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Building Community

On Processes and Predictability

By | Building Community, Business Stuff, Creativity | No Comments

For a while I was against formal processes. They just seemed to get in the way. I’d worked in big companies where an overabundance of processes often led to extra work and boredom. To me, all these rules and regulations were impersonal. They were the roadblocks that must be overcome. They were there to shepherd the incompetent, but they often seemed to just get in the way.

But I was wrong.

The first time I seriously considered processes valuable from a business perspective was when I read The E-myth by Michael Gerber. If you’ve never read this book, I highly recommend it. For creatives and entrepreneurs, it makes a great case for implementing processes in your company. His argument in this book was that processes are imperative for a business to grow. That a business needs to be able to operate at the lowest level of talent possible and set processes makes this possible.

In a sense, this is true. If you’re building a fast-food restaurant, you want the most incompetent person to be able to easily complete the task. But what happens when you build a great team? What happens if the people on your team are all A-level players with their own motivations, thoughts, and goals? Isn’t it enough as a leader to just set the vision, then encourage and guide as needed? Processes would naturally form, but making them official guidelines seemed so limiting. Do you really need processes for the high performance team players?

Yes. You do.

It’s Personal

But it is personal. That’s what I didn’t get at first. I always looked at processes as impersonal. They were rules, guidelines, boundaries, and limitations. If anything, they often got in the way of serving my client or customer in a way that was effective for them. Last week I finished this podcast by Andy Stanley further digging into processes. And his argument was one of the most profound that I’ve heard regarding processes.

You see, good processes are actually very personal. They are personal to the customer. To the person on the other end of your customer service line, good processes show consistency. They give us guidelines to ensure that situations are handled the same way every time. They give us a framework with which to operate.

Take the example of a fire drill at a school. When parents entrust their kids to the school, the existence of a process becomes incredibly personal. Parents needs to know that there is a plan in case of an emergency. A well executed emergency plan helps ensure everyone stays safe and no one is forgotten. If there was no plan, there would be mass chaos when the fire alarm sounded.

But there is a plan. Everyone knows what to do. Everything is systematic and orderly. And everyone stays safe. Parents get their kids back safe at the end of the day. Now that is personal.

As marketers and creatives, we rarely (ok, never) work in settings where someone is physically at risk. Yet we work with companies and organizations who trust their brand to us. Many owners, operators, and managers have poured their heart and soul into their business and building their brand. As a result, they care about how they are treated, what they get, and how they are represented.

To these company owners the brand is personal. Having systems and processes in place to ensure things do not get missed or dropped is obviously a great part of customer service. It is also very personal to customers.

Evaluating Processes

But just because you have a process doesn’t mean it’s a good one. After all, your telephone or cable company has processes for their customer service. You’re probably thinking, “I HATE calling customer service for my cable company.” But the problem here isn’t that they have a process. It’s that they have a poor process. The never evaluate their processes. They don’t care. The process was put in place so it was just good enough to get by. Unfortunately, this is where most corporate processes live. They do just enough to get by.

This is why processes need evaluation. Process aren’t set-and-forget. They take work to refine. Chances are, there is always a better way to do something than the way you are doing it. Evaluation gives you the opportunity to change things. It gives your employees and volunteers a voice. These people are the ones who are in the trenches everyday, so they know how to do their job better than anyone else. Let them take part in the creation and evaluation of the system.

You also need to evaluate with the right metrics. Customer service lines are seen as an expense by companies, so they do everything they can to minimize that expense. In reality this should be an investment. It’s how they retain customers and drive customer loyalty. Rather than measuring customer happiness, they are purely looking at dollars and cents in the short term – missing opportunities in the long term.

If I look at the businesses where I’ve constantly had a positive experience – companies like Chick-fil-a, Disney World, Sweetwater, and many, many others – they are all based around systems that are constantly refined and evaluated. Each of these companies is a leader in their industry and for good reason. The experiences customers have with these brands are usually far better than the experiences customers have with their competitors. In the case of Disney World, it’s even described as magical.

Creativity and Process

thecreativeprocess

Which brings us to the final question: How can you capture this magic in your processes? How do you build magic into a system that is a bunch of forms and rules? In other words, how do we become predictable in our behavior but unpredictable in our creativity? We talked about this a little already in our post on building a creative process, but there’s certainly more to be said.

The magic comes when we go above and beyond. Getting your burger at a fast food restaurant isn’t magical. Nobody is impressed by that. But getting a burger and free fries – for no particular reason – is something that people talk about. Great customer service, in every industry is magical. Companies that go above and beyond what is in the contract, those are magical places.

You see, building an efficient process doesn’t take away the magic. It simply makes sure you get done all you’re supposed to get done so that you can then go above and beyond. It’s no good if you order a double cheeseburger and you get three burritos. Sure, the burritos might be worth more and even taste better, but if you were expecting a burger, you’re not going to be happy. Start by building a system that allows you to do the basics flawlessly, then build on that.

An Inside Look

chickenprocess

At Mack Web we are redoing our processes to help ensure that everyone gets what they ask for. Not only is this what clients expect, it’s also what we should be doing anyway. Once we’ve taken care of all the basics, then and only then can we go above and beyond to really impress our clients. Processes allow us to be predictable on our tasks but unpredictable in our creativity.

