Driving word-of-mouth flywheel for your community

Your goal isn’t to force the flywheel to spin forever, instead, it is to keep it spinning for as long as possible. This means you have to do everything you can to reduce any friction that might slow it down.
Priyanshu Anand
October 9, 2023

Driving word-of-mouth flywheel for your community

Your goal isn’t to force the flywheel to spin forever, instead, it is to keep it spinning for as long as possible. This means you have to do everything you can to reduce any friction that might slow it down.
Priyanshu Anand
June 27, 2023

When community members are also customers, their connection extends beyond the product itself. They possess a sense of belonging within the community, and as their tenure within the community grows, so does their likelihood of remaining loyal both as members and customers. Over time, these devoted members transform into advocates for your brand or product, leading to increased visibility and customer retention.

If your brand was intentionally built with a focus on community, the potential for cultivating more advocates becomes even greater. This is what distinguishes community-led growth from other approaches. While it may not be the quickest path to expansion, it is undeniably the most sustainable.

Visualize this process as a flywheel—a self-perpetuating mechanism that continues to spin on its own. Think of it this way - A newcomer encounters your brand or product. They start exploring it, delve into your community's knowledge base, and become aware of the community's existence. They join, experience an enjoyable onboarding process, and gain instant value through activation. They start engaging in conversations, eventually becoming active contributors, sharing advice, and providing answers. Gradually, they transform into advocates, publicly talking about your brand. This creates a cycle—a flywheel effect—where new strangers discover your brand, creating a self-perpetuating mechanism that continues to spin on its own.

Structuring programs to facilitate the flywheel

The flywheel effect often takes shape organically but how it scales depends tremendously on how you leverage or, in other words, give structure to it. You cannot force people to like your brand or your community. But what you can do is connect with folks who are already active contributors and tell them you’d like to help them do what they’re doing. Essentially, when you’re structuring or scaling programs to improve word-of-mouth, you’re not asking people to do something new, instead, you’re telling them to continue doing what they’re already doing while facilitating that the best you can.

These structures can be thought of as programs. There are brands out there that exemplify community-led programs like Superuser, Advocacy, or Ambassador programs. Success stories like Notion or Discourse have become unicorns by simply tying people’s genuine love for the product to orchestrated programs that motivate them to continue building a sustainable flywheel. But there has to be a strong reason for you to be building a community program.

Whatever specific goal for your business or community should be defined first and the community programs should be built around that. So if you want to build a Super User program and if you try and reverse engineer it and create a structure that doesn’t stand on a foundation, you’re setting yourself up for failure because you cannot go after champions or power users after you’ve created a full-fledged program. Identifying has to be the stepping stone to growth. And this applies to all kinds of community programs.

But this doesn’t mean all programs are the same. A Super User program, for instance, is one that identifies and nurtures your power users within the community and uses them to amplify the existing goals of your community. An Advocacy program is more of an extension of a marketing strategy where you deploy your fans and enable them to become the voice of your product. Whereas, an Ambassador program is something that empowers users to disseminate and spread your brand to others. The bottom line that ties all different programs together is realizing the need for it.

Creating a Super User program

A Super User program needs to be aligned with the right community goals that further align with your business goals. As we even talked about before, a super user or a power user is someone you could leverage to amplify the existing goals of your community and act as a part of your brand. It’s like offering them an opportunity to be a part of the decision-making, a part of the conversation. Super User program can be one of the most effective community-focused initiatives if you’re doing it with the right objectives in mind. It’s a really good way to scalably build a knowledge base, crowdsource expertise, and explore subjectivity in the depth of knowledge.

Identifying super users for the program

Discourse is one great example of how to do Super User programs right. Sarah Hawk, who is now one of the CEOs of Discourse, talked about how they scaled their Super User program and to begin with, how can we identify super users in the community.

  1. The first way is to let it happen naturally. There are members who have proven their worth and have surfaced as prime candidates to spearhead this program. You’ve interacted with them so you know their voice and can decide whether or not are they aligned with your goals. Once you trust them and put that recognization on their shoulder, the trust is bound to go both ways. Now, these power users are willing to go the distance for you if you’re willing to do the same.
  2. The second way is to create an onboarding flow that allows anyone to become a super user through a rigorous process of training, education, and objectives. This way, although can lead to a higher number of super users, demands a lot more administrative load of going through applications and making sure that these members continue to fit the framework or the structure that you’ve defined.

