The power of Brand Advocacy

In yesterdays discussion at the Social Media Club’s “Big Results, Small Budget” we discussed several topics.  My table’s topic was Brand Advocacy.   We discussed how building brand advocates is a long term and sustainable solution to empower the community to share your message, create content and develop lasting relationships.  Here are a few more notes from the event:

What is the difference between influencers and brand advocates?

Before we can discuss the difference between influencers and advocates, we should define them.

How do you determine if someone is influential?

First, the degree of someones social influence is not about sheer numbers of followers someone has.  It should be better determined by the level of engagement they can drive.   You can get a good sense of someone’s social reach by going through each of their social posts and viewing the number of times they were shared out and if the message was re-shared again and so on.  Another way is to just check their Klout score :)

What is a brand advocate?

Simply put, a brand advocate is a person who talks favorably about a brand or product creating positive word-of-mouth (WOM) messages about the brand to other people.  Having brand advocates is critical because customers are likely to make buying decisions based on recommendations, the more advocates you have the greater the WOM marketing force you have.

Comparing influencers to advocates

A fun infographic by Jay Baer on this topic depicts the difference between influencers and advocates.  In the blog post he is quoted:

True influence requires two things: audience and advocacy. Advocacy is driven by the depth of conviction, and influencers typically are less committed to the product or company than are actual customer advocates.

So the question becomes, which is more important to embrace?  The answer may be different based on which stage you are at with your audience.  If you are starting off and need to build awareness, then leveraging influencers can get you the initial visibility you need to get kickstarted.  But as you grow the relationship with your audience it is critical you start embracing and fostering advocacy

How do you uncover existing advocates?

The good news is, you probably already have great brand advocates, the question is if they are activated or not.  You can identify your advocates in three main steps:

  1. Listen.  An obvious method is to check your social review profile and see who is writing the strongest reviews.  Another powerful method is to do a search for you branded keywords and see who is already talking favorably about you.  There are a number of social media listening tools available that can help with this process.  Just remember, a social mention alone does not indicate brand advocacy, but if they are taking the time to generate positive content, that is a good sign.
  2. Ask.  Poll your customers and see if they past the ultimate test, “How likely are you to recommend us?”  Base the responses on a scale from 0 to 10.  Customers who answer a 9 or higher are your advocates.
  3. Analyze. The most tangible way to determine brand advocates is to check consumer behavior.  Identify referral sources for sales, website visitor traffic and more.

It is recommended that you add these advocates to a social CRM or even just a spreadsheet so you can classify and reach out to them.

How do you foster new advocates?

In addition to identifying your existing advocates you should also foster new advocates.  Here are a few ways to get started:

  1. Loyalty program.  Create a formal customer loyalty program to acknowledge your customers.  Take the time to recognize them for their support.
  2. Inform your audience.  Create open lines of communication with your customers keeping them up to date with your newest developments. Let your customers anticipate their next brand experience.  By letting them know what you are up to they will feel part of the process and part of the team.
  3. Give swag.  Issue swag as a reward for interactions.  Send out items they can use that remind them of your brand and can also be seen by others.  We all like to feel we are unique or exclusive and people will share this experience (and maybe even the swag) to others.
  4. Solicit feedback.  Listen to your customers, ask them for their feedback on ways you can improve your product/service or customer experience.  You can do this through in-person conversations/discussion groups or electronic methods.
  5. Make them feel special.  This is really the overarching trend on activating your customers.  Make them feel special and appreciated and they will reciprocate.

How do you activate your advocates?

Once you have identified your advocates the next step is to activate them.  Most brands are missing out by not fully leveraging the potential of their advocates.

  1. Give marketing material.  While organic WOM is very powerful, many advocates are not always clear on what your message is or how they can help you.  Make their efforts more effective by arming them with the right message!
  2. Give appropriate assignments.  One thing to realize is that all advocates are not made equally.  It is important to segment your advocates into where they sit on the social technographics ladder and what assignments they are most likely to complete.
  3. Make it easy to share. The power of social marketing is pushing for the referral.  Ensure you make it easy to share your content through social sharing widgets and tell a friend programs.