So what does this mean for you? First, make sure you have processes in place in your organization. Do you have systems that ensure nothing slips between the cracks? If not, start building them today. If you’re part of a business that has been around for a while, your systems may need an update. Are your systems in place just to do the bare minimum or do you have the flexibility to allow your team to delight your customers? At the very least, pose these questions to your team. If you don’t know the answers, they will.

Key Takeaways from the “Make Friends, not Followers” Hangout

By | Building Community | 2 Comments

candy-designFinding the right people for your community is like finding the pink Mike and Ikes in a sea of red, greens, yellows, and oranges. Unless you had a technologically advanced robot to sort the pinks out, there’s no easy way to do this. Same with finding just the right people for your community.

Building a community requires you to sort groups, test theories, and generally put in a lot of time and effort to find that perfect fit. And once you’ve done that, you have to start all over again so you’re constantly expanding your reach and finding people to help spread your message. If that sounds like a lot of hard work, it is. But the benefit for you is that you’ll know your audience better than anyone else. You’ll know what their interests are, where to connect with them, and how to talk with them. That’s invaluable.

A few weeks ago, we gathered 5 awesome community managers together to talk about building community and targeting the right people for that community.

 

If you don’t have time to watch the video, here are the key takeaways from the Hangout.

Key Takeaway: The conversations are taking place whether you’re there or not.

Sheena Medina, currently a digital strategy freelancer and formerly community manager for Fast Company and Live in the Grey, brought up this good point:

“There are conversations taking place whether your brand is going to be there or not. Look where conversations are already happening. See if you can insert yourself in a natural way that’s still relevant.”

The conversations with your community (especially when you’re building a brand-spanking-new community) are not going to be on your terms. They’re going to be on their terms. Show up where the community is – don’t make them come to you.

You need to put effort into finding those conversations and then interacting like a real-life human being. That means creating your own personal profile (while making known your affiliation with your brand/company) and start talking with the community. If you’ve put in the time and effort to being a good friend within a community, people are more likely to click on the content you share. Otherwise, you’re just back to broadcasting your brand or company, but just in a different online space.

Jennifer Sable Lopez from Moz added her two cents about this in our discussion:

“Social media does not equal community. It’s just one portion.”

The conversations may be happening on social media or they may be happening elsewhere. Don’t try to fit a round stone into a square spot – look outside of traditional social media for your community. Especially when you’re starting out – go to where your community lives and interact there.

It’s not enough to maintain your social media accounts and hope to build a community from that. Real-life community building requires targeting of theright people and focusing your efforts to interact with them.


Key Takeaway: Develop your outreach list all the time, not just when you launch.

During our discussion, Sara Lingafelter from Portent Interactive threw out this good point:

“Be building your list all the time, not just for launches. Partly, internally, this helps you think of your user more as a friend – you [start to] think about what their interests are rather than what you want them to do next. It’s an opportunity to think broader about the people you want to attract.”

Launches are great and all, but an under-developed community is not going to care as much about them as a hyper-developed community would. Your community building efforts are an all-the-time thing – not a launch-specific thing.

That way, once you have something to launch that the community can get excited about, your news will get a major boost and spread to the far corners of the Internet by your community. Your boss and others will love when your organic reach (not to mention better targeted reach) provides a better return than paid reach. It’s possible through community building.

Sheena summed up this great point about engaging your target audience:

“Engagement is a cycle, it’s not linear.”

When you build communities, you’re not going to go down the line and say to yourself “ok, now I’m going to talk to this person on Twitter, then this person, and that’s it.” It’s going to be more of a cycle where you may talk to that person on Twitter; then you see them in person at a meetup; and then you get their opinion on something via email.

Every potential community member has lots of touch points for a community manager to reach out to him or her. The best way to do that is to make sure you’re in all those places where your potential community members hang out in.

If you’re trying to reach a new community, start off by simply finding one person in that community and see where he or she leads you.


Key Takeaway: Talk to everyone, not just the influencers. 

Getting coverage from the heavy hitters of your industry is a great boost for traffic and for your self-esteem. But if you only focus on them, you’re forgetting about the foundation of your community (aka everyone else). People with a smaller reach are the ones who are going to end up being the real champions of your brand and company.

Jen drove that point home with this quote about the early work at Moz before they were a big deal:

 We talked to anyone and everyone – we didn’t only respond to people with a certain number of followers or who we thought were influential in the industry. We jumped into all the conversations and became a part of that.”

Mack Fogelson also brought up a similar point that you don’t have to necessarily focus on the big fish in the community:

“If you look for brands that are still hustling and still very much want to be part of the community, [it’s great to] partner with those brands, emulate what they do, and do things together. That authenticity goes a long way.”

By finding the right brand or company to partner with or even to simply ally with, you’ll have more success with building your community than if you just went after the top influencers in that field. It’s okay to go after the top influencers in an industry if you have good reason to, but don’t just do it because of the high traffic they could push your way. That boost in traffic won’t help you build a lasting online community. The goal you’re aiming for here is to build a long-term relationship that will help people come back to you over and over again.


Key Takeaway: Give something of value back to your community.

A community isn’t all about one person or one brand. It’s about the multiple people who make up the community.

