The Superuser Fallacy

A simple rule of thumb is 1% of members will create 90% of your content.

If you believe this, it makes sense to spend a lot of your time keeping top members happy and highly active. Superuser programs thrive in these environments. They do everything possible to anticipate and satisfy the needs of your best members.

But the data is often a lot more nuanced than this. This is a recent breakdown from a client’s community:

(you can show this in a bar chart, I prefer line graphs).

Yikes!

The top 1% are contributing only 20% to 25% of contributions. Once we dove deeper, it became clear an overwhelming number of these contributions were in a private forum and in off-topic areas (in short, the least valuable areas).

The 1% to 10% group are making over 40% of the contributions to the community. A further dive shows this group both asks and answers most questions outside of the off-topic and social categories.

The 10% to 50% group are creating around 30% of the content. This was primarily the newcomer group and they posted a significant percentage of the new questions which appeared in the community.

Finally, the bottom 50% contributed just 5% of contributions.

We can also see how many posts they make on average per month:

The top 1% post 300+ contributions per month (and rising), the 1% to 10% group post around 60 times per month, the 10% to 50% group post around 10 and the bottom 50% approximately 1.5.

Once we ran a multivariate analysis on this group, we found the no. of contributions from the top member group was negatively correlated with the outcome we were trying to achieve while the number of new members and number of posts from the 1% to 10% groups were most highly correlated with the desired outcome.

Don’t Fall Into The Superuser Fallacy

This is the danger of superuser programs. You can spend a huge amount of time trying to treat your top members like royalty without realising it’s hurting your community’s value.

In the above example, the overwhelming contributions from this group were driving others away and were hurting us. If we want to achieve the best results, we clearly need to focus on the 1% to 10% group (people making an average of 2 posts per day) and attract more newcomers to the site. This is where we want to be spending the bulk of our time.

This is important too because it laser-focuses our strategy on a specific group of members and getting them to make an extra quality post per day. It’s also a lot easier and more effective to get members making 2 posts per day to publish 3 than to get the top 1% posting an additional 30 posts per day.

There are plenty of nuances here. If the top 1% of members are providing all the best content (which often happens in customer support communities), then, by all means, pursue your superuser program with gusto. But be aware that outside of customer support the members who contribute the most to the community’s value are probably not the most active group.

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