Building Successful Superuser Programs

Benefits and Incentives

Once you’ve established what motivates your members, you can decide on what benefits or incentives you will offer. The possibilities are endless, and range from ‘karma’ for giving back, to all expenses paid overseas trips.

While it is important to put an emphasis on intrinsically motivating your members, many of the large, successful programs use a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Superuser programs tend to be more heavily intrinsic (rewarding with status or knowledge), while ambassador programs lean more towards the extrinsic (offering financial incentives or swag).

“The rewards and incentives that work for us are of the “special access” and exclusive information type. These create exclusivity and confidence that helps members with building and maintaining their profile as thought leaders and experts.”

Claudius Henrichs – Skype

If you lean too heavily towards extrinsic motivators (like swag or financial incentives) you run the risk of setting expectations which might not be scalable. Offering free products to every member may be feasible when there are only 10 people in your program, but will it still be feasible if you grow to 100 members? Gifts should be seen as an extra perk, rather than something that members are entitled to.

“We tried and failed to offer users a free product in return for their support and to our amazement they wanted things like virtual badges for their profiles.”

Stephen Fell – TalkTalk

Incentives fall into four broad categories – visual recognition, financial incentives/gifts, exposure/recognition, and access to the brand. Let’s look at some examples of each.

Let’s look at some examples of each:

Visual Recognition

  • Badges or special avatars for online profiles
  • An online hall of fame or recognition directory
  • An alumni hall of fame (for past members)
  • Extra kudos weight (applies to Lithium based communities)
  • Shout-outs on social media

Financial incentives and gifts

  • Swag (branded clothing, bags, stickers, accessories etc)
  • Sponsored meals or parties
  • In-app credit or vouchers
  • Workshops, events, conferences, holidays
  • Discount of seller’s (or similar) fees
  • Discounted education or certification

Exposure or special/VIP treatment

  • Support to become thought leaders
  • Opportunities to speak at public events
  • Access to tweet from official accounts
  • Invitations to write content
  • VIP treatment or priority seating at events
  • Featured spots or profiles on blogs or websites
  • Option to participate in case studies or media opportunities
  • Advance warning of price or product changes

Access to the brand

  • Feeling listened to and acknowledged by the brand
  • Access to moderate forum discussions
  • Direct feedback mechanisms
  • Access to beta products
  • Signing NDAs (makes members feel important)
  • Early access to proprietary information
  • A direct line of communication to the organization or community team

There are different ways of structuring a rewards program. In a flat hierarchical structure, all program members are rewarded equally with a badge and elevated privileges. With a tiered rewards program, an escalating scale has rewards becoming more desirable the higher up the program’s ranks a member climbs. Alternatively perhaps certain behaviours earn specific rewards, regardless of other benchmarks or achievements.

Spotify has a points program in which Rockstars earn credit for their contributions in the community and on social media, and points can be redeemed for branded Spotify clothing and other swag.

New Relic has a similar approach based on Influitive’s points for challenges model – Datanauts get prizes for completing challenges. Rewards include swag and gift cards, discounts for events, visits to international offices and Q&A sessions with experts.

Lyft and Scoop both offer financial incentives to members for bringing in referrals. ebay offer 20% off seller’s fees for their top sellers. Allrecipes gives their Allstars tokens that can be redeemed onsite.

Maker’s Mark is an outstanding example of a brand that have got swag right. They send branded clothing and other quirky gifts to their Ambassadors every Christmas. Program members also get their name branded onto a barrel of bourbon.

University of Rock do a great job of combining financial incentives with exposure to their brand. Ambassadors can earn commission by promoting products. They also get access to exclusive content and products and the opportunity to be featured on the brand’s website.

One recurring success factor is finding a way to pitch your incentives correctly for your audience. Find ways to empower them to become better at the thing that they want to do. This is where the information that you gathered at the motivation stage comes into play. Refer back to your planning document for the specifics of what motivates your audience.

If access to your brand or organisation was mentioned frequently, you might try holding regularly scheduled “Ask Me Anything’ sessions with your founder or CEO. This tactic provides valuable information while also giving members something to brag about.

If your program is focused on product support and your members are motivated by being seen as ‘experts’, reward them with advance access to upcoming products so that they have time to upskill before the public launch.

Hootsuite Ambassadors aspire to being social media powerhouses, so Hootsuite incentivizes them with free access to the Hootsuite University and a discount towards an advanced Social Media Strategy Certificate. Similarly, Lithium gives discounted rates for their official certification programs to Lithium Stars.

Lyft is well known for rewarding their Lyft Ambassadors by providing them with marketing material, and support to develop and own a local brand marketing strategy.

Vinted take a similar approach. They provide their Top Sellers with everything they need to make the packages they send to their buyers unique – supporting them to create a more professional experience for their customers, resulting in repeat business. This approach was so successful for program members that some treated selling on Vinted as their job, similar to running a small boutique.

Vinted was smart about the way they approached incentives. They made sure that the opportunities for members were ever-changing and the only way to be kept in the loop was to remain active and engaged on the platform.


  1. Weight your incentive program heavily with intrinsic motivators and use extrinsic motivators sparingly.
  2. Incentives fall into 4 broad categories – visual recognition, financial incentives/gifts, exposure/recognition, and access to the brand.
  3. Target your audience specifically when designing your rewards program – provide incentives that support them to become better at what they want to do.



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