A big part of building communities around your brand or company is to give users some sort of value from it. If they’re not getting anything out of the relationship, then they’ll leave before even getting too far into the community. Content is one way of giving them that value.

Cheri Percy from Distilled expounded on this point during the Hangout here:

“Tying community and content together is so important. It gives the users something of value and it gives you something to talk about.”

If you’re not intimately involved in the content creation process as a community manager, start this very week. Help your content creators by sending them tips of what to write about based on the community discussions or comments. On the reverse side, content creators should talk with you about the content they’re developing so you’re not in the dark. Other departments that may be operating in silos need to integrate with your community and social efforts to help you push forward in your company’s goals.

Think about it – if you can be in the know about what’s happening within your company, you’ll be better able to represent it to the community outside of your company.  After all, you’re helping your company as a whole, not just the social media department, accomplish its goals. It makes sense to get multiple staff members involved. Also, you’ll have more lead time on interacting with key people and building up different communities for your company if you know what’s going on.


Key Takeaway: Success indicators for a community will vary, but you’ll see your impact.

This is different for every brand and company. What might be a huge failure for one company in the community might be a great stat for a totally different community. So the number one rule is don’t compare your community to other communities.

Here’s what Elise Ramsay from Wistia had to say about her indicator for success when building communities:

“When people are talking to each other about video marketing and we’re not involved… [that’s an] awesome indicator of our community thriving. It’s cool to see that we provide the context for those conversations.”

Your indicator for success (especially when you’re starting out) might be having a conversation with a potential community member and getting them to check you out. Or a retweet on a piece of content you thought was awesome.


Last words of wisdom about community building.

I can’t say it better than how these wonderful community managers did so I’ll let their quotes take the stage here:

“Just start being a part of the community.” —Elise Ramsay


“Consistency is key. If you say you’re going to respond to every tweet about your brand, you respond to every tweet. And you don’t stop doing it when you get big. We get lots of responses on the blogs because we’ve essentially trained people to know we’ll respond to them.”  —Jennifer Sable Lopez


“We’re big fans of the personal delight – sending them free stuff and the like. These things will set your brand apart [from others].” —Cheri Percy


“I just give an analogy – if you’re showing up at open mic night, do you want to have an empty room and be singing to the bartender or do you want to be surrounded by your people, telling all their friends, amplifying your announcements, getting the word out about your show, and then talking about how awesome it is? It’s a step further because you built that community by sharing your values, being transparent about your brand, and telling your story. That’s what community management is about for me – it’s about bringing your people together and attracting your people so they’ll be your biggest fans.” —Sara Lingafelter


“Ultimately at the end of the day, people matter the most. The tools don’t matter – don’t let yourself get caught up in those things. The thing that really matters are the people that create a community. If you’re trying to create a community, set your sights on that and you won’t go wrong. You won’t be lead astray.” —Sheena Medina


If you’ve been inspired by this post, I’d highly recommend downloading our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities.

Building a community means showing up, talking to everyone you can find, giving members value, and deciding what you consider a success for your brand and company. Do that and you’ll be on your way to a strong and supportive online community.

Become a part of our strong, supportive community on Twitter – you won’t regret it!

Our Guide to Building Online Communities is Finally Here

By | Building Community, Creativity, Events, Online Community Building Videos | No Comments

The Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities is Here

We are proud and excited and overjoyed (and just a little bit exhausted) to finally reveal our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities to the world.

We worked really, really, really hard and firmly believe that this product of our blood, sweat, tears, and countless visits to the petting zoo is an enduring addition to the universe’s knowledge on effective and sustainable integrated web marketing. (Which is why we went ahead and called it the Truly Monumental Guide and not just Metaphorically or Figuratively Monumental).

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Make Friends with Other Communities

By | Building Community, Mack's Musings, Online Community Building Videos, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

Make Friends with Other Communities

Making friends is an important part of building community. When you go to meet-ups, conferences, and events and get to know the people who are doing great things, you not only get to be a part of what they’re doing, but you get to leverage their communities.

So be a friend, share the cookies, and sign up for our free community building guide.

(Only 4 more days until launch!)

 

Building Community is a Team Effort

By | Building Community, Online Community Building Videos, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

Building Community is a Team Effort

Building community is a team effort. No longer is marketing the sole job of one department, but great community building involves a variety of people – from the CEO to the intern. Trying to build community on your own is tough, so let your team help. We did our best to illustrate this for you and…well…it didn’t turn out quite like we had hoped!

 

Building Community Takes Personality

By | Building Community, Online Community Building Videos, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

Building Community Takes Personality

Building community is an important part of building your brand and your business. If you want your efforts to be successful, you’ve got to use your personality.

Even if you’re a company in a “boring” niche, your company still has a personality and it’s important to show it. Who does this well? Well, our friends over at Wistia (an epic video hosting solution) are a great example. They get everyone involved. We <3 them. Check it out!

Make Friends Not Followers: Targeting the Right People on Social Media Hangout

By | Building Community, Events, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

Thanks for joining Mack Web for our first live hangout! And a huge thank you to all of our panelists who contributed their experience and knowledge. We are truly honored for your community building wisdom.

