Designing & launching a super user program for your online community
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Designing & launching a super user program for your online community

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Reading Time (Minutes)

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

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Overview

In December 2021, Andy Guttormsen, Circle’s co-founder, and Mathilde Leo, the community lead, asked me how I’d approach building a super user program for their product (which I use literally every day). As I thought about this question — both as an active participant of many online communities and the creatorof my own at Soapbox Project — is that it’s not new to me at all — I’ve been a super user for over a decade! And I didn’t even realize it!

Story time will come later on, though. Let’s start with grounding ourselves in some common language.

If you’re not familiar with what a super user program is, check out this post by Feverbee. Here’s how I’m defining some key terms:

  • A super user is one of the most valuable members in your community
  • A super user program helps leverage super users to solve community problems

Later in this post, I’m going to tell you a story as promised. It’s cute, unexpected, and demonstrates how much value you can provide as a community steward when you recognize the members who are contributing beyond your wildest dreams.

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Duplicate this in Notion by clicking here. Everything below is meant for you to fill in, use as a worksheet, and adapt to your own community. You won’t be able to see the images very clearly unless you’re directly in the Notion template.

Let’s get started! Here’s what to expect.

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Section 1: Identifying what problem your super user program will solve

🤗 What problem can super users solve?

Getting clear on the problem is key to launching a super user program. Pinpoint what your community is already solving for specific members, what these members are missing, and the delta between the two! Here’s how I would go about it.

  • Identify your user type. This can be a subset of your users — you likely have more than one user type.
  • Identify the overarching challenge. Is it finding information? Making connections? Building trust?
  • Figure out what emotion drives this challenge. To me, this is the most important part! Humans are emotional, which means community is emotional.
  • Understand what the gap is between where they are and where they want to be. What is your community already doing well? What’s missing? Super users can help fill in this blank.

Here are two examples using the community I’ve started and a community I consider myself a super user of:

Example 1: Soapbox community

In the Soapbox community, a sustainably-minded member is confident that they can...

✅ Meet people with similar interests

✅ Get high-quality events virtually and in-person

✅ Ask questions and be confident they’ll get answers from other members

❌ Separate out trustworthy information about sustainable products from greenwashing

As a sustainably-minded person, I want to know what information is trustworthy. It’s frustrating to have to separate out greenwashing with credible information — I wish there were more resources in the Soapbox community that help me navigate the two.
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As I build Soapbox’s super user program, I will ask: how can we grow our membership community to add a space for high-trust, credible resources on sustainability and give members the skills to navigate this on their own?

Example 2: Circle community

In the Circle Community, a creator is confident that they can...

✅ Attend great events

✅ Share their wins

✅ Get general product tips for up-leveling their community journey

❌ Know their questions and requests for advice will be answered

As a founder and community creator, I want to meet and trust other humans in the Circle community. It is overwhelming to search for answers sometimes — I just want to have a few people that i can ask with a high degree of confidence that my question will be answered.
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If Circle launches a super user program, their goal could be: how can we turn our customer community into a space where community stewards get trusted, timely, and relevant resources for every stage of their journey?

Now you try!

Make sure you’ve duplicated this resource in Notion to get the most value out of it.

As a [USER TYPE], I want to [SOLVE A CHALLENGE]. It’s [EMOTION TO SOLVE THE CHALLENGE]. I want to have [SOLUTION FOR GAP].

🦸🏾‍♀️ Who is a potential super user?

Someone who...

✅ Posts a lot (digital forum)

✅ Attends a lot (events attendance)

✅ Does a lot (gives feedback, connects 1:1 with members, speaks at events)

When you determine eligibility, you can use specific criteria for your super user program. E.g. they must have done one of the following in the past six weeks 1) posted/commented in the community, 2) attended an event, or 3) connected 1:1 with another member

This can be different based on what your community is and does. If you already have a recognition system for members, like badges or points on a leaderboard, this can help guide you to find your existing super users.

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Section 2: A framework for the most effective super user program I’ve been a part of

Let me tell you a story.

In 2012, I started my first job ever. A friend told me that Camp Galileo was hiring and that I should apply (I’d worked with kids in a volunteer capacity for 5+ years by this point).

So I applied. A magical journey began.

The summer of 2012 changed my life. I never expected it to be more than a job, and I sure as hell never expected to come back to it, because I was on the Corporate Path to Success.

