Building Successful Superuser Programs


Something we noticed while undertaking this research is the interchangeable way keywords are often used. It can all get a bit confusing. Before digging into the different types of programs, let’s define our terms.

Many brands have unique names for their programs. However, there are four terms that come up frequently when referring to the type of person the various programs target.

Let’s examine those:

  • An advocate is someone who proactively defends, promotes and participates in the public conversation for an organization, brand or product in a positive way. They usually do this with no interference from the brand.
  • An ambassador is a representative or promoter connected in some way to an organization, brand or product, usually with the goal of increasing brand awareness or sales.

Ambassador programs like Lululemon Ambassadors and Scoop Company Captains are about spreading brand recognition and often focus on bringing in referrals or leads. They tend to incentivise members to encourage a specific behavior.

Lululemon selects sportspeople with high public profiles as ambassadors and give them free clothing to wear at events which they host, or while working out. The primary objective is brand recognition.

Scoop financially incentivise drivers to act as internal spokespeople for the car-pooling service within their workplace or location.

Ambassador programs like the examples above can’t be classified as (and for legal reasons shouldn’t be referred to as) ‘volunteer’ programs because there are financial incentives.

  • An influencer is someone who leverages their profile or status to influence others through their personal and professional networks. They tend to be ‘thought leaders’ or ‘tastemakers’. In a formal influencer program this sharing happens almost exclusively over the person’s social media profiles and networks.
  • A top contributor (also known as a “superuser”) is someone who stands out above their peers as having worked harder towards the group or organizational goal.

Programs that leverage influencers and superusers fall into two broad categories – those based on rewarding past behavior and those with the aim of encouraging new behavior. If you are designing a program to support a well established community, you should choose the former. If your community is in the early stages of growth or will draw members who are new, choose the latter.

Remember that these classifications are broad – many programs that follow the superuser or top contributor model use the word ambassador in their program name. This practice is confusing and is an important thing to consider when naming your own program. Be sure to include specific or descriptive language as an indicator of your program type.

Superuser or top contributor programs usually focus on digital engagement. This may mean content creation or answering questions via forums or social channels. Some extend to in-person engagement such as hosting meetups or events.

In some cases people apply to become members and have to meet expectations or achieve goals in order to stay. AllRecipes Allstars and Yelp Elite are two examples of Super User programs with formalized applications and performance requirements.

In others, like Dell EMC Elect and Magento Masters, members are chosen based on the merits of their past activity and are retrospectively rewarded for that behavior.

Done right, superuser programs can solve many challenges. The first step on the road to success is deciding which kind of program will solve your challenge.

1Setting expectations needs to be done with caution in order to avoid illegalities surrounding employment law. See Legal Considerations for more information.


  1. Decide between the two basic types of program – will yours reward past behavior or encourage new behavior?
  2. Advocacy or ambassadorial/influencer programs are generally focused on marketing or sales based objectives.
  3. Superuser or top contributor programs are generally focused on engagement or content based objectives.
  4. Give your program a name that accurately reflects your goals.



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