Building a Champions Program for Developer-Focused Communities

  • Steven Yum

    October 12th, 2021

Image of a person with a crown on its head

You’ve been running your community for a few months now and are seeing steady growth in both membership and activity. A number of the members are particularly knowledgeable and go out of their way to share their expertise and help the rest of the community. You want to recognize and reward them for their contributions and decide it’s time to build a champions program.

First, hooray 🎉 Congratulations on building and supporting an engaged community. Now, the question: How do you start building a champions program?

In this post we’ll walk you through the three main steps to build your own champions program:

1. Define the program’s purpose

2. Identify candidates

3. Establish the program benefits

Start by clearly articulating the program’s purpose

You’ll want to first define why you want the program to exist. For example, you may want to recognize and reward the most engaged and influential members who are having a significant impact in your community. Or, you may want to acknowledge members who are eager to help others get more out of your product while advancing their own knowledge of it.

However you decide to define the purpose, be sure to refer back to it as your guiding principle as you build out the program. When I was managing developer communities at AWS, one example of a programmatic purpose I set was for our Getting Started program—to ease and accelerate the onboarding of new-to-AWS developers by providing a more guided and opinionated learning experience. Having that (seemingly) simple statement to refer back to helped me make decisions when it came to scoping and implementation (you know, all those behind-the-scenes things that help you serve your community best).

Additional examples of community programs with clear purpose statements to draw inspiration from include Confluent Community Catalyst, GitHub Stars, Productboard's Product Makers Ambassador, and AWS Heroes.

Determine the qualification criteria to identify candidates

Now that you’ve defined your program purpose, you need to establish the criteria required for acceptance into your champions program. It’s useful to look at a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure your champions reflect your community and your company's mission. You'll be advocating for them as much as they're advocating for you, so it's important that both of you are aligned and excited to collaborate and uphold each other's work.

As thought-starters, consider this initial list of criteria:

Quantitative: These metrics help you understand the impact and reach a champion might have, so their work can benefit the most people at once. Depending on your reporting structure, it might also help your teams measure the impact of their work within the community (e.g., how many people a champion positively helped, and how that lightened the load for some of your internal teams).

  • Social media reach (e.g., number of followers or subscribers on Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, YouTube, Twitch, etc.)
  • Technical reputation and influence (e.g., number of Stack Overflow reputation points and badges, GitHub contributions, etc.)
  • Content engagement (e.g., number and frequency of content created such as blog posts, newsletters, and tutorials, number of re-shares or re-tweets of or comments on published content, etc.)
  • Community engagement (e.g., number of meetups, Twitch streams, or workshops hosted or talks given at conferences)

Qualitative: This type of evaluation ensures you're endorsing someone who's able to articulate and share best practices around using your product. It's important for them to have a high bar of expertise and empathy, because you'll be helping to distribute and amplify their work.

  • High level of technical expertise (e.g., being an expert in your product / industry, member of GitHub Stars, AWS Heroes, Microsoft MVP, etc.)
  • Regularly creates and shares high-quality and impactful content. For example:
    • Writes blog posts, technical documentation, tutorials, or other how-to guides
    • Publishes books or podcasts
    • Contributes to open source projects
    • Speaks at relevant events and conferences
    • Leads meetup groups, workshops, etc.
  • Enthusiastic participation and engagement with the community
  • Proactively fosters relationships and strengthens ties within the community

Define the program benefits

You know the types of members you want to attract into your program. Now comes the fun part where you get to assemble exclusive benefits for those who are accepted. Typically, this is a mix of opportunities to amplify their reach, connect with other like-minded community leaders, get early access to product and roadmap, and of course, swag.

Use the below as starting points, and build in your own community-related fun stuff along the way:

  • Opportunities to tell their story, showcase their expertise, and amplify their reach
    • Early access to submit talks at sponsored conferences and events
    • Travel stipend to help speakers get to events
    • RFP review and feedback for external conferences and events
    • Amplification of their content through your social media channels
    • Co-create content that mutually extends reach of both the member and your company (e.g., YouTube walkthroughs, Twitch streams, podcasts, etc.)
    • Co-sponsor events (e.g., providing them a stipend to run workshops or host user groups together for quarterly dinners)
  • Facilitate connections with other like-minded community leaders
    • Complimentary pass to paid conferences and events
    • Exclusive networking and social events at sponsored conferences and events
  • Early product access and roadmap influence
    • Early access to product betas
    • Direct access to 1:few product/feature feedback sessions
    • Quarterly access to product managers and roadmap influence and feedback
    • Credits to experiment and build with your services
  • Exclusive swag

Now go build!

WIth the above three steps you should be well equipped to build out your champions program. No two programs will be alike, as it will be a reflection of what makes your community unique, so don’t worry about trying to exactly replicate what others have done. Instead, focus on what will be most meaningful to your members and if you don't know—ask them!

Building a community-based program best happens in tandem with your community. The rest will come naturally. If you have any questions along the way, come ask us in our weekly office hours.

Already built or run your own champions program? Tell us about it in our Uncommon Slack or on Twitter.


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