I worked there for 5 summers. And last year, the CEO Glen Tripp called me to ask if I would throw my hat in the ring for the Seattle Territory Director as they expand their reach. (I obviously didn’t get it because I am NOT as much of an experienced badass as Jill Reimer, but the fact that I was asked?!?!!?!)

How did this happen?

Well, lots and lots of magic and fun. And most importantly, connection.

The summer of 2012, I made friends I’m still in touch with. I was a mere Summer Intern but people checked in on me! Listened to the challenges I was facing! Heard my insecurities and gave me tools to address them!

The next summer, my camp director (Michael Lane, the best boss I’ve ever had) approached all us returners during training. He gave us a new assignment: SECRET BUDDIES.

Each of us returning staff was assigned 3 names of new staff, regardless of their/our experience level in the “real world”. We would sneakily check in on them. Make sure they got what they needed. Listened to the challenges they were facing! Gave them tools to address them!

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE WHEN I LEARNED MY FRIENDSHIPS WERE ORCHESTRATED BY THIS GENIUS PUPPET MASTER!!!

Magic doesn’t just happen. It’s made. And the Secret Buddies mission was grounded in love and collaboration, so it felt like a happy little surprise instead of a weird manipulation tactic.

The last time I worked at Galileo was 2016... but I am STILL active in their network, referring friends, applying for roles, and helping them expand in Seattle (where I live) with any free time I’ve had.

In other words, it’s the most effective super user program I’ve ever been a part of. Or ever even heard of.

The BUDDY framework in action

Y’all it took me literally all day to figure out how to make this framework stand for BUDDY. I totally cheated on the Y, but it is what it is.

  1. Build challenge clusters Cluster your members around challenges they’re having. My requirement for forming challenge clusters is that every member of the community has to fit into one or more of these clusters. Not each person will necessarily be directly touched by a super user, but it’s useful to have these groupings.
  2. Understand who the experts are Who are the experts that can create connections around these challenges? They’ll be your super users — your Secret Buddies who can facilitate discussions and help people find solutions when they feel lost.
  3. Drive affinity within your challenge clusters At this stage, you want to do everything you can to connect your Secret Buddies with people from their Challenge Clusters. Maybe that’s as simple as giving them 3 names to check in with just like my Camp Director did; maybe it’s something else!
  4. Design experiences Do this with your Secret Buddies. You’ll know by now what their buddies and Challenge Cluster members are looking for. Launch events to fill in the gaps! Write posts! Get creative! Get your super users to do these things with you!
  5. Yes! New challenges Ok this one was originally “discover new challenges”... but hopefully that gives you a feeling of Yes! (sry) Anyway, as your super users take the front seat in leading events, writing posts, and facilitating connections, you’ll naturally discover what more of your members are facing. These are potentially new super users!

Two examples of the BUDDY framework

Whether or not you choose to use a Secret Buddy-style framework for your community or not, you want to consider your members’:

  • Behaviors
  • Motivations
  • Incentives

as you develop your super user program. Remember back when we talked about who is a potential super user? These are the behaviors you can note down to understand the types of members in your community.

If you want your super user program to go beyond just giving out points and badges, it’s important to understand why these top users are interacting and engaging the way they are! What motivates them to be a leader in the community you’re building?

Finally, what incentives would align with their behavior and continue to motivate them? I’ll reiterate this again below, but it’s important that you understand intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation and plan incentives that appeal to intrinsic motivation. Otherwise, you run the risk of a community that feels transactional or just plain spammy.

Let’s take the BUDDY framework and apply this to the two communities I’ve been referencing throughout — Soapbox Project’s, which I’m building, and Circle’s, which I actively participate in.

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Please note that these examples are meant to just be ideas. Soapbox is constantly evolving and I don’t make decisions for Circle, so treat these as demonstrative case studies instead of a roadmap.

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Navigate the examples below by toggling the view, located to the right of the example name. It should work whether you’re on desktop or mobile. For example, if you want to click into the Sustainable Fashion challenge cluster within the view, you’ll be able to see that cluster’s behaviors, motivations, and incentives. When you duplicate this template, you can replace the examples below with your own community’s Challenge Clusters. Alt text is provided for images when you click into the cards.

Thank you Redmon Borinèz from Creator Mindset and Pedro Hernandes from Gumroad for giving me inspiration + permission to represent you in this article — these are my best guesses of your participation in the Circle community and I hope I got close!

