Communities and The Ratios That Bring Insight

Golden Section RatioBeing a data analyst, I sometimes talk with organizations that struggle to use data. I see good research sit on a shelf because it’s either overwhelming and businesses can’t translate the numbers into action, or they’re looking at the wrong numbers.

One of the quickest ways to really understand your data and, by association, your community is through a ratio. Here’s why.

Getting a Baseline

Let’s say you have 1,000 members in your community. You do some basic analysis and learn that each week there are approximately 50 new threads posted in your forum and about 500 replies.

These three pieces of data are a good baseline for starting to look at ratios. A bit of quick division and your ratios come out like this:

Ratio of posts per member, per week: 0.05 (50/1000) (baseline)

Ratio of replies per member, per week: 0.5 (500/1000) (baseline)

Scenario 1 – Members Up But Engagement May Not Be Keeping Pace

Fast forward one month and let’s say your community has grown to 1,500 members, thanks to some advertising and promotion. This is a huge increase, but are the ratios keeping pace with the growth? Let’s say, for example, that there are now 100 new threads posted (a lot of the new members introduced themselves) and about 650 replies each week.  Your new ratios look something like this:

Ratio of posts per member, per week: 0.0666 (100/1500) (increased)

Ratio of replies per member, per week: 0.4333 (650/1500) (decreased)

The ratio for posts per member (per week) has gone up thanks to all those new members introducing themselves to the forum. However, the ratio for replies per member has decreased and hasn’t kept pace with the growth. Using these findings as a starter, a quick look around the community may reveal that all those new members are introducing themselves but are not engaging or replying as much.

One action from this could be to run a quick email promotion, reminding the new members about some of the great discussions happening on the community and nudging them to participate. Another action could be a public reward for a random new member who replied to a forum discussion.

Scenario 2 – Members Down But Is The Quality Better?

In another example, let’s say your community experiences a slight loss in membership, dropping down to 900 members, but the number of posts and replies stays the same. The new ratios are:

Ratio of posts per member, per week: 0.055 (50/900) (increased)

Ratio of replies per member, per week: 0.55 (500/900) (increased)

This example speaks to the “context is crucial” point from part 2 of the “Introducing Numbers to the Community” series. Here, the amount of community members has dropped, which might seem negative at first. But the engagement (number of posts and replies each week) hasn’t decreased. In fact, the ratios above show that your community is actually looking very healthy, and so the decrease in membership likely represented inactive members.


Ratios are a simple way to start putting context to your data and dust off those basic “division” skills. In the first example, the community numbers increased, which looks great, but the number of replies didn’t keep pace with the growth— leading to some actions or follow-up with the newer members. In example two, the overall numbers dropped, which looks negative on the surface, but the ratios show us that the community is actually healthier now.


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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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This is really a great example of using the numbers to help tell a story. I've actually have been adopting similar metric calculations for our online community and it is a relative indicator of health. Some weeks are slower and others are much more active.


Overall, I've found that it's good to assess this on a month by month and quarter by quarter. Thoughts? 


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