Finding & Empowering Your Super Fans, with Jake McKee

Big or small, communities are often lifted up on the props of the super fans or highly engaged advocates that have the desire for a strong connection with the brand or branded experiences. More times than not, these super fans have exceptional influence over the people you connect with every day. It’s incredibly important to be mindful of each relationship and every touch point, carefully leveraging, not overstepping and definitely not alienating.

We connected with Community5 CEO, Jake Mckee, on how to best leverage these super fans for the sake of community development:

First and foremost, how do you define a super fan?

JM: Quite simply, super fans are passionate, engaged leaders of your community, online or offline. All three of these words mean something important. Super fans aren’t just highly active community members, they’re more than that. They’re leading the community, directly or by example.

What they are not is “influencers” or people who get paid to promote a message. They are volunteers who are rallied around and emotionally connected to your community’s shared purpose.

Why would a brand want a super fan based on that definition?

JM: Any social group needs leadership. Leaders, whether we’re talking about CEOs or a community super fans, help to drive a group forward. They help directly and indirectly set the vision for how to move the group forward, then support the group achieve that vision. Super fans are often answering significant numbers of open questions, engaging new members, connecting with your company to provide representative feedback about the community health, and generally modeling behaviors that we want to see replicated by other community members.

Can successful and engaged communities exist when leaders aren’t participating?

JM: To that, I’d say no. Or even more directly, I don’t think that communities without leaders are really communities at all. They’re places to ask questions and get answers, as an interactive knowledge base. And these are important tools, don’t get me wrong.


I believe that if you’re seeking to build a fantastic community, you need to build strategies and programs that help you first design fantastic social connection experiences. Treat the process like you would any other program, but be true to what a community is and how they work when building your strategy.


One of the biggest benefits for companies to build Super Fan programs is that it allows a tiered engagement system. Most companies run their communities with small teams. A single community manager can’t possibly hope to engage 15,000+ people individually. But they certainly can engage 15 Super Fans, for example. Community managers engage the 15 top Super Fans. Those Super Fans, in turn, engage 150 key members. And before you know it, those 150 people have spread the word about key issues to the entire community. 

Are there any examples you can think of brands giving up control and empowering super fans inside their community?

JM: Giving up “control” isn’t a on/off situation. Brands shouldn’t give up their control all together. After all, they’re ultimately responsible for the communities they build. The question is where to control and where to empower. Most successful communities give their super fans functionality and authority to lead. The Apple Support Forum, for instance, gives their Super Fans extra tools to help them more easily sort new content that needs answered. Sites like Reddit enlist volunteer moderators to help keep the content on the site clean and positive. 


Empowering Super Fans can take two forms:
1. Giving them extra technical privileges to perform on-site functions the regular member cannot
2. Giving them better access to the company team to better understand background realities as well as giving their feedback more weight

Super Fans are not “puppets” of the company, by any means. In fact, if they feel like they are puppets, or if the community sees them as such, you have a huge problem.


Super Fans are also not free agents doing whatever they want either. Brands have to give up control of message and approaches, but not governance over direction.

Are there any exceptional examples of brands that recognize superusers/fans? If so, which brands and why?

One of my favorite examples is the LEGO Ambassador program. LEGO has a lean community team who works hard on a number of key projects every day. There are hundreds of adult LEGO fan groups around the world, with more coming every day. So the community team created the LEGO Ambassador program as a representative council, so to speak, that brings two people from each local club together online. These representative work fluidly every day with the LEGO community team and then push messages, updates, information, and more back out to the larger community. 

The Microsoft MVP program is an amazing program, growing every year, that helps recognize (and therefore drive) great community leadership. 

And community programs like AT&T ACE and Autodesk Expert Elite do a great job of highlighting contributors in those communities. 

About Guest Author Jake McKee:

Community5 CEO, Jake McKee is a 20+ year veteran of the online community industry and one of the pioneers of Super Fan engagement. He has lead community efforts at LEGO and Apple and helps countless clients supercharge their social/community programs. He’s co-authored multiple books on community/social media best practices and even had his work featured on the cover of Wired Magazine. He’s known in the industry as the original Community Guy.

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