In case you missed it, below is a recording of the entire hangout. There are tools and questions answered from the hangout listed below.

Special Thanks to our Panelists

We’re honored to have featured these panelists today:

Sheena Medina – @sheenamedina (also @CMmeetup)

Cheri Percy – @thedivinehammer (also @distilled)

Sara Lingafelter – @Saralingafelter (also @portent)

Jen Lopez – @jennita (also @moz)

Elise Ramsay – @eliseramsay (also @wistia)

And of course our own Mackenzie Fogelson – @mackfogelson (feel free also to reach out to @mackwebteam)

Key Tools Mentioned in the Hangout

Followerwonk

Klout

TrueSocialMetrics

Really Targeted Outreach

Measuring Community: KPIs and Social Media Metrics for Community

Free Online Community Building Guide

Questions From the Hangout

Here are some of the questions that were asked during the hangout. We’d love to hear more in the comments below:

  1. How does content fit into the community building portion of online marketing?
    For us (at Mack Web) content is community building. In other words, you will use all kinds of tools to build community (like SEO, social media, email marketing, PR, offline, etc) but you can’t do any of it without valuable content. Content is what starts the conversation and it’s also what is necessary for meaningful engagement.I’d also add that in order to be effective in your content and community building efforts that you have a strategy. Starting from your goals, not tools, will help get your efforts off on the right foot.
  2. How do you start a community for a client that’s in a very boring industry (let’s say heat pumps)?
    It has been our experience that you can build community really for anyone (even boring niche companies). We’d recommend starting from goals and developing a strategy that will help you to reach them. I’d also make sure that you have a common understanding of expectations. Things like: what everyone’s role is, how the process works,  how success will be measured. Community building is hard work and it takes a long time to gain traction (especially in boring niches). You just need to be consistent and do whatever it takes to reach the goals you’ve set. For more in-depth resources on the “how-to” of actually building a community, you can read More than you Ever Wanted to Know About Community Building and you can also sign up to receive our free community building guide which will be available on October 15th.
  3. Which platform should I use to get more people to know about my business Facebook page. I do not want to use ads.
    You can certainly use a variety of channels to drive traffic to Facebook that you don’t have to pay for. It just might take a little longer to get the traffic you’re anticipating. Certainly though you’ll have to to the work to build it.First, I’d recommend determining what people will get if they “like” your Facebook page presently as it is. Is there any value there? Is your page all full of self-promotion, or is there meaningful content that would attract the right customers and initiate engagement? That’s a great place to start. You’ll want to use valuable content (not just your own but other people’s quality content as well) to not only drive people to your page, but to keep them coming back. The type of content you feature on your page has everything to do with what you want to accomplish and who you’re wanting to attract to your community and your business. Again, I’d recommend instead of starting with the tools (Facebook), work from goals. What is it that you want to accomplish in your business (not just on Facebook)? This will help you determine a strategy that would include many other platforms and tools that you could use to build exposure and traffic to your Facebook page. And certainly, that strategy will include content. See #2 above for more on building community and how to get that started.
  4. What is the best way to handle a crisis on social media?
    It really depends on the crisis that is taking place as there are different approaches to handling things that arise on social media. I’d say that transparency and communication are key to any crisis that may arise. We actually have a blog post coming out in the next week about this exact topic (addressing many of the different crises that can happen on social media), so I will be sure to update this post as soon as it is out.
  5. What is the single most effective thing you’ve said to a stubborn organization who thinks talking about themselves is the answer?
    Show them some data. We track our client’s content and we have data that shows their self-promotional stuff doesn’t do as well as their more value/resource driven content that is meant to indirectly prove their expertise. I’d ask for 60-90 days to conduct an experiment. Test just your tweets. Do all self-promotional tweets all day long for several weeks and measure engagement indicators like shares, RT, conversations, etc. Then switch to a mix of both. We’ve had luck with the 80/20 ratio. The mix of self-promotion vs. more indirect value-driven is going to be different for every company so you really have to test what works best for you. What we’ve experienced is that it’s got to be a mix of both. And it’s not all about you.

 

Holding Steady at Six: Say Hello to Ayelet

By | Building Community, Events, Miscellany | 2 Comments

Contradictory emotions

Though we are sad to be bidding our beloved Julie Sutter a final (well…semi-final, partial, not-at-all definitive) farewell, we are beyond excited to introduce you to the newest member of the team.

Ayelet Golz comes to us from, well, the world. We consider her the planet’s gift to Mack Web Solutions, really.

Ayelet Golz - Social and Community Manager Extraordinaire

She’s done extensive marketing and community building work all over the globe and yet somehow we managed to lure her into our little Fort Collins net.

We assume that it was our passion for our work, our positively absurd amounts of charm, and the promise of unlimited gummy bears that did the trick.

Although, by happy chance, Ayelet also has managed to stumble into a work environment where her extensive collection of llama stories and ability to discuss the psychological and sociological effects of the coming zombie apocalypse would be properly appreciated.

Looking to the future

As you’ll learn in the coming weeks and months and years, Ayelet is a huge boon to the work of Mack Web Solutions. Her presence on the team means that we can dedicate all of her considerable brain power and experience and not-inconsiderable charm to just the building and tending of online communities.

