“Who are your top five power users?”

I’m a big fan of leading with questions. A simple, pointed question can reveal great detail about a person or a topic. If I could only ask one question to a front-line community manager, it would be the question above. My expectation is that a good community manager will be able to name their power users without hesitation. A community manager who knows their community well will likely provide deeper insight into the power users beyond just names.

Power users are a critical, foundational component to the success of any online community. They are hyper-active, post a large amount of high value content, make an effort to get to know other community members, and in many cases have a full-blown love affair with whatever product or service your company is peddling. Power users are the people who jump to your defense when your company or brand gets smeared by competitors or outsiders. Power users are a calming influence on your community when times are tough, and are the first to sing your praises in good times. They are the creators of the community’s inside jokes, the catalysts that keep conversations going, and the glue that holds your community together.

In this post, I will talk more about how to use simple, low-cost systems and techniques to help develop these precious assets. In my next article of this series, I will talk more about how to take care of your power users so they stay engaged, happy, and feel well-rewarded for their efforts.

Power Users are Internal at First

There is a misconception that growing power users takes forever because you have to get your customers to trust you, start using the community regularly, and start coming back every day. While this is certainly true, there is a better way.

Engage with some social business-friendly assets (employees) within your organization first. If you look hard enough, you will find a small handful of internal assets that are community friendly, have great depth of knowledge about your products/services, and who are willing to regularly participate in your user community. These are your first power users.

As a community manager, make sure to keep your door open to these people. Any challenges they have participating in the community should be dealt with swiftly. Hold frequent training sessions or town hall-style meetings with these internal power users. Talk with them via IM, email and in the hall. Make sure they know they are providing value and thank them every day. Most of these people participate not as part of their core function, but because they understand how to effectively use social business and know that growing a user community contributes to the success of the business.

These internal power users are a huge step in the development of your community. They make great moderators, have your company’s best interests at heart and are very accessible. They are also the best way to keep lurkers and customer participants coming back to your community. They significantly raise the chance of one of your customers becoming a power user or evangelist.

Use Simple “Point Systems” to Keep People Interested

Many community platforms have rewards and reputation features. Some are more fully-featured than others. At minimum, a decent rewards and reputation feature should do the following:

  • Keep track, and assign point values, to certain activities on the community
  • Make the points system transparent to users
  • Display a “leader board” of top point earners in the community
  • Allow users to achieve reward “levels” as they earn more point
  • Administrators of the system must be able to configure point values, reward level names, and point thresholds for the different reward levels

There are other important features too, but those are the basics to get a decent reward system up and running.

These systems do several things:

  • Allow frequent visitors of the site to compete for the top levels on the leader boards
  • Allow lurkers or infrequent visitors to see who the top contributors are and engage with/follow them
  • Allow the community manager to see, at a glance, their most active users

The amazing thing about these systems, and this has been proven on multiple online communities, is the lengths people will go to in order to climb up the leader board, just to get to that new icon or recognition from the community. If this is built in to your community platform already, it is a great no-cost way to keep things interesting and get users who might be on the fence to start participating.

Other Low-Cost Alternatives to Keep People Coming Back

Use a well-configured reward point system to keep track of point earnings, and give away a low-cost item to all users who achieve a particular point threshold!

When I was the community manager at the small-but-growing community at a previous employer, we offered a “Board Warrior” polo shirt to anyone who earned 50 reward points or more on the community. This was probably a grand total of 4-5 hours of effort on the users’ behalf, and in return they got a cool embroidered polo with the community logo and the words “Board Warrior.” It was a low-cost way to get people to spend enough time on the community to get (and provide) some value.

If you do the math, it’s really amazing:

  • Someone who earns 50 reward points probably answered at least two questions which prevented a phone call to tech support or customer service.
  • A phone call to tech support or customer service costs varying amounts of money depending on the organization. In this case, it was about a hundred bucks. Some other companies may not see the same value per phone call.
  • So, in return for about $200 of “free” support, we sent someone a $15 shirt. Pretty good deal for the company, right?

Only a small percentage of users who ended up with these shirts became power-users, but the ROI for this program was absolutely huge. A single, hyper-active power user can be worth hundreds of polo shirts, depending on how active and engaged they are in growing your community and deflecting support costs.

In my next post, I will discuss recognition techniques that focus on retaining power users from outside your organization, techniques for keeping them engaged, and some not-so-low cost rewards that may be well worth giving to your most valuable community members.

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading: