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Planning a Successful Contributor Program

August 17, 2023
Patrick Woods
Co-Founder & CEO
Planning a Successful Contributor Program
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

Each week we go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. We share tactics, trends and valuable resources we've observed in the world of community building.

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This is a three-part series

  1. What is a contributor program?
  2. Planning a successful contributor program (you are here)
  3. Launching and growing your contributor program

Much like we discussed in our guide to planning a champions program, you can set yourself up for success by planning your contributions program with a foundation based on 3 pillars: identifying your goals, defining your ideal members, and pinpointing your value proposition.

🔬Identify your program goals

At the heart of every successful contributor program lies a clear set of goals. What do you aim to achieve through this initiative? Defining specific and measurable goals will serve as the foundation upon which your contributor program is built.

Here are some common goals for different teams:

Marketing and Content teams - increased brand awareness, trust, top-of-funnel growth, increased referrals

  • UGC blog posts
  • Organic social media posts featuring your product or service
  • Case studies
  • Customer quotes and testimonials
  • Discover speakers for events and meetups

Product teams - increased customer satisfaction, acquisitions and retention, and brand reputation

  • Reduce bug fix turnaround time
  • Increase the number of features implemented per release
  • Expand the user base through community engagement
  • Get timely feedback on new features and products

Developer Experience teams - enhanced developer adoption, product usage, customer satisfaction and dev loyalty

  • Get feedback on product docs
  • Grow the library of starter code examples

To be explicit, these goals are about how the department and company will benefit from the contribution program. At the team level, you’ll want to be sure that the program goals align with overall company goals. Otherwise, no matter how successful the program ends up being on its own terms, it won’t receive continued support from the company. 

It’s also worth noting that the goals for your program members should be articulated as well. In other words, folks writing blog posts about your tool don’t really care about your internal KPIs. They do, however, care what’s in it for them, which is super important and will be explored below. 

Whatever they are, by pinpointing your goals, you'll be able to direct your efforts, track progress, and showcase the tangible impact your contributor program has on your company's growth trajectory.

🙋 Define Your Ideal Member Profile

Not all contributors are the same, and that's the beauty of contributor programs – they attract a diverse pool of people with varying skills, backgrounds, and perspectives. However, having a clear understanding of your ideal member profile can help you target and attract the right contributors who align with your program's goals and values.

Consider the skills, expertise, and qualities that would make a contributor valuable to your program. Are you seeking developers who specialize in a certain programming language, designers with a knack for user interfaces, or community members who excel at fostering engagement? Crafting an ideal member profile will guide your recruitment efforts and ensure that your contributors are well-equipped to make meaningful contributions.

💜 Use Orbit to identify ideal members

Orbit assigns Love and Reach scores based on a user community member’s history of activities and connections within the community, with top members making into Orbit Level 1. 

You can use Orbit Level, Love, and Reach to spot relevant candidates for your program. You can also use Orbit’s advanced filtering capabilities, or identify users based on their activities.

📍 Pinpoint Your Program’s Value Proposition

Why should individuals invest their time and effort in your contributor program? What do they want, and what do they expect? For example: they may want a platform for bringing readers to their content, and they may expect access to your marketing team for feedback and ideas, or your product team for a sneak peek at your company roadmap. 

This is where your program's value proposition comes into play. Clearly communicating what contributors stand to gain from participating in your program is crucial for attracting and retaining active members.

Some potential benefits could include:

  • Networking opportunities
  • Access to resources
  • Recognition and credibility
  • Personal branding
  • Early access
  • Mentorship
  • Portfolio building
  • Innovation and idea exchange
  • Involvement in decision making
  • Monetary rewards or perks
  • And, of course, swag 😎

Highlight the unique benefits your program offers, and demonstrate how their involvement can be personally and professionally rewarding.

Remember: the best programs are about a creative give and take, resulting in healthy, robust organic growth. As you think about your program’s value proposition, consider what your ideal members want to achieve, and what you can offer them in return.

That’s not to say you can’t expect value capture from your members. As you refine your program, you should also outline what you’ll expect from members - contribution expectations, how you’ll support them in the program, and what sort of time commitment they can expect along the way will be important parts of the program details. You’ll want to define these during planning, so you can clearly communicate your expectations of program members once you launch and during onboarding. 

Summarize your plan 

Clear communication is key to building trust and obtaining buy-in from internal and external stakeholders. Once you’ve identified your program goals, defined your ideal members, and pinpointed your value proposition, summarize your plan with:

  • Program goal 
  • Ideal member profile
  • Program value proposition
  • Member expectations (what you want members to do)
  • Program support (how you’ll help them do it)
  • Any other details (like time boxing, etc)

[ Program name ] is for [ ideal member profile ] who want [ program value proposition ]. In exchange they will [ member expectations ] and we’ll provide support by [ program support ]. This will help the company because [ program goal ].

Once you’ve robustly outlined your contributor program plans and have buy-in from your stakeholders, it’s time to launch and grow your contributor program.

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