Your Community: What are its Vital Signs?

8 Feb
When you’re community is healthy, its usually pretty obvious. New content is being posted, discussions are ongoing, new members are signing up. But when your community is not healthy or when you are just starting up a new community, it can be a little more difficult to assess how things are going because there is much less visible activity. Nonetheless, you need to know whether the community is growing, and if not what you can do about it.

Here are some metrics that we use to assess the health of communities that are not particularly active and the tactics that we use if these vital signs move into the warning zone.

Proportion of  active users – This is the fraction of your site’s membership that has visited the site over the past seven days. You could use a longer or shorter time frame, but we find that a week works well. We like to see this value above 50%.

When this value drops below 50%, there are two things we typically do: (1) Make sure that there is sufficient new content being added to the community. This requires authoring new content, finding new content from elsewhere, or working with members to generate new content. (2) Make sure that notifications are enabled so that all community members are aware of the new content that is available.

A lot of people are lurkers, and you may find that your community does not look particularly active, but has a relatively high fraction of active users. In this case, we would start to engage with individuals within the community to encourage more active participation.

Average user page views – The average unique page views per user over the last seven days provides a measure of how much content/interaction on your site is of interest to your members. You want to measure this over a time period like a week rather than per session because a user may visit your site several times, looking at different information each time. The higher this number the better, but we start to get worried if its less than 2 because it means that users are hitting your site, but not finding enough of interest to keep them there. When this happens there is a good chance that they will drop out of the community.

When this is the case, there are a couple of potential problems. First, you may not have enough new content, so that users are checking in but not seeing anything new. Second, it may indicate that there are usability issues with your site that are acting as barriers to the user. For example, if the discussion area on your site is reasonably active, but the home page does not provide any obvious way to easily go to new discussion threads or replies, you may have the right content, but not be making it easy enough for your members to find.

Net community growth – This is the number of new users over the past seven days minus the number of users who have left the community. If you do not require explicit registration for your community, then you will need to use some sort of heuristic to both identify users and also to effectively remove them from the community if they have been inactive for a sufficient period of time.

Community growth is usually a function of community size; bigger communities grow more quickly. Of course, there is an upper limit in the total addressable audience for any community, and should you be lucky enough to approach it, growth will obviously slow. Initially, however, most communities are small and grow by word of mouth. We like to see communities growing at the rate of at least 1 new member for every 20 or so existing members. If you aren’t achieving this, then you can explicitly enlist the help of your members. Get them to invite the friends or colleagues into the community. As the community grows larger, you may find traditional SEO techniques will help draw new users in. You can also look into other social media platforms such as Twitter.


One Response to “Your Community: What are its Vital Signs?”


  1. Online Community Management Links Roundup 24/02/12 - Community Management Links | Blaise Grimes-Viort - February 27, 2012

    […] Your Community: What are its Vital Signs? […]

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