Introducing Numbers To The Community – Part 3: Data Is The New Currency

Welcome to the third and final article in the series: “Introducing Numbers to the Community”.

So far we have introduced the idea that data should be based on your specific community goals and themes (part 1). After that, it’s helpful to bring the data together and look at it across all social media and in context – understanding that not all decreases are bad. Comparing “like” data, such as July 2011 to July 2010, is crucial because so much of what we do as people is based on patterns (Part 2). Finally, it’s important to look at data collection as a long-term investment because then you’ll get the most out of your data and – dare we say it – be one step ahead.

By now, you might have a nice spreadsheet of data. The data collection is on a consistent schedule and you’re starting to see patterns. Now let’s use the data to grow your community.

7. Data is the New Currency

The recent privacy debates, the growth of big data and the YouTube videos about which companies are tracking your information, all point to one thing: data is the new currency. In years to come, people will start to demand more for their data as companies reap the financial benefits. People will want a form of payback for that data like specials in the grocery store, exclusive discounts and perks.

So how can you “pay back” your community members for all the data you’re collecting? Consider this fun example from KLM – this airline really understands how to leverage social media data and how to make their customers feel special. KLM noticed several customer trends: their passengers were checking in on FourSquare at the KLM lounge, tweeting about their upcoming flight and updating their trip status on Facebook. In a spark of customer service brilliance, the company recognized an opportunity and started looking for tweets and check-ins where they could surprise the passenger with a pre-flight present. (Check out this video for more on their strategy.)

You can do the same with your community. Look at the busy times and the metrics on replies. Who are your superstars? What do they talk about and can you use that data to show how important they are to your community? When is the best time to do a giveaway? A lot of community managers are doing this intuitively, but data can help you identify times when you can make the most impact or reward a helpful contributor. Another idea is a personalized follow-up email immediately after sign up, which has been shown to boost retention rates and contributions.

8. Tricks to Looking at Data

Data can be overwhelming, particularly when you’ve been collecting metrics for a few months and the rows in your database are starting to build up. Here are some tricks of the trade, which I’ve learned after looking through countless data sets and going over multiple research databases in the past 10 years. These are largely based on data in an Excel spreadsheet, but can also work if you’re using Google Docs or another program—the principals hold for most databases.

  • Focus on one metric, like the number of comments, and look at how that moves each week. Does it mostly rise, stay flat, or does it fluctuate? Once you find a trend that needs attention, look at other metrics that could be linked. The idea is that looking at a mass of data is too much—focusing on one line at a time makes it easier to filter out the noise and understand what’s happening. When you’re comfortable with the story behind that one metric, you can move on to another metric.
  • Highlight stuff, make comments, jot down notes. You’d be surprised how many times a discovery is made only to be forgotten the next week. A few notes or a comment will save you time as you revisit trends and behaviors in the data.
  • Write down a short list of goals that you want to understand in your data. It can be easy to get caught up in cross-referencing data, doing tables, looking at charts and finding trends. So much so that people can become debilitated by the data and not make any useful findings. Make a short list of things you want to understand from your data, like the busiest time of the day for comments or what the top contributors to your community have in common.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. No matter what happens or how deep you get in data, just remember there will be little hiccups, decreases and changes that you weren’t expecting. Don’t forget to put the data in context and look for the big ticket trends over the small little bumps.

9. Why A Little Data Investment Now Will Help Community Managers for Years to Come

The truth of our data economy is that there won’t be enough analysts, numbers people and statisticians to fill all the jobs. McKinsey (2011) reports that there will be a shortage of 190,000 data analysts by 2018. And the bulk of the statisticians and analysts available will be scooped up by companies like eBay, WalMart and other corporate giants.

The good news is that a little data awareness can go a long way—particularly when you don’t have a statistician handy. The first few data collection periods will probably seem a little foreign, but the more you update and play with the data, the more comfortable you’ll be. Remember, you don’t need crazy algorithms to make an impact. Start small, look for something obvious and go with that. Pretty soon you’ll be confident enough to look for deeper insights.

After that, your community will have hopefully grown and you’ll probably be able afford a statistician to do funky formulas and build on your excellent foundation of data.


Start small, start easy and go from there. Good luck, and if you have any data-related questions, feel free to catch me on Twitter or head to my page.

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About the author

Chris Dowsett

Chris Dowsett (or Dows for short) is your friendly data analyst, statistician and numbers person. Originally from Australia, Chris works for Intuit as a social media analytics manager. He's also studying a Doctorate focused on improving data use in business decision making.



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