Hey @Kristinaking - I’m a little late in the game here, but being that your community sounds exactly like mine, I thought I’d jump in. We’re on our 3rd or so revision of champions. We are currently on GetSat (like Caty mentioned), so champs is the born in name of the program. I like it - particularly better than “rockstar” and whatnot.
I run a support community for software - so all our members use the product for work. For identifying, I started with a general “we’ll look for active, knowledgeable users” and reward them, but it was too loose. I’ve since set some hard numbers (level of contribution, number of trainings attended (so they are truly power users of product), and number of “good answer” metrics received for their posts in community. This way members can actually work towards becoming a champ. I’ve had several members email me to see how close they were (the gamification metrics weren’t built into platform - not ideal).
As far as their reward for being a champ, I’ve gone through several rounds and here’s what seems to work. They like product swag. I didn’t think they would because well, it’s work software. But we got clever designs that are less of our logo and more puns with minimal branding. I also send food (generally from a local bakery). Sounds weird, but it’s something that a whole office can enjoy - and encourages other staff to join community while recognizing a contributing coworker. We also give them access to release info early, a private roadmap session with products, involve them in any beta testing, and our big prize is an all expense paid trip to our conference. We found that a comp ticket wasn’t enough, as most orgs didn’t have the travel budget. We also found that often times the product end user is not the one who gets the budget to attend conferences. Our winner typically does a few blogs/posts for us while at conference and works with marketing for a reference/story. Because we have metrics on how many topics our champ has answered, I can say how much money he saved our support staff (should those topics have been cases), which helps with such a hefty reward.
For getting thought leaders, I too had trouble getting customers to offer up expertise. I had to make it super simple. If they post about something cool they are doing in the community with the software, I reach out to them to see if they’d be interested in blogging. Most rarely have the time or “don’t write” etc. So I go with a scheduled phone call or send them (no more than 5) questions and I put together the blog post. A little more work on my end, but I’ve had users who were really active in the follow up conversation, AFTER I posted the bulk of content.
Hope that helps!