(Which, if you hadn’t figured it out already, is pretty much our primary aim).

Turning over the care and feeding of the online communities to Ayelet frees up our strategist team to strategize and our production team to produce, while keeping a steady and confident hand on the community management helm.

So, pretty much a whole lot of winning going on there.

Already the perfect match

Even though Ayelet has only been with us a short time, we already know she’s going to fit right in.

How can we be so sure?

Well, we asked her, out of the blue, to write us a llama haiku (does that sentence sound Dr. Seuss-y to anyone else?).

And, off the top of her head and without asking a single question, she provided us with this little gem:

The llama lived up high
She gave kids rides and schlepped milk
Llama kicked up her feet

See? She’s definitely Mack Web People.

 

 

Measuring Community: KPIs and Social Media Metrics for Community Building

By | Building Community, Web Marketing | 6 Comments

Mack Web is  now Genuinely. Learn more.

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Community Building KPIs (How Do You Measure This Stuff?)

This is probably the question that we get asked more than anything else. Whenever we are speaking, talking to potential clients, or even refining our own internal processes the question of how to effectively measure community building efforts inevitably comes up.

The inherent challenge is that when you’re measuring community building efforts, you’re trying to measure things that are mostly intangible. Community building is fundamentally about relationships. How do you conduct a cost-benefit analysis on a relationship?

We don’t go up to a friend and say, “Well, it took me a cumulative sixty-eight hours of conversation, sixteen cups of coffee, and a birthday cake to go from being an acquaintance to a close friend (as defined by the discovery of common ground and the mutual exchange of confidences). However, I have derived 1.21 gigawatts of emotional satisfaction, three new friends, eight book recommendations, and three homemade dinners in return. Also, if I hadn’t been at your house eating one of those dinners, I would instead have been on the freeway during the thirteen car pile-up last month.”

It just doesn’t work like that.

So we can’t really measure relationships, however we can most certainly measure engagement. Engagement, especially positive engagement, can be a great indicator of relationships – their number, their depth, their add-on benefits. In short, measuring engagement is probably the closest you can get to measuring relationships. Which is why it won’t surprise you to know that the practical methods of measuring engagement are the focus of this post.

Here are the three key facts to keep in mind as you continue reading:

  1. Revenue purely from community building efforts is difficult (if not impossible) to measure directly.
  2. However, these efforts do have a huge impact on brand awareness and, ultimately, sales and conversions.
  3. Although we can’t measure revenue as directly, we can certainly see if what we are doing is working.

Make sense? If you’re skeptical, I understand. Just hang in there a minute, and I’ll do my best to explain how you prove your value when you can’t measure ROI.

This starts with a more in-depth look at just why traditional ROI metrics don’t really help you calculate the value of your community building efforts.

Traditional ROI Metrics

Traditional ROI metrics are the standards that your PPC team lives and dies by. You know, tracking each click-through and then assigning it a value to determine how the ad converts. But when applied to traditional social measures, they really don’t work. What you’ll find if you exclusively use these measurements is that your ROI is actually pretty small. You’ll get depressed and declare from the rooftops, “Community building doesn’t work!”

Einstein once said that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is a failure. Well, community building is like a fish – and there’s a whole big ocean to explore.

Imagine you had a PPC campaign that required you to write a new ad every single time it was displayed. That’s basically what many in the web marketing industry do with social. They try to use it like a direct-to-conversion PPC campaign, then they get frustrated and write off the entire platform when they don’t get the ROI they want.

Well, first off, social should never be managed like a PPC campaign. If you’ve been trying to get a clearly defined ROI using the traditional conversion metrics, you’ll (almost always) be disappointed. If you promise your clients that you’ll be able to directly track the value that you are adding via social, you’ll also be disappointed (and, more urgently, so will they).

It’s not that you can’t track success (you most certainly can), it’s that you need to understand what actually qualifies as success with social media. Because that success absolutely looks different than other marketing avenues.

Here’s what I mean by that: if you meet the web average on your SEO, social media, and other marketing efforts, the traffic to your site might look something like this.

CondutorReport

If you’re competing for marketing dollars head-to-head against SEO and paid search which contribute such significant portions of the traffic, you’re going to lose if you base your budget on simple conversion based ROI. Why would any manager in their right mind give you community building dollars when social media only generates about 2% of your traffic? But of course this is just one metric.

If you just look at this graph in isolation, you can see how social media can be viewed as a disappointment. Social takes a lot of time and effort and the tangible returns are difficult to spot.

Here’s the thing though. Community building is a long process, but the end result is worth it if you invest the resources to do it right. And you can prove that, if you shift your perspective just a little bit.

An Alternate ROI Metric: Customer Acquisition Cost

Of course if you’re running a business, you don’t want to spend your marketing budget on developing content and building community out of the kindness of your heart (if you do, that’s awesome, but you should maybe consider a different line of work, like professional philanthropy). Your content developers and community builders still need to show value for the work that you’ve been paying for.

One of our favorite metrics for tracking long term benefits of community building is a significantly reduced customer acquisition cost. As you begin building your community and investing in content, you not only drive some conversions, but you also begin to build your brand, brand equity, and recognition. The more familiar your name becomes, the less effort you have to make to attract individual customers. Moz itself has mentioned their customer acquisition cost as a major benefit of their community building and content creation campaigns.

