How to Set SMART Goals for Your Online Community

Community Strategy // There are several different paths to creating a successful online community. Learn how to set SMART goals for your business.

Joshua Paul
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There are several different paths to creating a successful online community and there are even more ways to measure that success.

Unfortunately, with so many metrics available in your online community platform, figuring out exactly what kind of success you’re striving for can be confusing and overwhelming. Many community managers end up setting goals that are too abstract or too broad to truly be successful.

Still, when you’re managing an online community, goal setting is still necessary and important. Goals not only help to track your community’s day-to-day progress, but also the impact your community has on your organization as a whole. Plus, setting and meeting goals is one of the most effective ways to convince the leadership in your organization that your online community is worth the investment.

So, how can you set reasonable goals that are focused enough to get the job done but lofty enough to keep your community moving forward? The answer is simple: get SMART.

What Are SMART Goals?

In addition to being a catchy acronym, S-M-A-R-T goals are defined by five key characteristics:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measureable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Timely

By making sure that each of your online community goals meet these five characteristics, you can rest assured that you’re on the right path. You’ll know exactly what type of success you aim to achieve and have a set plan for how to get there.

Let’s take a look at what it really means to be SMART in online community goal setting.

Are Your Online Community Goals SMART?

To illustrate this process, we’ve identified one of the most common goals of online community building: increasing engagement.

Taken at face value, there’s nothing wrong with setting a goal to increase engagement. More engagement makes for a better community, right? Yes, but simply setting a goal to increase engagement could end up providing more questions than answers. For instance:

  • How do you define engagement?
  • How will you know if you’ve successfully increased engagement?
  • How quickly do you hope to increase engagement?
  • What level of engagement increase will you consider a success?
  • What are your plans for achieving this goal?

By failing to transform this goal into a SMART goal, you risk not succeeding or, perhaps even worse, not even knowing if you’ve succeeded.

Now, let’s put it into practice. Here’s how to take a basic goal, such as increasing engagement, and make it SMART.

Specific Online Community Goals

Making your goals more specific helps you identify a course of action and know when you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. To narrow the focus of our “increase engagement†goal, first we need to define what type of engagement we’ll be monitoring.

Start by answering two big questions: 1) what and, 2) who.

So, perhaps you want to focus on increasing the activity in your discussion boards. In particular, you’re interested in seeing an increase in activity from your returning members. With those two clarifications, now your goal is: To increase the number of discussion board contributions by returning members.

While this goal is certainly more specific, it isn’t quite SMART just yet.

Measurable Online Community Goals

Ensuring that your goals are easily measured and tracked is the only way you can truly know if your online community is successful, or at least headed in that direction. As you transform your goal, you’ll first need to have a clear understanding of your starting point.

To apply this SMART principle to our current goal, you need to analyze the current and past discussion board engagement from your returning members. Use the activity data from your online community platform to obtain a clear picture of where your engagement stands for the past several months. Then, identify which metrics and future data you will use to measure your goal moving forward.

Attainable Online Community Goals

While a SMART goal should push you to strive forward, you also don’t want to set yourself up for failure. This next step in developing your SMART goal isn’t meant to limit the possibilities; instead, it’s designed to help you make a plan.

First, ask yourself: Is this goal attainable? And, assuming the answer is yes, your next question should be: How? The answer to this second question is crucial for putting your goal into action.

For instance, do you plan to create detailed profiles for the various personas of returning members you hope to engage? Will you use email outreach to bring them back to your community discussion boards? Do you have community advocates who can help encourage higher participation among their peers? Each of these strategies help to make your goal “SMARTer†and let you know that, yes, it is attainable.

Relevant Online Community Goals

Though it can sometimes feel like your online community functions in a bubble entirely its own, in most cases it also serves a greater purpose to a company or organization as a whole. Because of this, each goal you make for your online community should be relevant to the greater goals of your organization.

Clarifying how your SMART goal is relevant to the big picture not only helps to get everyone in your company on board with what you’re doing, but it also keeps your goal from existing in a vacuum.

In regards to our sample goal, we need to determine how increasing discussion board engagement from returning members is relevant to the main purposes and long-term goals of our organization. These could be anything from encouraging more repeat business, to lowering support costs, to building a culture of brand advocacy.

Timely Online Community Goals

Without proper time constrictions, goals can drag on for months and years before you realize you haven’t made any significant improvements. By making your goals time-bound, you’ll know when you need to see results.

So, our goal of “increase engagement†has now expanded to be:

“To increase the number of discussion board contributions by returning members within three months.â€

Now, not only do we know what type of engagement and from whom, we also know when we want to see these changes made.

SMART Online Community Goals Takeaway

Goal setting is an important part of building a successful online community, but there’s no sense wasting your time on goals that aren’t going to get you where you want to be.

By making your online community strategy is S-M-A-R-T, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely you’ll know you’re on the right track to creating real improvements in your online community.


Joshua Paul

Chief Executive Officer, Pipeline Ops

Josh has over 18 years of hands-on and executive marketing experience helping companies systematically increase revenue through measurable marketing and sales strategies. Prior to becoming CEO at Pipeline Ops, Josh held a variety of senior product management and marketing roles at technology companies. When he is not working, Josh enjoys building businesses, sailing, and spending time with his wife and children.

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