- How do I start and grow a sustainable online community?
- How do I keep engagement high on my platform?
- What does success look like and how do we measure it?
These are key questions we at Open Social are asked over and over. Why do some communities succeed where others fail? To answer these questions we have created a model that can be applied to any online community. We call it the ‘Community Experience Pyramid’. See the pyramid model below, including example metrics and how this model can bring success to your community.
Our goal is to create a unifying framework for understanding community experiences and use it to create supporting technologies and innovations here at Open Social. As a ‘model’ is by definition a simplification of reality, it might not match your community platform or use case 100%, but large elements should. With data, experience and feedback we will keep refining this model. So see this as version 1.0.
The 7 Levels of Member Engagement
It is easy to think that there are uniform metrics for measuring member engagement throughout a community. Perhaps the rate of user-generated content, or likes, mentions and comments. But to measure engagement across your organization it’s important to consider that different types of members engage on different levels – often depending on their stage in an overall member journey.
Some engagement is superficial and some is deep – we shouldn’t expect everyone to have the same degree of interest in our mission at the same time. When we start engaging each member according to their specific level of community engagement we can build more nuanced and comprehensive (and ultimately effective) community strategies.
Read more about each level of member engagement below:
0. Total Addressable Community Opportunity
So, why zero? Well, this is the group of people you want to build your community from, however you are not engaged with them in any way yet. They are not visiting your platforms or pages yet and are thus not counted or tracked in any way. Still it is important to define how large this segment is and how you will reach this audience. It’s the input when kick-starting a community and a sanity check for your expected growth of the platform.
These visitors are showing up on your website, social media pages and public part of your community platform, but you don’t have any personal information on them yet. They are passively consuming your information and thus a first connection is made between you and them. Consuming is still an investment people are making, but it’s all done without large friction and thus does not result in very strong connections. Facebook is excellent in this segment, people consume information on their timeline (as well as lots of advertising) and that is what the platform is all about. For mission-driven organizations and communities truly collaborating towards a common goal, this is not community building though, and we want stronger and more personal connections to be made.
With the big social media in mind, following is often just a click on a button away. The user is aware they will receive more information, either on their timeline or through notifications such as e-mail and that is giving up their anonymity doing so (well, that is debatable maybe ;).
Following can be anything from getting information on a news feed, signing up for an event or newsletter or subscribing to an owned community (by making an account). This is a small step with a large impact, as you can now learn more about the person and start tailoring your messages towards them.
Sharing information about the community or specific topics will happen from this level upwards. It is such a crucial step in the journey and for your platform that it deserves it’s own segment on our Community Experience Pyramid.
The fastest way to make an impact, spread your message and grow your community is by having your members endorse the platform. With the global pandemic still ongoing we are by now all aware what happens if 1 person shares something with 1 other person: 1 – 2 – 4 – 8 – 16 – 32 – 64 – 128 – it’s exponential growth! It’s what makes public social media platforms so successful – but unfortunately also so toxic. Luckily our purpose-built community platform balances sharing while keeping the quality of the engagement as a success factor, not just any engagement. .
We are not asking for a huge investment of time and effort from our community members when endorsing our content and community, many endorsements are done on impulse. However, the person’s needs to have enough trust in the community to open their network up to spread the message. When done right, this is the foundation for success.
When running a community as leader, we often expect all community members to be on the same level. But going through the Pyramid levels takes time and commitment. Unless you are already very committed to the mission of the community, you will not start your own group or organize an event. It is not likely you will do this in your early days as a community member. After following and endorsing the community, you are ready for the next steps though. How about joining that online meetup that is taking place, writing your comments under a post or replying in a Q&A thread? You are making yourself known and start to shape the conversations that are taking place. Well done, you have found a new home!
After the first steps of participating and shaping you will have more trust in the ins and outs of the community members, understand the culture and how you can contribute to the mission by creating your own content. A new post with an image or video perhaps, that blog you want to share your ideas in or maybe participate in one of the challenges that the community has set up for you.
