Building an Online Community Super Users Program

Community Strategy // An online community super users program is an essential tool in your community manager toolbox. Learn how to build your own!

Jessica Leitsch
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Super user. Champion. Ambassador. Power user. MVP. No matter which name you’re familiar with, this online community management tactic is the same: Enlisting the help of your most enthusiastic members to manage, moderate, and engage the community.

And today, we’ll help you understand how to build your online community super users program.

As a community builder or manager, it can be challenging to manage and moderate communities, as well as work on all those other things you know are important: Investing in professional development, advocating for your community program, or creating new content for the community (all without avoiding burnout).

A community super users or champions program is an effective way for a community manager to lighten the workload. With a little planning, you can harness the support of enthusiastic users and create a community champions program.

Who are Your Community Super Users and What Can They Do?

The term “super user” or “superuser” comes from a systems or software background. It originally referred to someone who knows the ins and outs of your product or service, most likely uses it every day, and even offers advice to other users.

A community super users program takes that same idea and applies it to your online community. Your community super users are your most highly engaged community members, who work on your behalf inside your community.

They can foster engagement by handling specific tasks for you, such as:

  • Responding to unanswered threads
  • Curating community content by providing seed questions
  • Serving as moderators in the community
  • Greeting new members
  • Participating in “ask the expert” sessions

Creating a community super users program is a way to formalize their contribution to your organization. You might include special perks to reward them, like a badge on their profile, an invitation to a customer or member council, or exclusive events with your executives.

4 Ways Super Users Programs Can Grow Your Online Community Program

With a small upfront investment in planning your online community super users program, you’ll see big improvements in your online community engagement, while freeing up your time to focus on other things. If we didn’t have you at “save time,” let’s see if these four benefits will convince you.

1. Amplify enthusiasm

If you have an online community, you may already have community members who are excited to contribute. A community super users program provides a framework to encourage even higher levels of participation. Think of it as a ladder of engagement, where participants start with activities that require a small commitment, and gradually move up by increasing their involvement.

This approach requires minimal effort on your part, particularly if you start small and use automation rules (logic-based automation) to support your goals. For example, the personalization tools in a Higher Logic online community platform can guide enthusiastic users to become even greater contributors. That can include creating specific levels of engagement, with certain tasks (such as number of posts per month) assigned to each one.

2. Reinforce a sense of purpose

Everyone wants to feel their contributions are meaningful, and that’s particularly true for your most engaged members. They’re putting forth extra effort by sharing their knowledge and expertise, and they don’t want to feel like they’re shouting into a void. With an online community champions program, they feel heard and appreciated by others.

With Higher Logic Community, you can deliver value to your ambassadors by “unlocking” rewards through engagement activities. Thoughtfully designed gamification creates energy and provides a visible achievement and sense of earning.

For example, you could use automation rules to assign a custom badge when an ambassador unlocks it. You can customize the messaging you use, allowing you to celebrate their contributions and provide additional guidance for continued motion towards deeper engagement.

3. Improve community members’ overall experience

When experienced users contribute at high levels, that make your community an exciting, valuable place for everyone. By enlisting your ambassadors to help you care for the community, you can ensure a great user experience for new members, current members, and prospective members!

Other community members will notice interesting discussions and want to be part of the conversation. It makes your community feel more energetic. That keeps other community members coming back, because they don’t want to miss out on what’s next.

For example, you could set up an automation rule that notifies your ambassadors when someone new posts on the “introduce yourself thread,” and asks them to welcome them to the community. This is almost like a welcome lunch at the office, where members can share about themselves, share quick brags or accomplishments, and get to know each other.

4. Save time on basic tasks and get strategic

By delegating some day-to-day community management work (such as group moderation or replying to unanswered threads) to your champions, you can devote more time to strategy, such as building out your community content calendar or demonstrating a return on investment.

When you have a detailed playbook of your day-to-day community management activities, it’s easier to delegate those basic tasks. Your ambassadors can take this documented knowledge and run with it to help you do those more routine elements of your job. Plus, you can match your ambassadors’ activities back to your goals and show how this program is helping improve online community engagement.

Finding the Right Community Super Users for Your Program

When you seek champions, you’re looking for shared traits. You want people who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about your organization and can easily navigate your online community.

Fortunately, these individuals aren’t hard to find. Community analytics offer a good starting point. Reporting within a Higher Logic Community can help you identify top contributors, most active participants, or most questions answered, etc. to help you find ideal candidates for your champions program.

You can also try identifying your community super users by looking for traits like these:

  • Actively and regularly engages in your online community
  • Helps others solve technical difficulties with the online community platform or answer general questions about your organization
  • Flags posts that might need moderation

Contact these individuals directly with a personal request. You can use an automation rule to send thoughtful emails to everyone who meets your specific criteria.

Create segments within your Higher Logic online community, so you can identify who is performing specific tasks. You can create an automation rule so your online community members automatically get sorted into segments showing you who is replying to the most discussion threads. Then, it will allow you to automatically trigger a thoughtfully written email with a call to action and warm impression.

You can also try running a “call for volunteers” campaign within your community.