A good way to identify super users is by tagging them. You can easily filter out your super users simply by using this tag and not having to manually pick them out every time you need to.

In the following example, 4 community members have been selected and then tagged as “Super user”.

Tagging members as "Super user"

Now, when I use that tag as a filter, it gives me the list of the members I’ve tagged as a “Super user”.

Filtering members based on "Super user" tag

You can also identify your super users through a pre-built report on Threado’s dashboard that surfaces “Potential Champions” in the community. You can identify if these members are capable of becoming super users and enroll them into the program by tagging them (as shown above).

Identifying Potential Champions

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Defining goals for your Super User program

The goals you would want to achieve with the Super User program should be aligned with the goals you want to achieve through the community. Crowdsourcing support is an excellent primary goal but you have to ensure the best possible support for the power users before you can expect them to do the same. Another important thing to keep in mind while defining goals is to make sure you’re not mistaking “results” with “goals”. For example, increasing community engagement is more of a result of a goal you achieve. In this case, the goal might be driving more subject matter experts and improved community engagement becomes a product of that goal.

Nurturing and empowering super users

“People are often motivated by one of three things - the need for confidence, the need for status, and the need for connection.” - Sarah Hawk, CEO of Discourse

When nurturing, you have to focus on intrinsically motivating people, and in doing so, you should focus on one of these three things - confidence, status, or connection - as a point of leverage. After you figure out what motivates them, this is when you incentivize their needs as a token that keeps that dedicated to the program. If they want to gain confidence or get better at what they do, give them the educational prowess, give them the opportunity to publicly showcase their work, let them guest blog, or bring them in as speakers. For someone who values positions or status more, create steps or reward them with badges or custom titles that are fancy. If they’re motivated by connections, give them an open platform to connect and network with like-minded people.

Nurturing and empowering your super users means having constant conversations with them, delighting them with new resources, orchestrating timely check-ins, and making sure you’re always delivering whatever they need, whenever they need it.

A good onboarding can always start things off on a positive note. In fact, with Threado, you can use the same Tag we created before (the one for super users) to enroll them into an onboarding workflow.

Onboarding Super users workflows

Once you’ve activated the workflow, any member that gets tagged as a super user will be directly enrolled in it. You can design an elaborate workflow that onboards over a certain period of time and delivers all critical pieces of information for them to get started.

Other than that, outreach can help you reach out to them whenever you want. So, you can schedule weekly check-ins and send them DMs just to see how are they doing or if they’re facing any problems.

Sending week check-ins to super users as DMs

Reviewing content before sending weekly check-ins

You can schedule this to go out every couple of weeks and not have to worry about manually sending it. In fact, you can also use outreach to communicate upcoming events, reminders, competitions, or any routine updates.

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The flywheel takes time

In a conversation with Christina Garnett, the Principal Marketing Manager for Offline Community and Advocacy, she talks about how the only commonality between two community members is you. So your job as a community builder is to enable those one-to-one connections that eventually transpire into many-to-many connections. You are an enabler of connections and then the right thing to do it move out the way.

Ambassador and Advocacy programs are the best way to bring more people in organically because you’re not selling anything. Christina also mentions how some of these community builders became friends and ended up inviting each other on their podcasts. They created micro-communities within the larger community and you’re acting as a bridge between these micro communities that are sort of self-sustaining.

Starting a community program does not guarantee a flywheel effect. Human tendencies are unpredictable and henceforth, achieving the right community goals isn’t always guaranteed. You can (and you will) run into crises every now and then but that’s a part of it. What’s even more so important to note is that a flywheel cannot spin perpetually. It is bound to come to a stop eventually.

But your goal isn’t to force the flywheel to spin forever, instead, it is to keep it spinning for as long as possible. This means you have to do everything you can to reduce any friction that might slow it down. Pay attention to what your community needs, stay on top of everything, have monthly reports, and observe how your community is responding to your efforts. All these little things will compound to assuring the sustenance of your flywheel.

And it does get easier with Threado.

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