The SPACES Model: The Framework for Defining Your Community’s Business Value
The SPACES Model: The Framework for Defining Your Community’s Business Value
July 2, 2021

What is the value of community?

How do you calculate the ROI of community? And where should community live in a business?

These are questions community teams deal with every day.

Businesses have been building communities for a long time, but community was historically seen as a cost center. At most, community was seen as a customer support channel or a marketing channel.

Today, we’ve witnessed the renaissance of the community discipline. Community has come to be seen and utilized as so much more than simply support forums or social media followings. While both of these applications remain important and needed, they are just a couple pieces of the total business value that is driven by community.

Unlike most other disciplines, community can live in its own department or across departments. As a strategy, community can be applied to almost every aspect of business from marketing, to product, to sales, to success…

The options can be dizzying, which is why we’ve created a simple model for defining community business value: The SPACES Model.

All communities can derive business value from one of the following objectives. Most drive value in more than one. We’ll dig into each objective, with real-world examples for inspiration. We’ll also share the most common metrics for each type of community, according to the 2021 Community Industry Report.

The SPACES Model for Defining Community’s Business Value

The SPACES Model by CMX

S: Support

In a customer support community, members answer questions and solve problems for each other to reduce overall customer support costs and improve satisfaction.

This is an application of community that many are familiar with. It can take the form of a support forum where people show up with product questions and the community answers it for them. It can also provide an expert resource for users, or serve as a knowledge base.

Most common metrics:

  • Case deflection
  • Active users
  • Conversation engagement (posts, comments, DMs, etc.)
  • Number or percentage of answered questions
  • Reduced customer support calls

Examples: Atlassian Community, Fitbit Community, Asana Community Forum


P: Product Ideation, Innovation & Feedback

In product communities, members share ideas and feedback that drive innovation and product improvements.

By bringing users or customers together online (or sometimes offline), companies can leverage the collective insight of their community to get ideas for innovative features, identify the most important changes that will improve their products, and save money and time on surveys.

Some companies take this even further that bring their community into every step of the product development process, from design to development, to ensure that the voice of the customer is present in everything they create.

Most common metrics:

  • Product ideas
  • Feature adoption
  • New user-generated content
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Number of event attendees

Examples: Lyft Driver Advisory Council, Dynatrace Community, UiPath Community

A: Acquisition and Advocacy

These communities operate as a network of ambassadors and advocates who drive awareness and growth for the business.

This is where community and marketing most closely intersect. Sure, a company can tell people to buy its product. But it’s much more powerful to have authentic advocates promote a product or experience. More and more companies are recognizing that they already have these advocates. If companies can connect their advocates and give them tools to be successful, they can drive massive growth and customer loyalty.

Most common metrics:

  • New customers
  • New user/member signup
  • Number of event attendees
  • Active users
  • Conversation engagement (posts, comments, DMs, etc.)

Examples: Skimm’bassadors, Lululemon Global Ambassadors, Nearpod PioNears


C: Content and Contribution

These communities are built of people who are contributing content that makes up the product or other assets.

Distributed content models are changing the way businesses function. From user-generated content to open-source platforms, distributed models allow value to be created by the masses, with the business just providing the platform. A community strategy is critical for these kinds of businesses, which explains why successful companies in these spaces (Airbnb, Kickstarter and Mozilla, to name a few) all have community teams.

Most common metrics:

  • New user-generated content
  • Active users
  • Conversation engagement (posts, comments, DMs, etc.)
  • New user/member signup
  • Number of event attendees

Examples: Airbnb Host Community, Google Developer Groups, Twitch Creator Camp, Duolingo Incubator, Teachable Community


E: Engagement (External or Internal)

External engagement communities bring together a group of people around a common interest that is related to a given brand or product.

Community is powerful because it gives people a common sense of identity and belonging. If a brand is facilitating that sense of identity, it doesn’t matter if the community is focused specifically on their product or not — members will feel a stronger connection to the brand.

Nike has a community for people who love running. Sephora has a community to talk about beauty. HubSpot has a community for inbound marketers. As a result, they’ve seen big increases in customer spending, and reaped other community value by fueling ambassadors, product feedback, and more.

Most common metrics: External engagement

  • Active engagement
  • Conversation engagement (posts, comments, DMs, etc.)
  • Number of event attendees
  • New user-generated content
  • New user/member signup

Examples: Nike Run Club, Sephora Beauty Insider, Inbound Community (powered by Hubspot), Google’s Women Techmakers

Internal engagement communities are made up of employees, suppliers, partners, or vendors who work with a specific brand.

As organizations become more distributed and remote work becomes more common, internal engagement becomes even more important. Many companies are doing this behind the scenes today to keep employees engaged and build their all-important culture.

Financial institutions like Wells Fargo and Silicon Valley Bank build internal communities of subject matter experts; hospitals and insurance companies do the same. Tech giants build internal communities to connect employees across the globe, and small startups are spearheading powerful internal communities on platforms like Slack.

Most common metrics: Internal engagement

  • Active users
  • Conversation engagement (posts, comments, DMs, etc.)
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Number of event attendees
  • New user/member signup

Examples: Rothschild & Co Alumni, LinkedIn, Microsoft, NASA @ Work


S: Success

Building off the popularity of customer support communities, success communities go beyond just fielding questions to actively drive increased product adoption and customer lifetime value.

These communities connect customers with each other to share best practices. They may help customers upskill how they use the product and develop strategy, or they may empower customers to become mentors and instructors

Most common metrics:

  • Active users
  • New user/member signups
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Customer retention
  • Customer satisfaction

Examples: Salesforce’s Trailblazer Community, Notion Community


The Current Landscape of Community Value

According to our recent study of over 500 community professionals, here are the objectives that companies are prioritizing in 2021:

SPACES model for community business value

When we began our research in 2017, customer support was the top objective, followed by acquisition. While acquisition has fallen off as a top objective, engagement has risen in importance. Product ideation has become less popular as a top objective, though many still use it.

This doesn’t mean that more popular objectives are more valuable. These areas are simply more developed, or have more software options to serve them. All of these objectives can provide a return on investment, and unlock value for your customers and your organization.

How to Apply the SPACES Model

How do you put all this into action for your community strategy? Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Use the SPACES Model to get buy-in for your community by clearly articulating how and where community adds business value.
  2. If you’re starting out, just focus on one objective from the SPACES Model. Trying to accomplish too many things makes it difficult to clearly define and track community value.
  3. If you’ve mastered one area of the SPACES Model, extend your influence. Many communities start with one area of the SPACES model, and extend into other areas over time.
  4. After you’ve defined which area of the SPACES Model your community lives in, identify the metrics you’ll use based on your objective. Your objective should determine the metrics you use to measure community, not the other way around.
  5. Use your SPACES objective to inform overall strategy. Different SPACES areas may even require different strategies, platforms, and possibly a different team. So it’s a great starting point when planning your community strategy for the year.

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Thanks to Carrie Melissa Jones, Evan Hamilton, Erica McGillivray, and Steven Broudy for their contributions to the SPACES Model. Note: This model was updated February 2021.

Photo by Cerqueira on Unsplash

David Spinks
WRITTEN BY

David Spinks

Founder of CMX, VP of Community at Bevy. Helping good people build great communities.

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