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February 1, 2012

Online Community Health Index

by massmarotta
Heart Monitor

Lithium, a provider of social software, set out to standardized how to measure the overall health of an online community using what they call the, “Community Health Index.”

To cut through all the fluff, lead-ins and background, I’m going to give you the run-down of the contents of the paper Lithium published in December of 2011.

Lithium analyzed a decade’s worth of proprietary data that represents billions of actions, millions of members, and scores of online communities of varying types, sizes and ages. Based on that analysis, Lithium identified common set of characteristics that most accurately represent a healthy online community.

Those common characteristics are growth, usefulness, popularity, responsive, interactive and liveliness

Growth refers to an online community’s members. Depending on where you are in the community lifecycle (newly launched or mature), continuous membership, or registration count, is an indicator of good health.

Usefulness refers to an online community’s content. In support communities, members need to find answers or get their questions answered. In energizing communities, content attracts and engages members. In listening communities, it provides indispensible input about a company’s products and services.

Therefore, “a steady infusion of useful content is essential to the health of a community.” The metric used to measure content is normally the number of posts. However, volume does not necessarily indicate usefulness, so factor in page views as a secondary metric to gauge demand for that content.

Popularity refers to page views or eyes on content.

Responsiveness refers to the amount of time in minutes between the initial post and the first reply. Lithium’s research indicates an average response time of 1,000 minutes (~16 hours) or less is healthy. They also indicate an average of 50 posts per forum per week.

Interactive refers to the average number of responses a thread/topic would contain. This is all dependent on the size of the community, but four responses per thread indicate excellent health.

Liveliness refers to the distribution of posts across the community. Between five and ten posts per day in each community segment is considered healthy.

Again, these common set of characteristics are to standardize how overall online community health is measured. I’m sure you’re wondering why certain other characteristics aren’t part of the formula like conversion of lurkers to contributors, return visits etc. My guess is that these six characteristics were strong enough indicators of health and that most, if not all, community managers have readily access to these data points.

The full report can be downloaded here. I recommend a full read. There are quite a few other nuggets of gold in there.