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What is a Contributor Program?

August 17, 2023
Patrick Woods
Co-Founder & CEO
What is a 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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From user generated content and online communities to open-source software projects, contributor programs are creating waves across a variety of fields. These initiatives have become a cornerstone for companies looking to harness the collective power of community members who share a common goal: to contribute their skills, time, and resources to a larger mission.

But there’s big upside for the contributors as well. In addition to educating and entertaining with their code and content, they typically receive tangible and intangible benefits from the program. Tangible benefits can include invites to insider events, product discounts, and special edition swag. Additionally, as part of the program, the parent company will usually leverage their network to distribute the contribution to their audience, bringing recognition and credibility to the contributor. 

This is a three-part series

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

In this guide, we’ll delve into why contributor programs matter more than ever for companies of all sizes and industries, and we'll uncover how these programs impact different facets of an organization, benefiting diverse stakeholders ranging from developers and engineers to marketing teams and executives. Then, we’ll move on to planning for your contributor program, and finally we’ll take you step by step through launching and growing your program.

What is a contributor program?

In a buyer-centric world where Software is no longer sold but is adopted, the most innovative companies are looking to their communities to drive awareness, adoption, and overall value. 

Contributor programs, which encourage collaboration and engagement from diverse corners of your user base and community, have proven to be instrumental in driving growth, fostering innovation, and redefining the way companies operate.

A contributors program is an initiative where individuals, often from a community or organization, contribute their time, skills, or resources (or all three!) towards a common goal or project. Some programs are sophisticated and structured, whereas others are more lightweight 

In the realm of content and marketing, contributor programs take a unique approach to engage a diverse array of individuals. Contributor programs welcome writers, designers, strategists, and enthusiasts from various domains to contribute user-generated content (UGC) that amplifies your brand's message and resonates with your audience.

From engaging blog posts that share insights and stories related to your industry to case studies, testimonials, and even community-building activities that foster connections and elevate your brand's reputation, contributor programs allow members to be recognized for their valuable contributions while your brand gains notable and genuine social credibility.

Contributor programs can extend beyond content and marketing, too. In the context of open-source software, for example, a contributions program encourages developers, designers, testers, and other interested individuals to contribute code, documentation, bug fixes, or other improvements to a software project. These contributions are typically reviewed and integrated by the project maintainers, and contributors may be recognized for their efforts through various means, such as mentions in release notes or official documentation.

Ultimately, contributor programs are a way to foster collaboration, engagement, and growth within communities and organizations by allowing individuals to share their skills and resources to achieve common objectives, and receive something in return for their efforts.

🚀 The far-reaching impact of contributor programs

Contributor programs offer a plethora of benefits, ranging from increased innovation and cost efficiency to improved product quality and community engagement, and more. 

Contributor programs also have a far-reaching impact across numerous teams and roles within nearly any organization. They promote collaboration and engagement while benefiting both internal teams and external users. Here's how different teams and individuals can use contributor programs to their advantage:

Marketing and PR: Contributor programs offer a compelling narrative for marketing efforts and can drive coveted user generated content creation like blog posts, testimonials, case studies, social media posts, and more. Your marketing team may be small, but imagine adding even 5-10 fractional marketers to your team and what you can produce with those extra hands.

Product Managers: Contributor programs can provide valuable insights into user needs, preferences, and pain points. This helps product managers make informed decisions about feature prioritization, design enhancements, and overall product strategy.

Developers and Engineers: Dev teams can benefit by collaborating with external contributors who bring diverse perspectives, expertise, and ideas. They can learn from each other's code and practices, which can lead to upskilling and professional growth.

HR and Talent Acquisition: Contributor programs can serve as a talent pipeline. Identifying skilled and enthusiastic contributors can lead to potential recruitment opportunities for full-time positions within the organization.

Sales and Support: A vibrant contributor community can result in more satisfied users. External contributors might identify and address issues that customers are facing, leading to quicker problem resolution and enhanced customer satisfaction, while UGC can tackle some common support requests, reducing support debt and decreasing the number of formal support tickets created.

Executives and Leadership: Execs can benefit from contributor programs through improved product quality, accelerated development cycles, and cost savings (including reduced support debt). These programs also demonstrate the company's commitment to innovation, community engagement, and strategic growth.

Company-wide: Overall, the company benefits from increased innovation, faster development cycles, improved product quality, community engagement, and a positive brand image. Contributor programs can contribute to the company's long-term sustainability and success.

Customers and Users: Customers and users benefit from the contributor program as well! They get access to better-quality products, more features, solutions that align more closely with their needs and preferences, and a thriving community to be welcomed into.

There are several flavors of contributor programs that you can consider. Once you’ve identified that your organization is ready to reap the rewards of such a program, it’s time to dive into planning your contributor program.

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