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August 30, 2011

5 Online Community Benchmarking Metrics

by massmarotta
Bar Graph

How many monthly unique visitors should I expect? How many registered members should I have after the first year?  What percent of unique visitors convert to members? How many website visitors also visit community? What percent of registered members are active? These are the questions many, if not all, community managers struggle with when establishing success metrics for their online communities. Whether it’s an about-to-launch or a veteran community, you’ll want to know how you stack up against your peers. Are you on par? Will you fall short? Or are you absolutely killing it by exceeding the benchmarks?

I had a chance to take a dive into Forrester’s “Community Benchmarking Metrics.” Although I am unable to re-post the report [for legal reasons ya know, I have to cover my butt], I can speak to some of its findings and draw conclusions based on my own experience of managing online communities.

Some level-setting notes: The sample population is made up of 33 branded communities, majority of which are in the technology industry.

How many unique visitors should an online community receive?

An online community is expected to receive anywhere from 10,000 – 1 million unique monthly visitors. I know what you’re thinking, completely useless right? Yes and no.  The research indicates the range of responses are too broad to define the benchmark, but does provide a mathematical average of 100,001 – 250,000 monthly unique visitors. A lofty number indeed, but at least it’s a guide post for you to work towards.

How many registered members does an online community have after the first year?

The average number of registered members for an online community after the first year is 100,000 – 500,000. Don’t let this number discourage you. Remember, this is just an average, more than half of those surveyed fell well below this range.

What percent of unique visitors to online communities convert to members?

The percent of unique visitors to online communities that convert to members is 5% according to the survey. Again, this is the mathematical average. Communities that responded reported conversion rates as low as 1% all the way up to 50%. Did I say 50%? Man, that is a crazy-high conversion rate!

How many unique visitors to the main website will also visit community?

The percent of unique visitors to your main website that will also visit your community is about 10%. I think if you’re in the range of 8-12%, you’re benchmarking pretty well.

How many registered members are active?

If you’re familiar with the 90-9-1 rule (90% of community members are lurkers, 9% are active, 1% are power-users), the research shows that the rule still applies to some degree. Based on my own observations of the online community space, I believe there has been a slight shift and is trending more to the ratio of 80-15-5 (80% are lurkers, 15% are active, 5% are power-users).

You may be thinking that these metrics are unattainable. And I would agree with you. But that doesn’t mean your community is a failure or setting up to fail. Use these benchmarks as a guide, and only as a guide. It will never be an apples-to-apples comparison when you look at other community successes.

I didn’t cover every metric captured in the report. If you have questions on some of my findings or interest in metrics not covered in this write-up, feel free to leave a comment or reach me by email. So, how does your online community stack up?