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How we seeded our future champions program using Common Room

We’ve written before about building champions programs, also commonly called ambassador and hero programs, because so many of our customers and community members are seeking to build one, currently building one, or managing and growing an existing one.

Lots of companies have built champions programs to admire, including customers like Asana and Figma, and lots of community leaders have delivered super useful posts and talks about how to both start them and manage them. We wanted to take those best practices and combine them with the functionality and insights from Common Room to show community builders how the right tools can make building, growing, and managing a champions program easier, more effective, and more fun.

Toward the end of 2022, I got to present on this exact topic at The Community Roundtable and DevRelCon. More recently, community leaders in our Uncommon community Slack have been discussing the why and how of launching and managing champions programs, so I wanted to record my presentation to share it more broadly with community builders looking to do the same. This video goes into detail about the what, why, and how, and below I’ve captured a few main ideas. Let’s do this thing.

What is a champions program?

To make sure we’re on the same page, I used the following definition of a champions program:

  • It's designed to create a closer connection with product users to extend knowledge, improve brand recognition, and drive sales
  • It's time-based and generally a long-term partnership (often a year+ duration)
  • It's give and get: Both external product users and internal teams give value and get value. Champions programs are mutually beneficial.
  • It embodies best practices from great examples like Heroes at AWS, MVPs at Microsoft, Asana Together at Asana, Trailblazers at Salesforce, the Figma community, and more.

Why build a champions program?

We asked the same thing. To use more than anecdotal data based on previous experience and stories from our customers who sensed their programs’ impact, we did a cohort-based analysis on data from customers using our product data and CRM integrations to understand if and how champions, or ambassadors, produced more positive outcomes than community members not enrolled in such a program. Ultimately, we found:

  • Organizations that invest in community programming accelerate their revenue growth. Ambassadors accelerate that growth even more.
  • Organizations that invest in ambassador programs have over 3x average recurring revenue than those without.
  • Community events are effective: Ambassadors who attend an event adopt new features faster...and can amplify those features' reach faster.

How we seeded our future champions program using Common Room

I say 'seeded' our future champions program because for us the program we’re building with our initial community and product member leaders - what we’re calling our Community Advocacy Board - is just the beginning.

We’re co-creating this experience with them and each meeting teaches us a little bit more about how to best use our time together so that it delivers value to them, to our internal teams and, ultimately, back to the broader community itself. Before I dive into how we seeded our future Uncommon champions program, I want to paint a quick ‘before’ and ‘after’ experience illustrating how I’ve done this in the past.

  • Then: When I was at AWS, I used a large spreadsheet with lots of rows (containing the names of excellent contributors who seemed like a great fit for our AWS Serverless Heroes program based on internal and external recommendations) and lots of columns (containing every platform a potential Hero might be active on from GitHub to Stack Overflow to YouTube to Twitch to Twitter to LinkedIn to personal newsletters and blogs, what kind of activity they had done in the past 6 months, links to their work, appearances at conferences, user group and meetup coordination, and a general rating between 1 - 5 in terms of alignment to the Heroes program principles and qualifications).

    That spreadsheet was…a lot. For everyone. Including the Technical team members who would augment my ratings with technical reviews of code and content. From that identification process, we’d kick off a series of manual invitations, manual response tracking, manual check-ins and surveys, and ad-hoc connectivity to internal teams. That was then.
  • Now: Identifying the right community members is easy, and doing everything from inviting them into the program to consistently engaging with them, checking in with them, polling them, understanding and responding to their needs in real time, and connecting them to the right internal teams is made simpler, more manageable, actually trackable, and way faster with Common Room.

It’s important to start a champions program somewhere, and this is how we seeded ours using Common Room:

  • Align our goals internally: I connected with stakeholders in marketing, product, success, and growth to make sure we could both give and get value from the program, what that means to each function, and how each function could contribute to the members involved.
  • Set the bar: We established our criteria for inclusion as folks who were top community contributors in Slack, an active product user, and whose impact was above 100 points.
  • Find our champions: With the above criteria set, I used Common Room to easily identify the members who matched it and added them to a 'Community Advocacy Board invitees' segment so I could track, manage, and measure the program.
  • Start the conversation: With bulk messaging in Slack (also available for Discord!), it's easy to send invitations, check-ins, and updates to members.
  • Trust yourself. You know your community best: Adding this one here because it's always a good reminder. Maybe you have a member who's contributing to your community and product in a significant way outside of the usual channels.

How to build with and for your champions

Once we used Common Room to identify and invite the right founding members, there’s so much more we can do! I’ll walk through the main Common Room surfaces where a lot of the magic happens.

  • Segments: Using segments, I can understand where people are in the program's user journey. I can also create workflows, team alerts, and reports specifically for this segment, or cohort, of community members.
  • Workflows: Using workflows, I can set up a cohort-based message to send automatically when a member of my 'Community Advocacy Board invitee' segment hits a special milestone. For example, when a member reaches 500 impact points, they'll receive a message thanking them for their contributions to the community and offering them a lil something fun.
  • Team alerts: In addition to our Success-led customer conversations, our Community Advocacy Board members represent the voice of our community, the voice of our customers, and the voice of our users at large. It's important that we keep a real-time pulse on what's important to them, wherever they're sharing it. Using team alerts, I can set up multiple ways to make sure our internal teams know exactly what's happening across the community. For example, I can set up a team alert so that anytime activity occurs community-wide (in any connected integration) from someone in our 'Community Advocacy Board invitee' segment that has negative sentiment, our interal #community-needs channel immediately gets pinged.
  • Reporting: From our reporting page, I can filter to see how my 'Community Advocacy Board invitee' segment is interacting in my community compared to members who are not enrolled in the program. Do they have higher engagement rates? Better response rates? More positive (or negative) sentiment? For us, the answer is happily 'yes'. I can also look at Topics, a sub-section of reporting, and filter by my segment to quickly understand what's top-of-mind for these members, who are some of our most active contributors and product users.

What we've learned so far

As a program designed to co-teach, co-learn, and collaborate, we had a few main takeaways from our first meeting, including the need to be more specific in our requests to members so they know how their perspective and use cases can benefit the whole group—this means coming to a member with a clear ask like, “Hey, I know you’ve been using our Survey workflows in your community and getting great results! Will you walk us through your use case to help all of us understand the inputs and outcomes?”

I also learned that I need to hold more space for education—Common Room releases features like woah, and as we all venture into this age of intelligent community tooling together, it’s important to create the space for each of us (including me!) to understand how to use this powerful platform thoughtfully, effectively, and in the spirit of serving our communities even better.

I’m extremely excited to learn how you all build, or have built, your champions programs, where you'd like to take them next, and the ways in which Common Room can help.

To share your community-building best practices with 1500+ community and DevRel leaders on the daily, join our Uncommon community Slack. I’m there too of course, and would love to exchange a DM or two or ten.