You see, we deal with this issue regularly. We work with more qualitative (ie. anecdotal) data than we do with quantitative (ie. raw data). When it comes to community measurements, you can’t always think in terms of volume (ie. numbers of signups or page views). Nor can you always think in terms of density (ie. numbers of downloads or, in the case of Devnets, mashups, etc.).
There are always oodles of factors that affect the size or the shape of a community. Some communities abhor size. Some need large volumes to operate. We’ve witnessed communities of 20 to 20 million that could all be deemed very healthy.
But other than to go on ‘gut feeling’, what do we have to measure the health of one community against another. Or…more importantly for us…the growing health of a community? We want to see that what kind of advice we are giving is working and learn from it – adjusting so that we can truly help our clients and our clients’ clients connect.
Jeneane makes a great point when she talks about likability. Robert’s point about engagement is very valid. Both of these factors, plus many others, start to inform us how we are doing when it comes to serving our communities. We figure a good mix of quantitative and qualitative data – weighted just right – will start to inform us. But we can’t forget ‘gut instincts’, either. I have studied stats since that horrifically boring university class, nearly 9 years ago. I remember looking at a textbook example of some trend and thinking, “But that doesn’t account for human emotions. We could change our minds in a second.” Sure enough, every day people baffle the economists and go in directions that could never be predicted. Look at MySpace. Bah, look at Cabbage Patch Kids so many years ago. Tickle Me Elmo? Try to explain the phenomena all you want with scientific theories, but I remember falling in love with Cabbage Patch Kids for absolutely irrational reasons, then falling in love with Tickle Me Elmo for entirely different irrational reasons.
And wild ‘successes’ aren’t the only story, either. What about those phenomena that thrive on rarity and secretiveness… communities driven by their obscurity and closed doors? ‘Buzz’ and press would kill them. We advise almost all of our clients to open up, but there are a few we think will do better doing the exact opposite.
So, what works for one community, won’t work for another – not to mention the individual needs within that community. Everybody has a different motivation for being there. How can you tell if you are satisfying all of those needs? And how do you satisfy all of those needs without getting to the point that you lose your own identity? Or worse…lose everyone to a watered down message?
So, we started thinking about this in a music equalizer metaphor. Take a look at these default settings in iTunes for the various genres of music:
Every song within those categories has a different ideal point on that equalizer to sound just right as well. It isn’t one measurement or adjustment (inputs and outputs) that determines the perfect sound. Some speakers will handle the sound differently. Whether it is an MP3 or a CD or a Cassette Tape or a Record will also make a difference. Oh…and of course the space you are playing the music in. I used to have a stereo that you could pick a pre-set for the ‘room’ of a house you are in: dining room, bedroom, party room, kitchen, bathroom, etc.
And…no matter how ‘great’ you make it sound…the recipient’s enjoyment of the music itself also depends greatly on their ‘taste’. I heart old R&B, Funk and Old Skool and cannot understand for the life of me why Chris can’t get into it. He can’t understand why I can’t get into alternative rock.
So, seeing that music is a nearly perfect metaphor for the way we approach community – gives us some solid measurements while allowing for endless variations – we are in the process of developing adjustable equalizers on three distinct levels that interact (as discussed as well at BarCampBerlin):
- ENVIRONMENT – total inputs. You can’t adjust these. Things like: politics, trends, competitive environment, language, reputation, timing,Â etc. TimeCabbage Patch Kids today are just not as cool. Garbage Patch Kids, however…I like to use the example of one of the best marketing books ever published, Gonzo Marketing…launched days before 9/11. Think it got much airplay?
- PRODUCT – more inputs. Stuff like: features, user experience, design, platform, interoperability, language, sociality, documentation, complexity, etc. The product does not exist outside of its context, like the Environment and the Community.
- COMMUNITY – transparency, mood, communications, relationships, reputation (the part you can work on), trust, etc. The mix of the ‘gut’, the qualitative and the quantitative. This is the most complex system of measurement and the most delicate. We thought about calling this part ‘communications’ or ‘marketing’ or the like, because the overall goal is to measure the health of communities…but this is more the ‘little c’ community portion.
We’d love your feedback on the work we are doing and plan to start to publish more as we actually get moving on it (one of the issues has been time – between the new office, the client load and all of the events, we’ve been too swamped to work on this). When the office is set up, we plan to have evening get togethers (with wine) to discuss stuff like this.