Let’s be honest; as community experts, the term superuser will be as familiar to your ears as the roar of a car engine is to a racing driver. In fact, consider the last time you had a conversation about community without talking about superusers?
The problem is that people assume that there is a hidden word in the middle there - “super-valuable-user.” And it is not always a good assumption. .
We talk about them a LOT.
Discussions and debates about the topic of superusers can be found far and wide throughout the business of online communities. It’s often in the context of ‘superuser programs,’ but what does the term ‘superuser’ even mean?
In the context of online communities, a superuser is someone whose participation is statistically significant when compared to your community's average member.
This understanding is not new, but we see brand communities struggle with the superusers concept every day. The problems are varied but often start early on (long before the impact is evident), when brands are looking at the value their members bring to the community.
So what's the issue?
By nature of their statistical significance, this group of users combined will typically contribute more valuable content than your occasional participating community users. While this statement is true, unfortunately, it is also where the problems start, as we often see an inadvertent correlation created between the volume of participation and the value. They’re not one of the same, and this is an important distinction to remember.
Quantity ≠ Quality
Members who bring value to the community through their contributions are typically superusers, but being a superuser doesn't always mean those contributions are valuable.
Statistical significance can help you identify those who are most likely to bring value to community users and the brand, but this alone does not ensure it. Qualitative assessment is equally, if not more important.
You’ll often see this problem reflected in the frequency with which a formal recognition program is referred to as the community ‘superuser program.’ A formal recognition program is designed to recognize those who bring value to their peers and the brand through community participation. As previously noted, statistical significance does not equal value, so why are they so frequently called the ‘superuser program’?
This blurring of the lines between quantity and quality of contribution forms the foundation for so many of the issues we often see brands struggle to recognize.
Stay ahead of the challenges.
This problem can manifest itself in many ways, it's often not immediately evident, and by the time it is, it can be challenging to reset, so it's good to know what to look out for and get ahead of it.
When working with brands to redesign their formal recognition programs, we often face a few common challenges time and again:
Brands are historically relying only on the volume of contribution.
A lack of qualitative assessment fails to capture a member’s attitude toward their peers, the community team, and the brand.
And once invited to a formal recognition program and receiving their badge of honor, these members can feel empowered.
At best, their attitude doesn’t improve. At worst, it escalates. This formal recognition creates the perception of their behavior’s approval, setting the tone for what's acceptable. In turn, this has a direct impact on new and existing members’ continued participation.
Maintaining a clear distinction between superuser vs. valuable member within your community strategy and initiatives helps ensure the lines between quantity and quality are not blurred, programs are built with the right members in mind, and your set for success.
Remember, while valuable members are typically superusers, being a superuser doesn't guarantee value. In the end, superusers are just statistically significant. It is up to the brand to assess for value.