As far as advocacy is concerned: why now? What happened to the pursuit-du-jour of the early days of social media – Influence? Hint – influence can still provide a multiplier effect to your social efforts, but influence has different properties than advocacy. We’re moving into the next wave of social business, looking at social data, and actually becoming intelligent about how we organize to deliver high performance business outcomes. We’re seeing that what we’ve always known in our hearts – that brands are powered by advocates – is indeed true. Here are five key themes that lead us to the dawn of advocacy in performance brand marketing.
1. Community Manager Scale #FAIL
Every single social business team is hungry for headcount and legitimacy. Back in the early stage of social maturity adoption, the social team celebrated quick wins and fabulous anecdotes about how they responded to customers, solved issues, and generated leads.
Successful brands that have built large followings – + 5 MM, 10 MM, 15 MM total social footprint size – are fond of saying “be careful what you wish for.” Armed with state-of-the-art command centers and social CMS platforms, these teams have a hard time keeping up with the massive amounts of high touch social service commitments that powered their early rise in size. As these teams argue for greater headcount, they are questioned by the CMOs and CFOs approving their budgets, demanding to see a business case. This business case is hard to justify when an ever increasing social footprint fails to deliver a meaningful return to brand outcomes, and the bottom line.
2. Engagement @ Scale
Advocacy is where engagement at scale happens – with customers, employees, and partners. Successful social business leaders recognize that engagement at scale is only realized when the company is able to move beyond mere fan acquisition tactics and actually cultivate a core community of advocates.
We at Dachis Group have been actively managing advocacy programs for a number of years, and now with the launch of Advocate Insight are seeing in the data what we knew in our gut. Passionate, committed advocates are a key power lever in building your brand. Brands that have the most advocates, online and offline, will ultimately win in the social era. It’s especially interesting to look at all of the players interacting when advocates show up in a brand’s social footprint, in particular:
- Customer advocates. Brand advocates choose to identify themselves with a brand, publicly support a brand’s efforts, and actively seek out information about products, services, and company news. You know them when you see them: the Red Bull fan, the Apple lover, the lifelong Honda driver. Even people that deny their affiliation for mainstream brands tend to have die-hard affiliations for challenger and newcomer brands, like Whole Foods, Under Armor, and LuluLemon.
- Employee advocates. Employee advocates are naturally using social media channels to cultivate conversations with customers and partners. While some of these employees are officially sanctioned within the social business team, or certified by a social center of excellence, others haven’t yet gotten that email and are reaching out to help the company, and the brand.
- Partners. Companies that sell indirect, or who have affiliate, license or franchise business models often rely on these partners as the direct line of communication to customers. With social, these partners become part of the brand’s conversation, as customers actively seek opportunities to connect with the brand. These partner conversations can now be isolated and measured for their advocacy potential.
But what about influencers?
3. The point of an Influencer Outreach is Advocacy
At Dachis Group we base our understanding of influence on the (big, very big) data that we see. Influencers are different than advocates. Influencers come with a following, they have a direct relationship with groups of people and may exemplify a passion in a specific category – tuning cars, uncovering indie bands, celebrating frugal green lifestyles to name a few.
Influencer measures like Klout and PeerIndex aim to measure the effectiveness of these influencers – who may or may not actually influence ultimate behavior, but who do demonstrate a knack for growing a following, and whose audience is primed to respond to the influencer’s social content.
Influencer outreach programs can deliver tactical results, and are often chosen to extend the reach of marketing messages served up in social channels. But we would argue that influencer programs are just that – tactical efforts that can be deployed to reach new lifestyle/interest segments, and increase consideration outside of the brand’s own core community. Influencer outreach programs move beyond the tactical and achieve strategic ends when the end result is net new advocates showing up within the brand’s social footprint.
4. Great brands grow because they connect deeply with people
Brands with high brand love scores such as Virgin Airlines, Whole Foods, and Coca-Cola may not organize this way, but they have built brands with pull mechanisms that organically draw a large committed following. As these brands adopt for a social age, you’ll see them conscientiously struggle to define what it means to be a beloved brand, and to deliver this kind of meaningful engagement to end customers.
Case in point: two Dachis Group clients at our recent Social Business Summit in Austin, social business leaders like Steve Furman at Discover and Sherri Maxson at US Cellular, both see advocacy as the ultimate reciprocal payoff to social investments. Both of these companies are service providers, and have a commitment to high quality customer standards. Customers, as a result, tend to have a higher referral likelihood than other brands in their category. For these kinds of brands – where the service IS the product – success is achieved through a virtuous loop: commit to core brand values > deliver excellent service > cultivate advocates that share these core values, and refer new likeminded customers. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Brands that suffer a brand experience gap – certain airlines, certain banks, certain telecom providers – will see their brand value diminished in the social age. For these brands, social listening whether rigorously conducted through a listening effort, or glimpsed in quotes in daily google alerts, is the first step in getting these companies to acknowledge the core of the problem – their very reason for being.
Brands that operate from their mission and purpose, whose customers buy not just what they sell, but why they exist, will ultimately win in the social age.
5. We all become performance brand marketers
In social, we’re here to enable connection, explore new horizons, and ultimately impact society. To humanize a brand you have to take it back to the core values and then cultivate conversations. To embody the spirit of reciprocity.
The social era is a call to action not just to marketers but to social business practitioners, brand strategists, media planners, designers, technologists, brand managers, copy writers, organizational change experts, customer service experts, the IT organization, the CFO, and the CEO. We all must become performance brand marketers now.