Business & Member Value – A Shared Purpose for Your Online Community

Business & Member Value – A Shared Purpose for Your Online Community

By Rob Oakes and Rita Wirth

What value do online communities bring to associations and their members? As association professionals, we primarily think in terms of member value. But how do we define value, which is business-oriented, such as revenue growth? And how to we make sure our efforts as community managers are aligned with our organization’s strategic objectives?

Online communities provide both intrinsic and extrinsic value to the association and its members. Intrinsic value is member or customer value. It’s the value that comes from the joy of sharing content, answering questions, and feeling connected with other professional in your industry. Giving or getting an answer to a question from an industry colleague or collaborating with an exclusive group of your industry peers is essential to promoting a feeling of engagement and wellbeing, and elevates the overall vibrancy of your online community.

At Association Management Center, we’ve seen how our association clients have utilized their online communities to deliver intrinsic value to their membership by:

  • Networking and resource sharing among special interest group members
  • Establishing an engaged community of mentors and mentees
  • Developing a strong pool of volunteers for the call for committees, and
  • Identifying subject matter experts for new educational content.

Extrinsic value can be described as business value, but what metrics should you track to define business value and make the case that your online community is generating revenue for your organization? This chart, which can be found on page four of a 2017 1 is an excellent illustration of the spectrum of metrics, which can be tracked in an online community from tactical to strategic.

Looking at the chart, you can see how, on the left-hand side, the tactical metrics demonstrate the intrinsic or qualitative value your online community is delivering to your members, such as having a positive experience, getting a question answered, and having a valuable network and resource center. On the right-hand side, the strategic metrics demonstrate the extrinsic or quantitative value, which your online community is delivering to your business, such as retention, sales, and revenue growth. Our goal is to align the tactical with the strategic, and find a shared purpose between the member objectives and the business objectives for your community.

So, what business metrics should an association be tracking for their online community? Higher Logic, an online community platform provider, defines seven to show the ROI of your association’s community:

  • New Member Acquisition
  • Member Retention
  • Event Registration & Attendance
  • Revenue
  • Member Satisfaction
  • Advocacy Growth & Volunteering, and
  • Program Innovation

These metrics suggest several interesting questions, which we pose to our association clients here at 911:

  • Are you utilizing your online community
    • to acquire a non-member audience for your organization, or are you solely focused on members
    • as a content curation channel for members and non-members
    • to build brand awareness for your association by offering ungated content, or groups open to non-members
    • to get feedback on current product offerings and discovering new product opportunities
    • to identify and cultivate new subject matter experts?
  • For members who are engaged in your community, do they
    • renew at a higher rate than members who are not engaged
    • register and attend the annual meeting at a higher rate
    • purchase more products?

The answers to these questions may very well indicate whether you have shared purpose between the member and business objectives. With a clear alignment between the two sets of objectives, you can help ensure that your effort to deliver an outstanding experience for your community members is also contributing a demonstrable positive impact to your organization’s bottom line. And the hard won vibrancy and wellbeing of your online community is directly tied to the strategic success of your association.


1. Leader Networks, "How to Measure the Business Impact of Your Online Community,” 2017, p. 4.

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