Your users matter. New or old, give them your trust, your loyalty and they will return. This is a fundamental principle of community management. It informs everything I do as a community manager.
I believe member engagement is a spectrum, with dormancy at one end and deep engagement at the other.
It’s important for a community manager to have a hand shaping the experience of every type of user on this spectrum.
Responding to the ideas, feedback and criticism from users is a proven management strategy. Their input is invaluable in building vibrant and healthy communities.
I believe you need to find, engage and reward your super users. I’ve had many positive experiences building communities with an active cohort of super users. I’ve seen the positive impact they can have.
To an extent, online communities grow and support themselves. Even without community management, certain users will feel more engaged and committed than others. This will happen on its own.
A strong relationship between the organization and the users? That won’t appear without some help.
This is where a “super user” program shines. By identifying and reaching out to your most engaged users, you create culture. In communities with strong cultures, users feel connected. Not just to each other, but to the organization as a whole. This creates longevity in an online community.
Engaged and excited super users spread their enthusiasm. They foster the growth of the community and contribute more. They act as brand evangelists and often volunteer their time and talent for the good of the community. They’re also great candidates when a community team needs to grow. Many successful community managers started out as passionate super users.
How do we find super users and what can we do to engage with them?
Your community policies should seek out and reward engaged, active users and incentivize participation. Often, super users find ways to make their presence known. Help this process by opening communication channels. When you identify super users, reach out. Offering rewards, responsibility and visibility strengthens connections and the community as a whole.
First, let’s talk about steps for finding super users.
Encourage users to contact you
You want to create a space where users can get in touch with the Community Team in private. This could be:
- Periodic surveys that have text fields users can fill out
- A category for “Feedback” in your user-submitted bug tracking software
- An email address members can write to
or anything that else suits your community. Watch these channels, keeping an eye on both the quantity of submissions and the quality.
For example, Feature Requests are a great way of identifying super users. Consider receiving many feature requests over a sustained period from a single user. Contrast this with infrequent, yet detailed, comprehensive requests from a different user.
Both are clear signs of deep engagement. Quantity and quality both matter.
Look for thoughtful commentary in feedback. Super users are often interested in the community as a whole. They can be a valuable source of information about the health of the community. Often, super users understand the nuances of the community in a way staff cannot.
Look in the external channels
Super users may also reveal themselves in spaces surrounding the community. Fan sites, Facebook groups and external forums are often created by super users. You may also find super users in spaces outside the community that belong to your brand. Observe your social media pages, looking for the most active users. They often give help, answer questions or evangelize in postings and comments.
Measure interactions and contributions
Engagement metrics can also reveal super users. Either on your own or with the help of a product manager, look for users that visit often and stay a long time. Measure the quantity and quality of interactions like posts and contributions. Not every user that makes extensive use of your product is a super user. Observe a variety of users and learn to categorize them by their engagement metrics.
Once you’ve identified your super users, develop a plan for interacting with them.
It’s wise to develop your program after you’ve had some conversations with likely candidates. The goal is to identify motivations and broad archetypes. Understanding your users helps your program features suits their needs and interests.
Make sure your program is sustainable. I suggest you under-promise and over deliver. Half baked programs that fall apart can discourage users and hurt future efforts.
Here are a few features you can use in a super user program:
Give them editorial control
Super users often have a deep understanding of your community’s strengths and weaknesses. They’re also often representative of member archetypes. This helps them gain the trust of other users.
Giving super users limited editorial control makes use of this understanding and trust. Super users feel more engaged, and other community members feel that they’re represented.
Save editorial control for your super users who are natural stewards. Establish guidelines and limits to avoid the perception of super users having un-checked power.
Give them curatorial responsibility
If your community generates any kind of content, allow super users to curate and share it. Curatorial responsibility can take the form of lists, “picks” or collaborative voting systems.
You can also give super users the power to reward, elevate or recognize content on your platform. Establish clear guidelines for this type of feature, and reserve some level of governance. It’s important that the larger community perceives the program as having a positive impact.
Use visual differentiation
Visual differentiation is a classic strategy for rewarding super users. A visual reward can serve both as a reward in and of itself and as a publicity tool. Visual rewards also signal the community team’s commitment to active engagement.
Interface elements for super users can take many forms. Some examples:
- Customizable profiles
- Special interface features like borders or stickers
Whatever you use, it should be well-designed. Interface features need to have pleasing aesthetics to be effective. Bad design will diminish the perceived value of the reward. Above all, they must not have a negative affect on the experience of other user classes.
Make communication commitments
If possible, make a communication commitment to your super users and honor it. Some forms of communication:
- A special newsletter
- A feedback form only for super users
- Periodic Google Hangouts or Twitter chats
…or whatever communication channel suits your community best. Whatever commitment you make, it’s important that super users see consistency. If you need to skip a newsletter or cancel a chat, always notify users. No user should ever wonder why you aren’t where they thought you would be and not be able to find an answer.
This kind of high-touch service sends a clear signal to users that you care. The dialogue between users and staff matters, and super users especially value this connection.
As with most community management techniques, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for super users. The best thing you can do for the health of your community is to understand the types of users that it’s made up of. Super user programs can be an invaluable resource and I encourage you to try out these tactics.
I love to know what’s worked for other community managers. If you have implemented superuser programs, what have you learned? What worked and what didn’t?
Leave me a comment or hit me up on Twitter, I’m @TomMaybrier.
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