Online Community ROI: Reporting on Dimensions of Value

We conducted the Online Community ROI research study in May of 2007, as a function of the Online Community Research Network. The study explored how organizations determined ROI, what dimensions of value were being reported to management, and the attitudes in the organization around the concept of community value.

We had over 50 completed surveys, and participants included large software companies, large community destination sites, niche community sites, community platform providers and consultants. Most respondents were senior staff that managed most / all online community budgets for their organizations.

Organizational Attitudes Towards Online Community Investment

Overall, the survey results indicated a fairly high tolerance for investing in online community activities without clear “hard numbers” ROI. Other date in the survey results shows that dimensions of value other than fiduciary are being accepted as “return” on community investment and involvement. However, the majority of respondents did say they were expected to communicate clear return in the future. Creating a clear ROI model for most organizations is clearly a priority, even those not under immediate pressure to communicate value.

Attitude Towards Communication of Value

A small number of respondents reported that they had the ability to tie community initiatives back to their corporate goals, and to clearly communicate ROI. The majority of research participants felt their initiatives are adding value, but can’t provide a complete ROI model. A small percentage of respondents feel their initiatives are disconnected from corporate goals, and they currently don’t report on value. This speaks to the need for most organizations to create an ROI model, and one that includes more dimensions of value than direct financial value.

Online Community Budgets

One last data point from the survey. When we asked about online community budgets. 75% of those that answered indicated a spend of at least $50k, and there were a significant number of that indicated spends of over $100k and over $500k annually, not including headcount. Obviously one would need to understand an organization’s spend in other areas to determine the proportion of overall annual budget, but these budget numbers do indicate significant investment in community by the participating organizations.

Bill Johnston - Founder, Structure3C. Former Head of Community at Dell & Autodesk. Mobile: (415) 233-6914 Twitter: @billjohnston LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/billj In a sentence: Seasoned online community and social media executive and advisor with over 15 years experience developing large scale online communities, social media initiatives and successful online product strategies.
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