5 Ways to Prove the ROI of Your Online Community

We recently shared the four most common challenges that 135 insight leaders faced with their online communities. Of those four, one of the trickiest ones our interviewees mentioned was measuring impact. So how do you go about tackling this, and prove the ROI of your community?

C Space

July 10, 2018

At the center of every successful project are good habits. When it comes to online communities, you need a select set of habits in order to enhance the rigor of your research, and ultimately prove the ROI to your internal stakeholders. They’re the ones constantly seeking impact, expecting it come at them like a ‘Eureka!‘ moment. If you start with these good habits from the onset of your research, then Eureka doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from someone well equipped to land impact, and create long-lasting change in their business (that’s you.)

But how do you land that impact? The three word solve: Build impact habits. The longer solve is below…

1) Define the community’s strategic purpose

You can’t measure your online community’s success unless you define its purpose. What is the strategic reason for its existence? This could be increasing NPS via improving customer experience; informing expansion into a new market; or plugging insight into product development to drive increased market share. Specificity is the key here. So try to avoid generic purposes like ‘enhanced customer centricity’, unless you have some measures beneath to give you substance.

A clear purpose “gives you permission to say ‘no’ to the wrong kinds of briefs. Prioritize the briefs that will have the most impact.” – Senior Strategic Insight Manager, Financial Services brand

2) Plan impact-tracking from the start

Imagine you’re setting up an online community for the first time in your business. It’s an exciting route to your customer that your brand hasn’t had before, and department stakeholders are clamoring at your door. In this rosy picture, you might not be under immediate pressure to qualify or quantify the impact and ROI of the community. But eventually, you will be.

The overwhelming advice from interviewees was to start planning how you will track impact right from kickoff. It’s easier to track impact stories and stats as you go along, as part of an organized plan, than to leave it to the end of the year. Believe us, we’ve been there.

3) Simplify complexity for better feedback

Agencies and insight departments have thrived on their ability to simplify complexity and make questionnaires engaging. Do the same when you’re looking for regular stakeholder feedback. One interviewee has a very simple method of measuring the efficacy of every piece of insight work. At the end of every project, stakeholders who commissioned or requested the work must answer three questions:

  1. Do you feel you better understand our audience as a result of this research?
  2. Did this research help you make a business decision?
  3. If you invested your own budget in this research, do you feel you got value for money?

That’s it. Over time, it helps them quantify perceived stakeholder impact.

We designed three questions around a simple view of what role ‘insight’ should play: better understanding of the customer, better decision making, delivered in a cost-effective fashion.” – Head of Research and Insight, Travel brand

4) Resist the temptation to promote the community on cost-saving alone

It’s true that many of our interviewees had calculated impressive aggregated cost-savings via online communities compared to traditional qualitative research approaches. However, if you see the community as ‘cheap insight’ you run the risk of devaluing it in your business. If you want the community to be able to help your insight department play a strategic (and not just reactive) role, don’t promote it purely on cost.

Cost savings can be and are an important benefit. But it won’t always lead to business change. A more nuanced message is to quantify “both the positive value and impact it has helped you create, not just the money it has saved you” – Head of Segmentation Research & Insights, Technology brand

5) Turn insights into an internal agency

When customer insights operate apart from the rest of the business, it creates a disconnect. A former VP at a global tech company found a unique solution: turn insights into a consulting agency. He combined customer experience, research, insights and data analytics into one integrated service, designed to make insights & data about IT buyers more accessible to every ‘client.’ And his clients aren’t external. They’re the internal departments of his company – sales, R&D and marketing.

Team members serve as consultants; trained to look at data, synthesize it and find the insights that matter. Since consultants can’t be everywhere all the time, the team built a self-service platform that employees can access for insights, content and research.

Building an internal agency isn’t without its challenges. One of the biggest, he says, is conditioning your company and your clients to think of you differently. “You’re not a go-fetch, desk-side research firm” he asserts. “You are an agency.”


Doing all of the above can help land impact with your business, but this is only a small excerpt of a wider best practice guide to online communities. If you want to know how else you can ensure insight leads to business change, download the full version of Customer Inside here.

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