How Online Community Managers and Developers Align

The recent CMX survey gives us food for thought.

Community professionals’ network CMX surveyed community managers last year asking them if community was critical to their company’s mission. We surveyed developers asking why they think it’s important for a software vendor to provide an online community.

Turns out, we’ve got some alignment.

Of 800 developers, 84% agree or strongly agree that vendors should provide an online community.

Of 533 community managers, 88% agree or strongly agree that their community is important to their company’s success.

There is a caveat to this comparison. Only 12% of the community managers CMX surveyed said the primary reason they host a community is for developers (another 43% list the more generic “customers”). But a developer community is the second-most common reason they gave for hosting a community, and the only one that references a specific job.

The Difficulty of Proving Value  

The other aspect of the survey that I find so interesting is that community managers are frustrated by their difficulty in proving the value of their communities. We hear you. And we hear you even more.

The top frustrations community managers revealed in the CMX survey:

  • It’s difficult to consistently engage members – 55%
  • It’s hard to quantify the value of the community – 44%
  • Our efforts are largely manual and not automated – 40%
  • We don’t have enough staff – 40%
  • We don’t have the right tools and technology – 18%

The two bullets that stand out to me are the issue of quantifying value and the problem of finding ways to automate efforts.

Automating Engagement

One way to engage members in a developer community is to offer gamification – rewards and badges for providing correct answers, or asking questions that others are interested in. But that’s hard to do without automation. As we wrote about in this post, “determining reputation scores, awarding badges, and identifying users who deserve increased permissions should not be a tedious job. Your developer community needs automation components that manage these processes or alerts to take action.

Automated reputation score calculations are particularly helpful as they reward community participants who provide relevant and accurate answers to questions. Their solutions and responses will automatically rise to the top of the answer thread, inspiring others to achieve similar status within the community.”

Another way to take some of the manual drudgery out of managing a community is to employ automated expert identification. If you are using a Q&A format, the members who do the best job of answering questions (via votes from you or other users) have their answers naturally rise to the top of Q&A search.

Digging into the “Quantifying Value” Quandary

One thing I found interesting is that community members have latched on to monthly active users as a key metric (57% rate it as the No. 1 metric). That’s a good thing because relying on metrics like time-on-site can be a sign of a disorganized community – especially as it relates to serving developers.

“You want people to get on the site, find what they’re looking for and move on with their day,’’ explains Jesse Davis, our chief technologist and an instrumental architect of the AnswerHub community solution. “High time-on-page can actually mean they are struggling to get the answer they are looking for.’’

For developer communities in particular, a metric you could track with certainty is case deflection. Case in point, Dynatrace Forums.

Software intelligence company Dynatrace wanted a scalable approach to help its users – they wanted a welcoming community where people could feel comfortable posting any kind of question and knew they could quickly find reliability answers.

Initially, the metric goal was cost savings – something that was achieved. “In the first two years, the number of support tickets decreased by 10%. People saw that they could get answers more quickly. And they simply liked the networking part of the community,” says Karolina Linda.

The community’s manager, Karolina Linda, also wanted to identify influencers and potential conference speakers.

I think one interesting part of measuring a reduction in support tickets is that it took care of an ROI-based need, but also enhanced a softer one – the networking.

“When we first launched these communities, we were focused on cost savings and case deflection. Now that the community has become more self-sufficient, we can focus on getting better customer feedback and building strong relationships with our users.’’

CMX’s survey is done yearly and we’re doing the same thing. Our 2nd annual State of the Developer survey is open through February 15th. Please take it. And if you are a community manager, check out the great work CMX is doing.