Customer acquisition cost is simply how much it costs to acquire your customer. To find this, simply add up your marketing and sales budgets for a particular period of time (including all salaries and other overhead costs) and then divide this total by the number of customers you land during that time frame. We’ll talk about this in detail a little later, but if you’d these metrics are completely new and you’d like a basic introduction, well, try this article from Inc. Magazine.

Now we’ve all heard about Moz, but using community building and inbound marketing to reduce customer acquisition cost is not limited to the web marketing industry. The folks over at videocopilot.net have been building a community for years. They make software plugins for Adobe After Effects and other video programs, but they have been able to leverage content (specifically blogging and tutorials) to help build a foundational community and become a go-to resource for people who use After Effects. All their content is quality and they’ve been able to drive sales with very little traditional marketing. (in fact, according to a quick Google search, they are currently ranked one, two, and three for After Effects tutorials and that’s without any obvious PPC advertising or other paid measures).

By using their knowledge to build a community they’ve managed to attract After Effects users to their site. And, what a coincidence! The ideal customers for their actual paid products just happen to be…After Effects users. See how that works? They’ve carved out their own unique niche market using just content to build their community.

It’s not always that straightforward: often community builders will have to share the credit with a variety of other sources. But Video Copilot makes for an excellent example of how the technique works. This kind of success can be shared by community builders to demonstrate their value, even without a direct conversion ratio.

Customer acquisition cost is just one example of an alternate metric you can demonstrate. If you’re looking in the right place, there are many, many others.

There are three basic categories of metrics we’ll be discussing: social metrics, content based metrics, and ROI related metrics.

Social Metrics:

With social metrics, there are two basic things we’re measuring for: applause and engagement. These both manifest in different ways but overall, those are the goals.

Applause

This is the number of people who +1, Like, or Favorite a post. Applause is nice. It means that what we’ve shared as struck a chord with your audience. It’s a little bit of a vanity metric, especially since these are fairly passive and undemanding forms of recognition on the part of your audience, but it indicates that people are watching and enjoying. That you’re getting notice and attention. When you shift your success paradigm away from direct revenue and into brand recognition and awareness, notice and attention are…kind of important.

Engagement

Engagement can be measured in several different ways. Here are some of the most common:

Click-throughs – If you’re sharing links or photos, how many people actually even look at them? It’s probably fewer than you think. Two of the tools we use in house to measure click throughs (and to just promote content in general) are Buffer and Hootsuite. Bit.ly also offers some awesome measurement features, including some slick custom URL shorters.

Shares – If somebody shares what you’re doing, that means they care. At least a little. It also means that they think their audience finds it interesting. This is a tiny step beyond the applause metrics, since it demands not just viewing but actual effort on the part of the sharer.

Comments – Comments are a great way to measure engagement. If the point is to actually begin building relationships, comments are one of the best ways to do so. Good comments allow you to see the perspective that your audience brings to the content. What are their questions? What are their challenges? Any good conversation goes two ways; you want your content to start a conversation, not a monologue.

One of the tools we’ve been experimenting with for measuring these things is called (conveniently enough) TrueSocialMetrics. So far we’re impressed with the data, but the jury is still out.

Content Related Metrics

When we’re measuring the success of our content, we mostly want to know which pieces do people read/view/watch and what people are doing the reading/viewing/watching. For this type of information, our favorite and most valuable indicators are micro conversions and advanced segments.

MicroConversions

Using your available data, set up microconversions for key actions. These could be file downloads, watched videos, etc. To see more information and to dig in deeper with microconversions, check out Avinash’s blog. He does a great job breaking down site goal values in more detail.

Advanced Segments

One of the simplest yet most underutilized (at least in my experience) tools is just plain old Google Analytics. Google Analytics provides a monstrous amount of data and making the most of it is just a matter of figuring out how to use the filtering tools, like Advanced Segments.

If you want your community to exist on your own site, using segments to figure out the users to a specific part of the site (for example the /blog/ subfolder might be a good one to track) could be a great way to see returning visitors to your community building content, as opposed to your home page or even products pages. As Google Analytics becomes more user focused, we can also expect that we’ll have even more information to pull from these advanced segments.

This is a tool we use ourselves on the Mack Web blog. We created an advanced segment that pulls data only on those people who are visitors to the /blog/ page.

The natural instinct is to obsess over new visitors. ‘Hey, look how many more people think we’re awesome today than yesterday!’ And it’s true, new visitors are wonderful, but here’s the cold, hard facts: many of them just drop by for the moment, then are distracted by Facebook or Pinterest, never to be seen again.

So while it’s exciting to find out about new users, what we really want to know is how many people return. It is usually the returning visitors who actually are the ones involved in your community. They are the ones who read and comment on your blogs. They are the ones who share your stuff on social. And they are usually the ones that actually buy something.

Again, there are many more numbers to track to get the full picture, but these two are the ones we like the best.

ROI Related Metrics

I know, I know. I said this was the hardest to measure and I meant it. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t keep an eye out for them. The trick, as I demonstrated above with customer acquisition cost, is to shift your definition of success away from direct revenue and into other rubrics. Brand equity and direct conversion, which can, if calculated correctly, be assigned dollar values have their place here.

