How Champions Programs Can Elevate your Members and Increase your Community Engagement
Community leader Ashleigh Brookshaw explains why champions programs work and how you can design one for your community in five steps.
In 2020, I launched a community engagement initiative that increased actions per active user by 62% from the previous quarter — and the most amazing part about this win? The work it took was done by the community’s most loyal and passionate members.
Champions programs go by many names — a super user program, a community advocacy program, or even a community influencer program. At its heart, a champions program defines a resourced program run by a Community team that encourages and rewards members for making meaningful contributions and impacting strategic objectives. It’s a community’s super fans taking an active role in its success.
Often, when we think about community engagement initiatives, the first thing that comes to mind is what actions we as Community Managers or leaders can take to get members to respond. However, the best people to get members to re-engage with the community, sometimes, are the members themselves — and what better way to help them along than through a structured program that rewards them for doing so?
So whether you manage an internal community aimed at increasing employee productivity and morale, an external brand community, or a customer success and support community, this is how you can create a robust champions program that will elevate your community engagement efforts and design an experience that will keep your users coming back.
How to get started with champions programs
Before you begin mining your community for superusers, you must be clear about the purpose of your champions program.
The most successful programs of this kind provide a tangible return on investment (ROI) related to the strategic value proposition of the community. Additionally, they provide value to the community members and the community as a whole.
Ask the following questions when you’re deciding on your program’s purpose:
- How will this program impact the organization’s bottom line?
- What are our organization’s current objectives?
- What KPIs are currently being tracked and how can this program improve those KPIs?
- Do we have any metrics tracked in different departments and is there an opportunity to collaborate?
- What incentives can we offer our super users through platform gamification or other recognition?
- What platform functionality is available? Point levels? Visual Badges? Special groups?
- What does success look like for this program?
- How do we track if the program is working?
- What processes do we need to create to sustain the program?
- Do we have a budget?
Keep in mind that any type of champion’s program should be reflective of the organizational culture and should model the organization’s strategic plan.
Obtaining buy-in is an essential part of our work, and securing it for a champions program is no exception. This can also be an excellent opportunity for you to leverage other departments and generate cross-collaborative support and shared ownership to position the program for success and drive business results.
Note: If at this stage you find that a champions program can not be tied to any business goals, I would recommend against doing it.
How to build a champions program
1. Create a clear and concise role description
After using the earlier questions to define your program, your next step would be to create a concise role description. This will serve as the blueprint for your program and create baseline expectations for the champions you choose, the Community team, and partners in other departments.
It's important to ground your role description in the community use case and set measurable expectations. The best champions programs are designed with elements of a clear description that may include:
Program purpose statement: Align with the community use case.
Example: “The purpose of this program is to....”
Key Responsibilities: Outline what you want your champions to do.
Example: “We invite you to take the following actions in our community: marking the best replies, hosting a special event, etc.,”
Benefits: Summarize the advantages of participation
Example: “By participating in the Champions Program, you get the following benefits: exclusive badging, access to a special group, spotlights in special communications…”
Time Commitment: Estimate how much time this role will require. Have clear beginning and end times. Time commitments and program duration will vary by organization. I recommend at least a six to 12 month commitment to start with.
Example: “As champions strive to dedicate at least one hour per week to having conversations with other community members for the next six months….”
Support: Define what assistance and resources will be available to complete program objectives.
Example: “You will have access to monthly sessions with our Community Manager who will be available to answer any questions you may have…”
2. Develop a champion selection process
At this stage, you will need to consider how you will fill the member pipeline for this program’s longevity.
Most online community platforms provide member data on which users are the most active through different types of reporting. Once you’ve found your super fans, decide whether it's best to do organic outreach to them or create a program application process.
In my experience, an application is certainly a more inclusive approach as it provides a path for those looking to be more involved with your community with an opportunity to raise their hand.
However, which path you take depends largely on the size of your community and resource bandwidth. I recommend a hybrid approach as volunteers typically make the best champions and doing personal outreach to established users already demonstrating desired behaviors makes for a robust program.
3. Create a communication and training plan
Remember, these champions can greatly enhance your community engagement efforts, so open and clear communication with them is essential.
Based on your community goals and tracked KPIs (we’ll get to that a little later), think about how you will communicate with this group and what kind of training they will need.
Consider the following questions:
- How often will I communicate with them?
- What special platform functionality can I use? (Badging/private groups)
- What training will the champions need?
- How do I communicate the program and its successes to other departments?
4. Launch your program
Now, it’s time to get your program started!
Decide how you will announce your program within your community's communication channels. This may include your website, in your community platform, a customer newsletter, or all of the above.
By providing multiple ways to spotlight your users and the program, you also reinforce the culture of your community by demonstrating the importance of user engagement and the rewards that come with it.
5. Metrics matter: Measure your program
At the beginning of this blog post, we discussed some key questions you need to ask to get started with champions programs. By setting the strategic vision early, you will have a clear understanding of how to measure your program.
The following is just an example.
- Number of discussions started
- Number of replies
- Number of questions generated
- Number answers marked best
With these sample metrics in mind, design your champions program (if you can) to support a key metric or two.
By building this into the program early, it positions the strategic value of the champions program by encouraging behaviors that are most important to the organization. It's important to note that not all behaviors initially need to be part of the tracked metrics, but it's certainly helpful to track what you see over time.
Additionally, if you’re able to use any existing data about your users, that would be helpful as well.
Champions programs can take a variety of forms depending on your community technology and use case. The most important step is to just take a step forward.
The impact of these programs can be long-lasting and far-reaching — allowing your most loyal members to further shape the culture of your community while adding tangible value to your organization and the community at large. So, why not give it a try?