I picked up Market-based Management by Dr. Roger Best (see my reading list), a textbook of the "traditional" approach to customer-centric marketing. I'm looking into the ideas on how companies look at customer focus, satisfaction, loyalty, and retention. The processes are probably very different but online communities of all forms also face some of these same issues and the existing ideas and metrics may give insight into similar metrics from the community view.
There are some very different views here though:
- product markets are much more well-defined and often well tracked by industry watchers, analysts and support organizations, and therefore may have access to industry-wide data/metrics
- a product market can be easily measured in a fairly universal way in terms of dollars (or other currency denominations), whereas communities don't necessarily have purchase transactions or a common currency system
- community value and contributions are by definition more subjective according to the perceived value by the community at that point in time.
- communities tend to start off much more lightweight and sometimes may even prefer to stay that way, versus the goal of most product markets is to grow (revenue, marketshare, customers or other quantifiable items)
Still there are many parallel concepts that can be borrowed. A few of the many examples:
- customer "terrorists" - as this book describes it, where current or former customers who are dissatisfied with the product can turn against the producer. This parallel exists directly in most communities.
- customer loyalty - one measure of community success is through developing a loyal following, whatever that process and metric may be. This concept is broken down into customer satisfaction, customer retention, and customer recommendation, all of which are also important to a community.
Beyond just the basic measurement of each community, there are the issues of measuring the effectiveness of your community program itself. The parallel is measuring the effectiveness of the marketing program or strategy separately of the end-results driven. This means understanding market share, awareness, availability, etc.
The reality is that even with the decades of having online communities we really have not reached a significant level of sophistication in measuring online communities. Perhaps things needed to happen to emphasize that such as the rise of social software and Web 2.0, the acknowledgment of the long-tail phenomenon, the improvement of web metrics collection tools, and the effects of influencers online.
I see this as something entirely different than the success of the online ad marketing, which everyone can see is a multi-billion dollar opportunity. With online ads, some of the traditional ideas and methods still work, and even some of the traditional metrics may apply. However, a community, where the value comes from the knowledge economy, is likely quite different than a currency-based economy.
With growing interest in online communities as basis of support for real-world products and offerings, business & technology development, market reach and awareness, I think this is a large field waiting to be explored.