So, too, do microconversions. And here is a word of warning that before you dive into the Big List: a lot of these metrics can cross categories and contribute information to more than one kind of success. So…keep an open mind.

As Promised: The Definitive List of Metrics

Social Metrics

Followers

When someone visits your Twitter, Facebook, or G+ page, this is one of the first things that they see. Followers can indicate credibility and brand recognition. A brand with 100,000 followers is generally considered more trustworthy than a brand with 700 followers.

That said, you want your followers to be real. So don’t go to Fiverr and spend $10 on 1,000 followers. Those people won’t share your stuff, they won’t interact with you, and they most certainly won’t buy what you’re selling. It’s much better to build your online community with real people, not bots. It’s a double bonus if they are engaged followers.

We generally consider followers as a portion of the brand equity. How many real people are you reaching? Are they engaging with what you are doing?

Social Shares

Another easy-to-measure metric is social shares. In the olden days, before brands took over Twitter, individuals shared stuff because they thought it was interesting, unique, or neat. Nowadays many brands plaster things all over social media because they feel like they need something to share. They promote quantity over quality.

That said, sharing should not be completely devalued as a measure of your success. If your brand regularly produces great content, you can still gain the validation granted by others sharing your content.

(Helpful tip: Generally speaking, business-to-business companies see a lot of success with “helpful” content (topical blogs, whitepapers, etc.). Consumer focused brands tend to see a lot of traction with amazing, fascinating, or funny content).

Validation aside, social shares also help you understand what your customers respond to. At Mack Web, we consider this technically an applause metric, but it’s still more valuable than a simple like. With a share, someone is actually willing to pass on something you’ve created or said to their followers. That’s honestly quite the honor. If we had to choose between likes and shares, we’d pick shares every time.

Applause (+1s, Likes, Favorites)

That said, applause is nice. It helps boost your self esteem, and it even impacts how your posts show up on Facebook. It’s useful to measure, just to see what gets your followers’ attention. Generally speaking, self focused (or brand focused) posts tend to get far more likes than shares. If you’re talking about yourself all the time, people may “like” it, but they certainly won’t share it.

So take note of applause, but aim for shares.

Traffic to Site (from social channels in general)

Google Analytics has a handy little feature that allows you to measure the visits to your site by social network. We have this graph setup with a custom dashboard for all of our clients. As mentioned above, this number may not be much above 2% – as it is for the average – or it could climb to the 25% it is for the Mack Web blog.

When looking at traffic to the site, it can also be helpful to filter it by the landing page. We have a client that allows users to create their own content and then share it on social. If users follow that content back to its home in the archive on the site, it still registers as traffic from social. That muddies the waters on measuring the social traffic from our campaigns.

Once we started segmenting the data to figure out what landed on our conversion focused landing pages instead of the content archive, we were able figure out how effective our actual campaigns were compared to the hundreds and thousands of visits from random social content shares.

Click-Throughs (Site bios and shared links)

Click-through rates are incredibly important for the content that you share. If no one is clicking on the link to the content or checking out your bio or credentials, you likely aren’t exciting the interest of your followers. Sharing content helps give you credibility, but if no one is clicking the links, you aren’t adding much value beyond the proof that you exist.

The first thing we check when click through rates are low is the content itself. Is this the content your target audience wants to see? If not, then you should adjust. (Hopefully if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve created a set of audience personas to guide you, right?)

The second thing we look at is the post or tweet wording. Sometimes our titles and headlines are boring. If I wouldn’t want to click-through, why would anyone else?! So make sure you have great headlines.

Brand Mentions (with sentiment analysis)

If you have any kind of loyal followers, they will likely be talking about your brand. So be sure to listen. We use HootSuite to set up keyword searches for our brand. This allows us to get see what is being said about us out on the interwebs.

If you want to break down the details, count how many times your brand is mentioned over a month. Then divide each of those mentions into positive, negative, and neutral columns. This allows you to get a more objective view of how people are mentioning your brand.

Set goals to minimize the negative mentions and maximize the positive mentions. And when appropriate…

Brand Conversations

Join the conversation!!! Don’t just watch, but contribute. Have something to say. If there was a “you’re awesome” mention, respond with a “thank you”. If there are complaints and negativity, do your best to rectify the situation.

People like knowing that they’ve been heard. Again, you can quantitatively count the number of brand mentions, responses, and interactions. If you operate a support handle, you probably want to make it a company goal to minimize the tweets you get (as well as all other support calls) by fixing the product or issue. If you’re just responding to mentions, you may want more mentions as it brings additional brand recognition.

Content Related Metrics

Visits, Views, Pageviews, etc.

I’m not even going to talk about this one…except to repeat:

You should certainly be measuring the returning visits to your content pages. For Mack Web, this is our blog. Measuring returning visits helps you understand how many people routinely come back to read your stuff. To help, we use the Krux SMB plugin for WordPress that divides visitors up by new, regulars, occasionals, or fans. This helps us see which visitors return and which are new.

Image Pulled from the Krux SMB Data Platform

In Analytics, we also created a custom segment that just looks at the /blog/ page (where most of the relevant and fresh content resides). Using this segment we can take a look at the number of new visits and unique visits.


