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Community ROI: Search and you will find it

By Ted McEnroe, Director of Research and Training

Community ROI has been a popular topic here at TheCR since Rachel released her “ROI Model We Can All Love” in the State of Community Management 2016. If you need a refresher, it recognizes that a fundamental value of community in almost any use case is tied to the value of the answers in the community – either directly answered questions or answers surfaced in search. Calculate the number of answers, multiply by the value of an answer, and presto – you have an ROI to feed back into your community strategy.

Searcher photo

It’s out there…

Using the “value of an answer” approach significantly reduces the headaches of calculating ROI – but as I was looking at some data this week, I realized it does something else. It makes improving your community ROI much more approachable. And it ties it inextricably to search.

In most communities, members successfully search for answers about once per year. What would happen to your community ROI if it was once per month, instead?

I looked at the number of answers surfaced by search for a sampling of 40 communities who took part in the SOCM2016 survey, and examined it in two ways. First, I compared it to the number of direct answers to questions in the community, something we did in the SOCM2016 report as well. Then I also looked at the number of successful searches and compared it to the number of users in the community.

We found:

  • The number of answers delivered through search was 31 times as high as the number of direct answers to questions. Even removing a few large communities that especially thrived on search, the majority of communities served up between 5x and 20x as many answers through search on old discussions than they did through answers to new questions.
  • The number of searches done in communities typically ranged between 0.05 and 0.3 per member per month.

Focus on that second bullet for a moment. It means that in most communities, members successfully search for answers about once per year. It’s not like your members don’t know how to use search, either – Google processes more than 2 trillion searches annually from well over 1 billion users.  We’ll call that about 5 searches per day, per user.

So what would happen to your ROI of community if your members successfully searched once per month, instead? Or once a week? The research suggests it would turn a lot of communities with lower ROI into ROI powerhouses.

We rightly focus on getting members of the community to engage in the community. But creating a culture where the community is a go-to place to search for answers, not just ask questions, can accelerate your community success in new ways.

How do you start? Here are 6 ideas.

  1. Benchmark.  How much your members are relying on search now.
  2. Usability. Spend some time with search on your own. Can *you* find what you need? If you can’t, your members can’t either.
  3. Analytics. If you have search analytics, look at your most common search terms – how well do the results for these terms serve the member?
  4. Taxonomy. Look at your tagging, categorizing and other metadata. Are you being consistent and effective?
  5. Placement. Look at how search is displayed in your community. Does it have a place of prominence, or is it an afterthought?
  6. Feedback. Get member feedback. One way is to get a selection of members and ask them to find information – what’s their user experience?

Communities make knowledge transfer easier and more organic – but it only works when the knowledge is accessible in the first place. Search is a powerful, but still often neglected piece of turning knowledge – the currency of community – into financial ROI.

Learn more about TheCR Community ROI model and find out what other ways the best communities are advancing their management by downloading the State of Community Management 2016 today!

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