Building Successful Superuser Programs


One of the most important things to establish if you want your program to be a success is what motivates your members. What makes them want to be part of your program? If you can answer that question you’ll be able to tailor your incentives to keep them highly engaged, valuable, and proud to advocate for your brand.

Self-determination theory suggests that peak motivation is reached when we satisfy three needs:

  1. The need for competence
  2. The need for autonomy
  3. The need for relatedness

Basic motivators fall broadly into three groups:

  • Education (Competence)
    Are people facing challenges in their life or career that you can help them meet with training, certification or product knowledge?
  • Exposure (Status or autonomy)
    Do they need support to build their career? Can you give them opportunities to contribute in different ways so that they can build their brand?
  • Connectedness (Social identity or relatedness)
    Is feeling part of a ‘secret society’ or a tight-knit group important? Do people want to give something back to others who supported them when times were tough?

Taking connectedness one step further – do people want to be associated with your brand? Social identity theory proposes that a person’s sense of themselves is influenced by the groups that they are a member of. Brands that have iconic leaders will likely motivate members to participate by implying a connection of some kind to that person.

The tricky thing here is that members don’t always know what their true motivations are. Even when they do, they may not want to tell you the truth. “I do this because it feels good to give back” is a lot easier to say than “I’m motivated by status”.

Different groups are motivated by different things and as people gain experience those motivations may change. You can make educated assumptions about your members based on psychographics, and by watching their behavior.

For instance, members of tech communities are often motivated by competition. They want to be seen as being the best – having the best product knowledge, or writing the best code. They are often looking for new work or a career step and want to be seen as industry leaders. Giving them a platform to show off their knowledge and skills is a powerful motivator.

For others, it may be the opportunity to learn more about products or services that are important to them. Getting inside knowledge or hearing things ahead of the crowd might be very motivating for people that write technology or product blogs.

“We get access to things like betas and get info on launches before they go public which is great for those of us that like to blog a lot.”

Joy Hawkins – Google Top Contributor

In the case of open-source communities, public recognition for the contributions that members have made can be motivating.

“You get to make a mark on a product that millions of people use all the time without being an engineer or knowing code. That’s the underlying motivation.”

Tracey Churray – Foursquare 1

1 CMX Hub

Others like to feel like part of a team or a strong community. Friendships, business networking and the potential for other relationships are other motivations. Many ambassadors are passionate about the role because they feel like they are part of the family or part of your brand.

“I think the sponsored trips were the most appealing. The visits provided a look into Lithium culture as well as provided face to face interactions with Lithium employees.”

Jenn Chen – Lithium Stars

You might have members that feel a strong connection to your brand and get genuine satisfaction from taking part in the community.

“Different members are motivated for different reasons – it was important that we identified those motivators for each program. Some wanted to be seen as a thought leader, a trendsetter, a top seller/expert, they loved helping others, or they had the desire to help shape the future of Vinted with their contributions to others and to our team directly. There was also a surprising number of members that simply had fun buying/selling on the platform and volunteering in some way was a natural progression for them as it meant spending more time doing the activities they already loved.”

Ro Hensley – Vinted

Others might benefit from the direct connection to your product or support teams.

“Personally I love the regular discussions we have with Google Employees who aren’t the typical support-employees that you get when you call phone support. Having direct access to ask Google questions and bring up problems is extremely beneficial.”

Joy Hawkins – Google Top Contributor

Erica Kuhl 2 names two key motivations for members of the Salesforce MVP program:

    1. Access: They want to be seen as “smarter than the average bear” (either because they’re a consulting company or they work for a company and they are gunning for a promotion)
    2. Recognition: They want to sit in the front row at Salesforce events, have a badge they can display on their blogs, LinkedIn profiles, and business cards, and they just want to be recognized for their knowledge.

Similarly, members of the Yelp Elite Squad say that being a member is akin to being in a ‘secret society’.

“I’m finally now a Gold Elite, and certain parties are only for us. It makes me feel like a VIP celebrity of San Francisco.”

Yelp Elite Program Member 3

2 CMX Hub


So how can you get to the bottom of what motivates your members? Don’t ask them directly – ask them other questions and see what you can distill from their answers.

Let’s look at some examples of questions you might ask and some ideas for analysis of the responses:

How did you hear about the program?

  • Did they hear someone else talking about it on another site? If so, find out what was said that made the idea sound appealing. If they talk about specific rewards this will give you good insight into motivations.
  • Did they find mention of it on your own site? If so, what were they looking for when they came across it? This could give you insight into their interests or challenges.

Why are you interested in the program?

  • If the response here is to “give back” try and dig a bit deeper. What kind of work do they do? Does it relate in some way to the program?

How would you like to get involved?

  • These answers might give you ideas about the kinds of things they are interested in, which may indicate motivation. E.g. Do they want to organize meet-ups (i.e. is networking a motivation?)?

What would you change about the program?

  • See Google example left. If this answer relates to publicity then status is likely their motivation.

Why do you believe you would be a great fit for the program?

  • Responses that list skillsets could be an indication of a need for exposure (they want others to know what they are good at) or education (they are interested in learning more / having access to information or products.)

Tell us about how you describe [brand] to your colleagues/community.

  • You will be able to glean information from the tone of this answer. If they are overly effusive or enthusiastic, exposure or connection to the brand may be a motivator.

And finally, remember that over time the motivations of your users may change. Ask for feedback – are your members still excited by the same things today that they were when they joined a year ago?

This is where regular check-ins can ensure that you keep your program running as effectively as possible. Ask members the same questions you asked the first time you interviewed them and see how their answers differ. You can record those questions in the planning document.


  1. Understanding member motivation is key to tailoring your incentives to keep members highly engaged.
  2. Members may not be transparent about why they want to be part of your program so read between the lines.
  3. Motivations tend to fall into 3 categories – education, exposure and connectedness.
  4. Member motivations may change over time. Keep communication regular and make appropriate changes when necessary.



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