Does Social Work? Measuring Community Effectiveness

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Measurement Measures
These individual accounts make it painstakingly clear that there is no one-size-fits-all standard metric, nor even a golden rule, that will define community success. However, to help clients quantify effectiveness, software vendors are working to help.

Traction Software provides enterprise social software community platforms and information-sharing systems such as wikis for a diverse group of clients, including public school systems, nonprofits, and pharmaceutical firms. Content editing is among one of the more valued metrics among Traction Software's customer base, according to VP of marketing and business development, Jordan Frank. When one client-the pharmaceutical division of a Fortune 100 company-expressed interest in applying a Six Sigma approach in the use of its system, Traction created the intelligence-gathering process to work to ensure that everyone was contributing. "They can see who is editing a lot versus who is contributing a lot. You can see who is improving the space and not getting credit for it. You can also see who is moving the tags around and organizing the space," says Frank.

Lithium Technologies, Inc., a company that powers online communities for brands such as Best Buy, Playstation, and AT&T, however, has derived what it calls an open standard for online communities to more accurately gauge the communities' success from the members' perspectives. The Community Health Index was derived from a research database of metrics from more than 150 communities of varying types, sizes, and ages and is calculated using six key characteristics including members, content, traffic, liveliness, interaction, and responsiveness. This single representation, according to Lithium, can be deconstructed to help community managers take specific actions and measure the results.

In a white paper detailing the importance and relevance of all six indicators, the company cites responsiveness, interaction, and liveliness as less susceptible to the affects of community size. So in essence, the relationships, interactions, and camaraderie that exist among members is a sign of a healthy community poised for growth, regardless of the number of members, and they provide good measurements and
predictive indicators of community health. But is a healthy community enough? It's not likely if the goals and objectives of the organization are not being met, which in turn would make adoption of an open standard somewhat problematic. "Unfortunately, I don't think we will ever have universal metrics," says Foster. "Organizations build online communities for so many different reasons with different goals and different desired outcomes. We each need to measure what makes sense for our specific situation."

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