Many sites have a community section to facilitate conversations between your customers, with you, or even internal communication in your company. It may be a forum, wiki, or just comment section on your blog. They are messy—as direct unstructured human communications tends to be.

These sites are sometimes not tracked by your site analytics—often because trying to visualize tracking multiple different conversations seems overwhelming. Think of the largest forum type site, Reddit, with over 300,000 sub-categories and uncountable number of subject threads. Visualize trying to track something like that.

Ernie from Sesame Street. Caption: Mind Blown

But people do. Here’s a handy guide to some of the tools out there that track Reddit (if that’s your thing): Many of these are general tools, along with some that are a bit creepy in trying to track individuals.

But Reddit is a huge social site. Chances are, your community site is much more limited and focused. It can provide focused information on your products and use that you should be paying attention to.

Information Like:

  • How your product is being used (versus how you think it might be used)
  • Customer feedback
  • Crowd-sourced content
  • Customer profiles
  • How your branding is working
  • Driving traffic to your main site
  • Detecting upcoming issues of concern to your customers
  • Getting feedback on marketing campaigns

If you do not have analytics in place you do not know if the information and traffic in this communication channel is valid. You could have a thousand dedicated customers who are strong advocates for your products passing important information. Or your entire conversation traffic could be these two guys - Statler and Waldorf.

Statler and Waldorf

A word of caution. Analytics are great but you should have someone actually reading the site. A company I know of forbids their employees from reading their own community site in the fear that they would be negatively influenced by potential trolls. Analytics give you a reality check that the community site reflects your actual customer community. It can also create trigger levels to see if something is happening in the conversations that you should go look at.

What's good to track?

Unique Users
Content is critical. But if you have a high-traffic active site do not get too granular trying to track all content. Scale analytics to match being able to see key trends without being buried in too much detail. See Analytics - Track Everything! Not.

  • New posts: Are users creating new content or is your site a historical artifact?
  • Most active sections: Where are your users having conversations?
  • Active users per section—still watching for those trolls but now on a section level.
  • Activity per top users: Having strong involved users is good. Unless they are Statler and Waldorf.

How many real users you have is critical to understanding if you site is effective.

  • Users vs. active accounts: Having 2 users and 100 active accounts is bad—you’ve been infected with trolls.
  • External vs. internal users: Are you talking to customers or yourself?
  • Activity per user: How involved are your users and how should you set the baseline for the next item?
  • Top 10 thread activity: Look for rapidly trending topics but stay away from long-tail “all topics” reports. Consider setting a threshold level to get an alert if a thread activity spikes.

Site Activity
Regular analytics metrics let you see if your conversations are static, growing, or shrinking.

  • Standard measures like page views, visits, etc.: Dashboard level is better as page/URL level can vary much more than non-dynamic sites.
  • Traffic sources: Your threads can spread to other sites so watch for spikes in referrers that you may want to take advantage of or use to do damage control.
  • New vs. returning users: Another spread/viral metric where a spike can indicate something you should pay attention to.
Kermit the frog with his bango

As with any analytics implementation, go through the process of determining what the forum is for (site objectives) and what KPIs are important. There was a reason you wanted a forum/wiki/community and analytics are an important part of determining if that is working and improving what you have. It is also a useful monitoring tool to react to feedback and to identify adverse users.

Tracking online forums can be tricky (and downright troublesome), but if you focus on what’s important, and how to measure it, you’ll be as happy as a frog in a swamp. With a banjo.

(Disclaimer: Muppet references for parody purposes only. We rarely have significant KPIs related to stuffed characters, except after a heavy lunch.)

Curtis Smith is a Senior Technical Analyst with 6D Global.