The best branded social communities will never be of the “set it and forget it” type. A community on a brand site is a living thing – requiring ongoing measurement and refinement to grow and remain successful.
Align social goals to existing business goals
Business goals for social communities should always match the existing goals for the site. Conversation for conversation’s sake is not a goal. Forget meaningless vanity metrics like fan and follower count. Instead, determine what you’d most like visitors to do, then measure your community’s impact on those metrics.
If a brand site intends to provide information to the community, judge social success by metrics like time on site, pageviews, visitor recency, and bounce rate. When selling through a site, measure success by commerce metrics like conversions, cart additions, and cart abandonment rate.
Always be testing
Once you’ve determined the most effective metrics for measuring social success, test whether social is truly driving these goals. One of the most effective ways to eliminate outside factors and solely test social impact is with an A/B test. A/B tests change just one variable on a page. For example, consider an A/B test for reviews on a product page. Some visitors are shown product pages with review content, and some visitors see no reviews. Test to determine whether the page with or without reviews performs better, and by how much. While you can’t prove causation, you can find correlations between social elements and page success.
For individual product pages, pre- and post-analysis can also find correlations. Determine whether a certain product showed higher sales before or after implementing social elements like community Q&A on the product page.
Year-over-year analysis is another indicator of correlation between social and success. For the same time period year-over-year, did your site attract more natural search traffic, keep visitors on site longer, etc. after integrating a social community?
Trend results over time
While an A/B test may most effectively gauge the impact of one social element, the results are merely a snapshot in time. Continue to track results over time to find the trends for success, then act on them.
For example, look for trends as your social volume increases over time. Does gathering 20 reviews on a product lead to a higher conversion rate than just 10 reviews? What about 50 reviews? How many reviews per product are needed to correlate with an increase in conversion? Launch post-purchase emails and campaigns to reach this number of reviews on every product.
Build and improve your participation chain
One of the most important tactics for a successful social community is never leaving consumers at a dead end. A “participation chain” is a series of logical steps to increase a customer’s engagement over time. Build a participation chain that keeps your customers contributing.
For example, say a customer buys a product. They’ve just engaged with your brand, so keep that momentum. Offer a one-click option to announce their purchase on social sites. Send them a post-purchase email shortly after delivery, asking for their feedback. Once they give feedback, present a few customer-written questions on the product that they may be able to answer. After every answer, give them more questions. Send them reports on their answers and feedback, letting them see how many other customers read their content or voted it helpful. Badge your most active customers as Top Contributors to keep them coming back.
And again, always be testing the chain. How long after receiving a purchase are customers most likely to respond to a call for feedback? And at what time of day? When is the best point in the buying process to ask a customer to announce their purchase on Facebook or Twitter? How many questions on an answer request page will drive the most contributions? Use this data to constantly strengthen your participation chain.
Your social community is like a garden – requiring constant tweaking and pruning to become more vibrant. Measure what works, kill what doesn’t, and watch it grow.