Don’t forget to reward or acknowledged for good behavior!  We all have different ways we like to be rewarded, find out how people prefer to be thanked and make sure they feel appreciated for their efforts.

What about your employees?!

Don’t forget to leverage your employees to further your communication objectives!  Check back for a full post on this topic.

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About Rob Bertholf

In the crowded marketplace of search & social experts, Rob Bertholf is literally a cut above the rest. With a #1 Google ranking for "Search Engine Optimization Expert" (SEO) Rob demonstrates how his effective techniques provide results in even the most saturated environments. A seasoned digital pioneer, @Rob sent the first "tweet" from Hawaii and was among the first to bring GeoSocial to Hawaii. A former Staff Sergeant in the US Air Force with 15 years programming experience Rob has written applications used at the Pentagon, has invented/patented a content management system, developed over a dozen WordPress plugins and launched nearly 1000 websites during his career. Rob regularly shares his knowledge as keynote speaker/lecturer for corporate and academic audiences. Rob is a professional member of the Social Media Club, board of directors of ClimbHI and on the Klout Squad.

  • Jennifer Lieu

    Thank you so much for sharing. This is a great piece and really makes one think about their strategy when diving into social media. I love the part about not forgetting ones own employees! Im lucky to work at a great place and support all that they do! :D

    • Rob Bertholf

      Thanks for sharing Jennifer! Totally agree, employees are such a huge resource we are not tapping into. I am writing a second piece just speaking to employees and look forward to your thoughts on it as well!

  • Damon Tucker

    Being one who influences is important when it’s election years. Being an advocate for a candidate can go miles if you have a huge influence.

    Influencing folks to advocate for you becomes a very powerful tool.

    Many folks don’t realize how influential they actually are!

    • Rob Bertholf

      Thanks for the re-post Damon! Influencers and advocates are not mutually exclusive, as Hal said, fostering advocacy with influencers is a powerful thing! But often times influencers buzz around like bees sampling new products; I think this is great for a brand in the awareness stage but for a brand to really mature it needs to find long term loyal customers who create positive WOM.

  • Marcus Landsberg

    This is one of those principles businesses miss that translates from Pre-social media days. There’s a Venn diagram that needs to be made between “All the people in the world” “People who are influential.” and “People who REALLY want to recommend you”. The goal being to get all three, at some point to be exactly the same.

    I think the best example social media-wise of leveraging influencers into advocates using the methods you list is YELP! Loyalty program, easy to share, free swag, rewarding frequent sharers, all transforming minor users to frequent users to brand ambassadors, YELP seems to have followed your advice exactly, their marginal users climb the rungs of engagement and advocacy, and now YELP is PRINTING money!

  • Shanae Kamakawiwo’ole

    I felt I always had to be up to par with influencers on Klout. I had to find ways to impress them, to make them like my business and talk about it. But I found connecting to people like me, and finding similar qualities we had in common, I started building my relationships with advocates. I think that is what helps the business I work for. We are always meeting new customers and when asked how they heard about us, most said WOM. My next big project I want to work on rewarding our advocates. I think swag, and the loyalty program are great ideas. This blog holds great information and it is easy to read. Thanks Rob for being a part of my social media life.

    • Rob Bertholf

      Great points Shanae! I am still a huge “advocate” for Klout and strongly believe in the future of social influence metrics but have been seeing how the majority of quality interactions are not always with the guys with the biggest microphone. This is especially true when we look bigger picture at national influencers but also applies somewhat to our local influencers as well.

  • Tara Coomans

    Great advice, Rob! Well done. And thanks for sharing at last night’s SMCHI.

  • Tess

    Rob! This is awesome! Love how you break it down. Super easy to action.

  • Aaron Landry

    Good post, Rob. Frequently have to deal with exactly this. “yeah, we can reach out to influencers but for them to become advocates we need to give them something or they really need to love you already.”