AnalysisMy pals in the CA Technologies user community posed an interesting question this week.  One of them asked, what does the ideal community have, how do you determine if it is successful, and what can you do to measure a community’s success?  Much of what I responded with was a brain dump of ideas and thoughts.  Below is my attempt to focus a bit clearer on each subject.

“Ideal” : A community must allow for peer networking and communication.  It requires public and private messaging as well as detailed profiles for its members.  I think about a small town analogy where you know who’s on the volunteer fire department, you know who works at the post office, and you know the local shop owners.  Similarly, from an online perspective, I think it helps to know who the community members are based on their role and organization.  I like the idea of classifying resource types within a technical community based on their primary skillset.  Maybe I am a specialist in SAP integration?  If so, and I choose to share that information, my community peers should be able to see my specialty.  I also feel that my community profile should embrace my online activity if I choose to share it.  Ie. My own rss blog feeds, tweets, LinkedIn details, YouTube channel or favorites, etc.  Integration and personalization makes each member unique and even helps them market themselves a bit.  The ideal community should continue to develop and build quality members.  It’s one thing to drive your membership numbers up, it’s another thing to show the actual number of ‘quality’ members you have.

“Successful” : This coincides with the last part of ideal.  Quality members make the community successful.  Why are many technical forums so good?  Because there are a handful of experts solving problems for other customers.  I think CA support resources should play more of a hands on role in the forums as they can potentially steer people from making bad decisions as well as guide people to ‘supported’ solutions.  CA support calls have a cost associated to them, the more ‘fixes’ found in the user community, the less calls CA may get to the help desk.  In a more direct approach though, community success is dependant on application success and even sales success.  Multiple factors could contribute to a community’s success or lack there of.  Keep the community enhancements and releases coming on a steady basis.  The more the merrier.  “If you build it, they will come” (and use it).   Release minor enhancements weekly or bi-weekly if possible.  Use community VIP’s to aid in system testing.  There’s no need to wait two-three months and package everything.  Your community members want as much functionality as possible, as fast as you can deliver it. #justsayin

“Success” :  You could measure success by the number of solved forum issues or questions.  Send out surveys quarterly and ask for general feedback and recommendations.  Make sure the survey’s are not anonymous so you can see if new members vs. veterans are participating.  Have regional groups report back the physical number of people who attend meetings.  Record the number of attendees on webcasts and note if they’re going up or down?  One item I’ve been asking for is to record formal webcasts that can be shared out from a community’s home page.  I’m not referring to standard playback of recorded webcasts, I’m thinking of something that’s enhanced, perhaps with language translation.  A time-saving, show me what I want to see, who is telling me this, video, audio, etc..  Not everyone can attend a webcast and I’m glad we make the recordings available for a short time but I think we have an opportunity for more multimedia.  Can we track the number of times a recorded webcast was viewed and by which member?  Another means of measuring success is to come up with a measurement that classifies a member as being ‘quality’.  Maybe I have 5 forum posts and I’ve been a member for two years and all I do is ask questions related to my own incidents or enhancements.  That’s not quality.  But, if I have written ‘x’ amount of blog entries, posted and responded to ‘x’ amount of forum posts, maybe there’s a measurement that could be used to determine member quality.

That wraps up some of my thoughts on the ideal needs of an online community, what makes it successful, and how to measure its success.  The experience I’ve gain being an active leader in the CA Community has very much inspired me to pursue other online communities, especially when it relates to my job or a project I may be working on.  I highly recommend you get involved with online professional communities as well.