5 Steps to Build a Super Fan Program for Your Community Forum

6 minute read

October 17, 2019

5 Steps to Build a Super Fan Program for Your Community Forum

Well, let me rephrase. Perhaps it’s not so much a secret as it is simply just unknown. The ability to attract and create Super Fans in any online community forum is difficult for even the largest communities, and if the big fish have trouble doing this, you might think there’s little hope for everyone else.

But there IS hope, and the secret is all about getting the knowledge you need to create a successful and impactful Super Fan program. And yes folks, there is a real, tangible strategy to get this type of program up and running. It only takes 5 simple steps.

But before we dive in, I’d just like to add that if you want to learn more about Super Fans, check out our newest eBook Building a Strategic Super Fan Program for your Online Community. This eBook not only covers the information discussed in this blog, but also touches on a number of other important topics, including:

  • What a Super Fan actually is

  • What motivates them to do what they do?

  • How and why are they valuable to your brand?

  • How can you select the right people for the “job”?

  • How should membership operate to be the most effective?

  • How can you measure the success of this program?

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Building a Successful Super Fan Program

1. Determine the Purpose and Strategic Objectives

The first step in building a Super Fan program is to clarify the purpose of this program. Purpose is different than objectives and goals; purpose is the reason something exists, the reason something brings meaning to someone’s life. 

Keep in mind that Super Fans are not volunteers because they want to help your company. They are actively participating because it brings joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction to their lives. As a result, you want to ensure that the purpose of this program is connected to emotion. As you think about what kind of program you’re going to build, think about what story your Super Fans will they tell their friends and family when they’re asked about what this program is all about.

Your strategic objectives also need to be determined, as they will be used as a strategic framework for your program — what are your program objectives and goals?

Examples of common business objectives for these types of programs include:

  • Creating a means of aspiration that drives members to do more, connect more, and engage more in the community.

  • Reducing the overhead it takes to run the community while increasing the value of the community to everyone involved.

Many times we are hesitant to get crystal clear on our business objectives when talking about community member based programs. It feels almost shady or inappropriate to insert our “business talk” into engagement discussions. That is completely false! Without proper strategic planning that includes the benefit to your company, your Super Fan program and the community will suffer from lack of resourcing, executive buy-in, and overall support.

Developing clear objectives and goals is part of a critical OGST (Objectives, Goals, Strategies, Tactics) planning approach that will allow you to have significant clarity about why you’re building this program, starting from the “why” rather than the “how”.

2. Design Membership Approach and Program Concept

What is the core concept of the program, and how do you become a member? Visualize, then document your concept and generally how it will work. Will this program be an award system based on the quantity of highly valued contributions? Will the program be a one time award based on past contributions, or Is this an ongoing communication and engagement tool between the company and the program members?

The most successful program model tends to look similar to this structure:

  • The program is a limited time: Successful programs usually limit the membership to a set period of time (typically a year) and have to be re-selected at the end of that time. This gives members a natural exit point, as well as a motivation to stay active.

  • The program is nomination based: People become members of this program through being nominated by other members or by themselves.

  • Criteria is used: Final selection is done based on a specific set of direct and indirect criteria that your team has developed in turn.

  • Consistency of new members: Invitations are granted in an offset way to ensure that there is never one point in the year where all (or even just a large number of) members are new to the program.

Each program will be slightly or significantly different than this structure, depending on how your business, industry, community, and members operate. But every program will be based on a concept that best allows your company to:

  • Create a path from minimal to significant participation that is exciting for an ever growing number of community members

  • Develop a structure that automates as much of the potential Super Fan identification process as possible

  • Establishes and communicates a strong benefits stack for potential Super Fans

  • Engages selected Super Fans in a way that increases their connection to the community and your company and keeps their motivation to participate as high as possible

Further, you need to determine how program members will be able to communicate on a deep, ongoing basis with each other and with your company. Typically, this will be a private sub-forum on your existing community, where only program members have access. But you may use another tool as necessary.

3. Develop an effective Incentive Stack

Whether you already have highly active members or are just starting your community, figure out what would motivate a community member to spend an incredible amount of time participating in the community. Does it (or will it) help their career by providing them resumé worthy badges? Are they interested in giving back to a community that helped them out? Are they emotionally or mentally motivated to help others who have undergone similar hardships as their own?

You may not always be able to fully understand what will motivate Super Fans to participate at the levels they do (or will), but gaining an understanding, or even theories about motivations will help guide you as you build your formal program. After all, understanding why a member has earned their way into a Super Fan role is critical to helping to pull more people into Super Fan levels of engagement.

What’s the value for Super Fans to participate? You’re likely going to be asking more of them and giving them more responsibilities. So what’s in it for them?

Create a specific set of incentives, based on three key types of incentives:

  • Identity

  • Privileges

  • Tangibles

It’s important to remember that incentives are not about “paying” for a Super Fan’s participation. No matter what the cost involved, the incentives you give are meant to prompt a connection to your company, to the program, and to the community. A one of a kind event t-shirt marked with the date can do more to excite and motivate a Super Fan than a $1000 Amazon gift card.

Sharing your incentives as part of how you communicate the existence and value of program is critical to showing how you value the program members. You shouldn’t share every detail, but cover the categories of incentives, and a few tangibles that can prompt potential Super Fans to work hard to earn their way into the program. 

To learn more about these incentives, be sure to check out our complete guide, which will dive deeper on this topic.

4. Build a roadmap and timeline for implementation 

Once you’ve established your core program concept, develop a road map and timeline that sketches out where and how you want your program to evolve; planning is key!

Don’t worry too much about getting this absolutely perfect at first… it’s almost certainly going to change once you have been up and running for a year or two. Initially, this is a tool to help you visualize how you are going to build the program, gain internal and external buy-in, cycle at least a few rounds of members into the program, and monitor the response of the community members and metrics to see how well you’ve designed the program. 

A couple key items to discuss when you’re building your roadmap include:

  • Budgets

  • Staffing

  • Legal issues

Because Super Fan programs are often seen as optional, low priority add-on activities to an already tight community budget, you want to ensure that these items are discussed and laid out in your roadmap. Without dedicated resources and specific budgets, you don’t have a program — you have a hobby. 

Even if your staffing resources are part-time, and your budget is minimal, you still need to treat a Super Fan program like any other program, or risk it fading away.

Make sure you check out the eBook to get details about how to consider things such as budgets, staffing and legal issues.

5. Develop KPIs and Measure Success

Similar to any program, much less a community program, you will need to set and measure your KPIs. This is crucial to determining whether your program is successful and where or how it can improve. 

Final Word

Folks, grab your free copy of the entire eBook here, you won’t be disappointed!

Building a Successful Super Fan Program


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Sarah Robinson-Yu

Written by Sarah Robinson-Yu

Sarah is the Content Marketing Specialist at Vanilla Forums. Prior to Vanilla, Sarah worked in the public sector where she led and coordinated the strategic framework and operational policy development of business processes.

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