Champions programs can have many names depending on the scope and business goals they support. But at the heart of all these programs is the same concept: a partnership between your organization and a group of loyal customers who are passionate about your brand and want to help take things to the next level.
This is a three-part series
Community-led companies like Patreon, Miro, and GitHub run gold standard programs for their top users and contributors, but you don't need a big team or budget to make an impact. In this three-part blog series, we’ll walk you through the benefits of a Champions Program, how to plan a successful Champions Program, and finally the steps to launching and growing your Champions Program.
Let's start by defining what - or who - champions are. Champions are the kind of people who enthusiastically support your company's mission and go above and beyond to contribute to the product and the organization’s success.
For example, in a product-centered community, champions are the ones who test new features and give feedback, answer questions in a forum, take the time to educate other members, or create content and make referrals to their personal network. They do this out of genuine love for the product, but also because there’s something in it for them. These could be intangible benefits like feelings of accomplishment, enjoyment from providing insight and supporting others, and helping make a product they love better. These could also be tangible benefits like early access to features, product discounts, or exclusive swag.
So, what's a Champions Program? It's a structured way for you to collaborate with your community's champions and recognize their meaningful contributions in alignment with your organization's goals. Think of it as a way to work with folks who have shown high love for your product or company and a willingness to consistently contribute to the community's development.
In exchange, through a Champions Program you help support their goals. This is important: great Champions Programs, like great communities generally, give more value than they get.
There are many kinds of value Champions Programs can create for their members. A few of those benefits include:
Supporting your champions goes beyond just sending them a custom coffee mug. Your aim is to help them to grow - personally and professionally - in the direction they aspire, creating win-win scenarios for everyone involved. A Champions Program exists to elevate organic advocates while raising awareness of the program to attract more champions to engage.
By creating value for members - while capturing some value in return - Champions Programs create a virtuous and mutually beneficial flywheel.
Bear in mind that while we’re using the term “champions” program, in practice there’s no current naming convention. “Champions” is the most common term, with “advocates” coming in second, however, many programs go by unique or branded names. Here are a few examples:
What should you call yours? It’s up to you, but naming should align with your brand’s ethos and kindle pride and joy among program members.
Champions Programs can accomplish some incredibly heavy lifting in the world of software adoption. Champions Programs can:
Fostering a group of highly engaged customers can make every other part of your business easier, from product feedback and learning, to developing user-generated content, driving referrals, building brand awareness, and more.
For many companies, the idea of building and launching a community can feel daunting, leading to questions about how to staff a community team, what chat or forum platforms to use, and how to generate engagement, among others (if you are interested in launching a full community effort, check out our blog post, A Practical Guide to Building a Community from Scratch).
In lieu of launching a Community with a capital C, a Champions Program can be a great way to create a small, high-gravity micro community that can help broader org-wide efforts, and the lessons you learn from your champions can help inform parts of your eventual full community efforts. In partnership with your initial champions you can explore topics like what kinds of events are useful, what kinds of topics seem interesting, and what platforms make the most sense. With this community-esque R&D leading the way, your organization can make thoughtful decisions when the time comes to spin up a full community effort.
What does a top tier Champions Program look like? Here are some inspiring real-world examples of brands that are driving product adoption, activation and retention with their programs.
Salesforce's Trailblazer Community — an extensive network of Salesforce customers and experts who help each other succeed and drive innovation. One of the most advanced programs out there, it includes a robust training curriculum, gamified achievements, and in-person events.
Adobe's Express Ambassadors — a group of creative professionals who share their expertise, inspire others, and provide valuable feedback on Adobe's products. It includes a Facebook Group and Discord server, a YouTube channel, and live events around the world.
Patreon’s Creator Ambassador Program — this program recognizes creators who have built successful memberships and advocate for fellow creators. Ambassadors are responsible for testing new product features, partnering with Patreon on promotional opportunities, and representing Patreon in creator communities both online and offline.
GitHub Stars — this program rewards GitHub’s most influential developers and gives them a platform to showcase their work, share their expertise with other members, reach more people, and shape the future of GitHub.
Algolia Advocates — recognizes the most innovative members of the community, providing them with opportunities to promote their brand, share their stories, and network with peers.
You can jump in at orbit.love/champions, but before you launch, you’ll want to plan your Champions Program out in detail. You can read more about the planning process in Part Two of our three-part blog series: Planning a Successful Champions Program.