Producing high-quality content is often done by the organizations owning platforms, but success comes from user-generated content. The more creators find a home on your platform, the more people will be attracted and involved in your community. It’s the perfect flywheel and all Creators should be cherished, recognized and rewarded.
An interesting level is where you as the community owners are giving up a little control as the community starts self-organizing more. Starting with perhaps event organizers, the next step is people managing their own groups. As gatekeepers and moderators they own part of the discussions, content and culture. Giving them the right insights and tools is crucial for making them perform their role well.
On this level the investment in time and effort spent by these members makes them true ambassadors for your online community and you will want to engage in a personal way with them to keep them happy and make sure they feel part of the vision and roadmap of the community.
While leaders are often working at our client’s organizations or companies and whether involved in creating the platform or hired specifically as community managers, Leaders can also emerge from the community itself. They might be almost indistinguishable from people on the payroll for most community members and can take on moderating roles on the platform with access across groups. Leaders will optimize the entire community experience and keep working to align the community with the core mission it is set up to fulfill.
At Open Social, we will use the Community Experience Pyramid to:
- Match common goals of our mission-driven community types (Practice, Action, and Circumstance).
- Act as a unified model, instead of using multiple models that add too much complexity.
- Explain what engagement could look like in a way that is easy to understand by people with diverse backgrounds (experienced vs. starters, tech vs. non-tech, etc.).
- Start testing with data that we gather through our new product analytics and do further research on its validity.
- As a model that can serve as a basis for innovations in areas such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Background and context of this model
Over the years working with many clients and platforms, one of the models we especially liked working with was the Pyramid model of MobLab (then part of Greenpeace, now separated). This modified work is an adaptation from Gideon Rosenblatt that he licensed under Creative Commons.
“At Groundwire, we used a framework for mapping different levels of engagement called an ‘Engagement Pyramid’. This framework builds on ideas from the fields of community organizing, relationship marketing and fundraising.
The vertical dimension of the Pyramid represents the intensity of engagement, with low level, lightweight engagement at the bottom and high intensity, deep engagement at the top. Its horizontal dimension represents the number of people involved. Combine the two and you get a pyramid with lots of mildly engaged people at the base and a small number of deeply engaged people at the top.”
The thing that we like most about the model is that it thinks of the entire community journey, starting off-platform. When someone visits your Facebook page, they are consuming the information of your community. But they are not part of it yet. In order to become followers (by following your Facebook page, signing up for an event or newsletter, or creating a community account) they need to make an investment. We need to understand this entire journey from bottom to top (and sometime back again) to create the perfect messages, remove ‘follow friction’ and guidance for new members.
Also note that renowned community experts such as Richard Millington of FeverBee are using member’s current level of participation as a basis for segmentation, and David Spinks introduced the Community Commitment Curve as a framework to create a member journey based on their current commitment or participation.
Combining these various ideas, we created our own ‘Community Experience Pyramid’ (CEP).
Examples of actions and engagement metrics:
Level 7: Leaders
- # Community Managers
- # Community Leaders
Level 6: (co-)Owners
- # Lead volunteers
- # Creating Groups; Group Managers
- # Event organizers
Level 5: Creators
- # Content creators; (Topics, Discussions, Ideas/Challenges, Posts)
- # Participating in Challenges
Level 4: Participants
- # Participating in (online) Events
- # Joining Groups
- # People Commenting
Level 3: Endorsers
- # People sharing content
Level 2: Followers
- # Owned community signups
- # Public event signups
- # Social media followers
- # Email subscribers
Level 1: Consumers
- Website traffic (page views & unique visitors)
- Public community platform traffic
- Social media impressions
- Media impressions
In the time to come we will talk more about the model and start doing additional validation based on data gathered and if necessary improve the model where we see fit. We would love to get your feedback on our work and talk to you about the challenges you face in your online community.
The Community Experience Pyramid model is #MadetoShare under Creative Commons licence!