takes an average of 45 days to get a community member to purchase”

If you’re just starting your community, you’ll not yet know how that community will respond and convert. One insightful metric you could track is the average time it takes for a community member to make a purchase. 

How do you collect this data?

To gather this data, you could follow these simple steps:

  1. Track new members: Monitor when new members join your community.

  2. Watch engagement: Observe their interactions inside the community. Are they posting, commenting, or attending events?

  3. Link to sales: Track when these members make their first purchase and calculate the time elapsed since joining.

How does the data show community health?

Understanding the average time to purchase helps you identify key engagement points in the member journey that encourage conversions. For example, if members who participate in forums are purchasing more than those who attend webinars, you might increase the promotion of forum engagement. 

This data also helps you optimise the member journey. Community managers can ensure the right touchpoints appear at the right time to encourage conversion.

“Engaged community members spend 3x more than non-members”

This particular metric is powerful for community managers to prove the financial benefits of active community participation. 

How do you collect this data?

It’s all about uncovering the lifetime value of your different customers. You need to divide your customer base into three types of customers:

  1. Those not in the community 

  2. Passive community members

  3. Active community members

After you’ve segmented your customers, you can start tracking their spending habits. Monitor the purchasing behaviour of the three groups over a specific period. You should then compare findings and analyse the spending patterns. 

You might be wondering, Why bother collecting information on non-members? If you can prove community members (particularly engaged members) spend more than non-members, then you’re validating the community is working. Collecting information on non-members gives you an opportunity to show that sales benefit more from community members than those outside of it.

How does this data show community health?

This metric is invaluable for demonstrating the community’s ROI. It shows that engagement directly impacts the revenue, making an excellent case for stakeholders and senior leaders to continue their investment. 

It also helps identify which engagement strategies are most effective. This level of insight allows you to see the different value of passive and active members, and ensure that your value exchange is fair. 

What data can I ignore?

Not all data carries the same weight. Vanity metrics are surface-level indicators that may look impressive but don’t necessarily provide meaningful insights. 

If we go back to the first data example, having 200,000 followers doesn’t mean you have an active community. Similarly, 10,000 post impressions doesn’t mean the content is helpful or engaging to the members. 

Are vanity metrics ever useful?

Vanity metrics can be useful when paired with more meaningful data. For example, tracking page impressions alongside engagement metrics (like session duration) can provide a fuller picture of the content’s effectiveness.

Key metrics to remember

When starting or managing a community, ensure your metrics align with your community’s purpose. This will vary depending on your focus, but three of the best metrics include: 

Engagement metrics

You want to know the number of members who regularly participate in community activities. The number of posts, comments, or replies a member submits into the community is a fantastic way to gauge interaction and engagement level. 

Conversion metrics

If your community’s purpose is to increase sales, make sure you’re tracking the percentage of community members who make a purchase. The average time it takes for a member to make their first purchase will also give you a solid projection for future members. 

Customer Lifetime Value

Data is just numbers when it's not compared to something else. For example, members spending £100 a month doesn't tell us anything until you combine that with more data that shows non-members are only spending £30. Always collect data on non-members to prove how your community members bring more value to the company than non-members. 

Improve your community's health with data

Data can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! When you know what you’re looking for and how to collect it, data can provide you and your community with so much value. 

At Steadfast Collective, we help digital communities grow. We routinely work with companies to create community-focused websites, applications, and membership sites. Talk to us today to get your community started.