We find a difference of 418 people. That means that about 24% of our traffic came from people who have already been to our site (this confirms the Krux number above so we can verify our data).

Comments

Comments are one of our favorite ways to measure community on the Mack Web site. With comments, you bring the conversation to your own site, giving you awesome opportunities to have a huge amount of influence. The number of comments and interactions you have is a great way to gauge your thought leadership and influence.

Two things we suggest looking at are New Commenters and Repeat Commenters. This helps you understand if you have people who are continually returning to comment on your site or whether you are just leaving one time comment. There is a wonderful plugin developed by Yoast to help you track basic blog metrics. Unfortunately, it doesn’t track repeat commenters. If you know of a good way to do this easily, I’d love to hear it. Otherwise, it’s a matter of keeping track of the names you see over and over.

Beyond comments on your own blogs, you can also track YouTube, Facebook, and G+ comments. If people ask questions, be sure to get on and engage. Sure, allowing comments on these channels can set you up for criticism, but without any commenting, you’ll be sure to never build a solid community. There will always be haters. Ignore them.

RSS Subscribers

This is pretty straightforward: how many people are subscribed to your blog? These are people who aren’t just interested in something that you said, they’re interested in what you have to say. They’re interested in you.

Email Subscribers

Again, these are people who have given you permission to share stuff with them. Be sure to justify their faith in you: add value to their lives, don’t just send salesy messaging all the time.

User Influencers

On the strategic side of community building, it can be really helpful to understand who the key influencers are for your products. We use FollowerWonk for this.

ROI Related Metrics

Direct conversions

Almost all of you know how to calculate direct conversions. There are numerous ways to do it using Google Analytics. For a more in-depth understanding of tracking direct conversions and crediting social with conversions, we refer you the ever-informative Justin Cutroni.

The first step is setting up goals in Google Analytics. If you have an ecommerce, SaaS, or other direct purchase site, setting up analytics and tracking conversions should be easy. And you should certainly do it. Just don’t judge your community building efforts by this one metric alone.

Customer Acquisition Cost

We already mentioned this one above, but allow us to repeat it for the sake of clarity: the biggest (financial) advantage to building a community can be measured by customer acquisition cost. It’s a perspective shift from sales revenue, but it’s pretty easy to explain: if you have people willing to listen to what you say without having to buy their attention, you’re in great shape.

In order for the customer acquisition cost to be truly useful we must compare it to the average lifetime value of our customers. We can then compare how much it costs us to get a customer with how much we actually make from that customer.

To illustrate, look at these graphs:

Image Credit For Entrepreneurs

Both of these metrics are incredibly important for your business. This is quite simply another way of asking “are we going to be making money?”

In order to help you calculate these metrics, we created this handy little spreadsheet. It is pretty self explanatory, but we’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments.

Brand Equity

Brand equity is a measure of how much extra someone is willing to pay to get your branded product instead of an equivalent. Although the actual measurements and calculations are beyond the scope of this article (maybe we’ll cover it in a future article…after we figure it out), it is still something to consider.

We’ll take a simple example. Almost everyone I’ve met (except for my grandma) is willing to pay the extra ~$0.25 for a Coke versus the generic store brand. The store brand is cheaper, but people still choose Coke. That is brand equity.

To dig in a little deeper, start at the Wikipeida entry on brand equity. It gives a nice overview and links out to a variety of helpful sources. Calculating true brand equity is a complicated process that involves surveys, industry understanding, and extensive research that is beyond the scope of this course.

If you’re involved in a large national brand, chances are you have some brand valuation calculations. Talk to your marketing team to see if you can get a list of these valuations.

For all of us, household names or fledgling brands, community building should contribute to overall brand equity.

Micro Conversions

Within the ROI category, you can also measure microconversions. Based on averages and data extrapolation, we can determine an approximate value of several microconversion actions across the site. See Avinash’s blog for a more in depth breakdown.

The Measurement Obsession

It’s a great list, but here’s the sad but simple truth: for precisely the reasons listed above, community building is always going to be a hard sell. The traditional ways of measuring ROI do not adequately capture the benefit in a dollars-and-cents manner but traditional ROI remains the universally understood standard for any marketing efforts.

“Marketers are rapidly learning what works best for their brands and they look to remain nimble and move to adopt new opportunities,” said Bob Liodice, president and CEO of ANA, “Platforms offering the most tangible ROI will be favored by marketers moving forward. It is imperative for the industry to standardize measurement practices for digital, social and mobile markets.”

The problem is we instinctively assume that the most tangible is the most effective. This isn’t inherently true. Tangible makes us feel better. Tangible helps us predict a good ROI, but brand loyalty, relationships, and other key foundations of community are inherently intangible but almost incalculably invaluable. We can conduct surveys and look at indicators like all of those we’ve just listed, but as it stands, there is no perfect measure.

The metrics we’ve listed aren’t really new or groundbreaking. You’re probably already tracking some, if not all of them. The job of community builders is to educate our clients (or our bosses depending on if we’re in-house or an agency) and help shift the definition of success away from direct sales revenue and into the invaluable alternatives and intangibles.

What are your thoughts? How else do you measure the ROI on your social media and community building efforts?