How to Run a Call for Volunteers Campaign

Create a discussion thread and then follow it in real-time so you get alerts about everything. And remember, in Higher Logic’s community platform, everything that gets posted will trigger an email the following day for the community to read.

Include a form in your discussion post where people can submit their applications to get more involved. This also helps you stay organized with volunteer management as you process these requests and onboard your approved super users. Be sure to include your email address so people can reach out with questions or concerns!

You can also use a “scheduled email” feature when you do your campaign. This means that you can plan to have the digest email trigger on specific days by writing and scheduling posts in advance. Here are a few ideas to include in your post:

  • “Thanks for those who’ve signed up, quick reminder that our deadline for submission is Friday!”
  • “We’ve gotten this question a few times, so wanted to share among the larger group…”
  • “You can reach out to [insert person’s name and email] if you have any questions.”

If you’re just starting to build a community and don’t have established contributors, there are still plenty of ways to identify potential champions. Consider looking to people who are involved with your organization on social media, as well as speakers at your events, and see if they’d like to be part of your program. These are people who clearly see the value your organization offers — and just as important, have demonstrated their ability to articulate it publicly.

Launching a New Community Champion Program

If the words “launching a new program” make you feel mildly stressed, remember the goal is not to create something elaborate, it’s to save you time on basic tasks. Start small and build from there.

To that end, here are some tips shared at our annual conference, Super Forum, by Simon Helton and Lauren Kocher at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE):

  • Identify Goals: What are you trying to achieve with this program? Increased engagement is a given – but you’ll want to paint a clearer picture of what success means to you and your organization. What aspect of community engagement would you like to improve most?
  • Determine Tasks: You know what you want to accomplish — now choose the tasks to get you there. What would you like your champions to do on your behalf? You’ll get more consistent responses when you provide specific tasks. Examples include:
    • Seed content discussions
    • Reply to unanswered threads
    • Welcome new members
    • Host Ask Me Anything sessions
    • Mentor newer users
    • Moderate communities
  • Communicate: The more personalized your outreach to your champions-in-training, the more likely they’ll respond with the desired action. For example:
    • Use segmentation to make what you’re asking for relevant to their expertise and areas of interest.
    • Don’t bug them every day. Once a week is probably the most you’d want to make requests.
    • Give them specific and relevant action items, so they don’t have to think about what to do next for your community.
  • Recognize Contributions: Make this a meaningful activity for your group. When you empower and recognize champions, it also reflects positively on the community’s culture — and this lays a foundation for future community champions.
  • Maintain and Improve: Take time to celebrate your successes and look for ways to do better. Remember to:
    • Periodically remind champions about their roles and expectations
    • Monitor champion activity levels, and replace champions if tasks are not being completed
    • Add new champions, and thank outgoing champions

TIP: Be careful of making your program feel like a burden. That’s another piece of advice from Simon and Lauren at ITSE. A danger in building a community champions program is that you might overburden your champions, so always keep the idea that they don’t work for you or receive a paycheck top of mind. Instead, make the program manageable by creating a time limit for champions. Give them the opportunity to opt in and opt out every six months or so. Regularly check in to see if they’re feeling overtired. Otherwise, the idea of a never-ending commitment may be off-putting for some users.

Rewarding Your Community Super Users

The most consistent contributors in your community will be driven by intrinsic motivators — such as helping others or gaining responsibility and knowledge. Although not everyone cares about status, there is one common thread that affects behavior: We all want to feel valued.

That’s why it’s important to provide public recognition for your community champions. In addition to giving them the appreciation they deserve, this also reflects well on your organization’s culture and conveys a feeling of generosity and respect. Public appreciation can also attract future community champions, because it generates interest from other members and makes them think, “Hey, how can I get involved in that too?”

Check out these ideas for rewarding your champions:

  • Digital ribbons for a visual “thank you.” You don’t have to do this manually. For example, you can use Higher Logic’s automation rules to easily create a badge – like a “top 25 contributor” – to assign to your most active community champions.
  • Feature them in a video produced by your organization, highlighting their thought leadership.
  • Take time to recognize them at events.
  • Give them swag and other gifts with extra thought put into personalization.
  • Once a month, include a photo of a champion on your community’s front page, along with their quotes about how the community has helped them.
  • Provide community champions with exclusive access to a separate area of your online community.

TIP: Ask your members to select one community champion as their “Champion of the Year” for their assistance in the community. This helps ensure you’re rewarding qualitative contributions, and not just quantitative.

Let Your Super Users Help You Build a Stronger Community

With a little effort, you can get big returns on your community super users program. You may need extra support as you work toward building community engagement. That’s exactly what enthusiastic users can do for you. When you give your super users the opportunity to assist with specific tasks, you’ll watch them help build your community to new heights.

And with the time you have saved, you’ll be able to focus on important tasks like advocating for more resources, taking a course to advance your professional development, or bolstering other areas of your community strategy.

Jessica Leitsch

Online Community Manager

Jessica Leitsch is an online community manager at Higher Logic. She launched a community ambassador/super user program for a major national nonprofit with a team of four that needed to support 36 communities. She’s currently running a community webinar program for a fortune 50 software company across eight communities related to product areas. She’s also launched entire communities for corporate and non-profit organizations, and is experienced in business partner, support, and employee community management.

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