Example 1: Soapbox Project

Challenge clusters

6 views

Challenge clusters

1. Sustainable Fashion

2. Mass incarceration

3. Planet-friendly food

4. Impact in the workplace

All

Example 2: Circle

Challenge clusters

5 views

Challenge clusters

1. Creating impact

2. Teaching skills

3. Customer success

All

My favorite thing about this super user approach is that it creates a community flywheel and empowers each super user to create more, constantly adding value back into the community you’re stewarding.

Here’s the silly lil flywheel I’m illustrating with the BUDDY framework applied to Soapbox!

Alt text is in the caption. View this in Notion to see the image full-screen.

Alt: This image has 5 frames illustrating the BUDDY framework as part of a community flywheel. 1) Build challenge clusters - has 3 quotes from 3 users around sustainable finance. 2) Understand who experts are - has Alyssa Beltempo, identified above as a super user, coming in to help. 3) Drive affinity - shows Alyssa helping the 3 members from step 1 and building confidence. 4) Design experiences - has Aditi, one of the members from frame 1, co-leading an event experience with Alyssa! 5) Yes! New challenges! - has users express their desire for accountability groups, courses, and nonprofits to work with. These people from #5 can feed back into #1, and Aditi from #4 can turn into a super user/expert (#2) creating a community flywheel.
Alt: This image has 5 frames illustrating the BUDDY framework as part of a community flywheel. 1) Build challenge clusters - has 3 quotes from 3 users around sustainable finance. 2) Understand who experts are - has Alyssa Beltempo, identified above as a super user, coming in to help. 3) Drive affinity - shows Alyssa helping the 3 members from step 1 and building confidence. 4) Design experiences - has Aditi, one of the members from frame 1, co-leading an event experience with Alyssa! 5) Yes! New challenges! - has users express their desire for accountability groups, courses, and nonprofits to work with. These people from #5 can feed back into #1, and Aditi from #4 can turn into a super user/expert (#2) creating a community flywheel.

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Section 3: Roles and responsibilities of super users

It’s important to be clear on what your expectations are from your super users and what they will get in return. Rewards should appeal to intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic. You want to show your super users you appreciate them, but not that you only view them as a resource!

Questions to ask:

  • Is this time commitment fair for both me (as the Community Team) and my super users?
  • Do the rewards I’m offering make them want to keep participating, or does it just “check a box”?
  • What’s the best way to check in with our community’s super users without being overbearing?
  • How do I proactively communicate these roles and responsibilities every time we make changes to our program?

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Duplicate the roles and responsibilities below and make it your own!

What you'll contribute

Click into each toggle and modify for your own community

Commit 30 minutes a week for 12 weeks
Find 4-8 Secret Buddies from your Challenge Cluster
Be a "welcome committee" for new members in your Challenge Cluster
Respond to posts and start discussions related to your Challenge Cluster
Update the Community Team on your Secret Buddies and Challenge Cluster’s challenges each week

What you'll get

Modify the bullet points for your own community

You are playing a crucial role in creating belonging. This is a big deal and we want to recognize it! We would love to hear what would be valuable to you, and based on what we've heard so far, here's some of the perks we're looking at for our Secret Buddies. Each month, Secret Buddies will be selected to receive at least one of the following:

  • Our favorite [topic of your community] books
  • Sponsorship to [a course your members would value]
  • 1 year of free [of your product/service/community]
  • 2 sessions with an expert of your choice
  • Priority product and community support
  • Leadership over member-driven events

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Section 4: Measuring Super User Program Success

Success should be measured qualitatively and quantitatively. Community is a human game, so you do have to capture the ✨vibes✨ you’re putting out.

Here are some guidelines you could use as a starting point. Pleeeeeease contact me if you would add to this!

  • Qualitative — Surveys will be sent to likely Challenge Cluster participants whom Secret Buddies are assigned to before and after the 12-week period. The survey design scope is outside this article, but the outcome will be to qualitatively measure the confidence of community members who have been part of a Secret Buddy-led Challenge Cluster (although they won't know they're in one).
  • Quantitative — We will compare engagement before and after participating in a Secret Buddy group and compare that with members who have not been secretly buddied.
  • For Super Users — Their success will be qualitatively measured through 30-minute learning sessions after the program period.

Further resources

OOOoooookay that’s it for now!

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If you have anything further to add, please contact nivi@soapboxproject.org, find me on Twitter @niviachanta, and/or connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m curious to know about how you’re thinking about your own super user programs!

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