It’s believed that word of mouth marketing officially kicked off in the early 1970s when psychologist George Silverman created “teleconfered peer influence groups.” These events brought physicians together to discuss the latest pharmaceutical products. And Silverman made an interesting discovery: Doctors who were skeptical of certain products – even those who stopped selling them – could be swayed by the positive opinions of their colleagues.
Word of mouth marketing as a deliberate strategy was born.
Today, we don’t need teleconferenced peer influence groups to help customers forge connections. They’re already making millions of connections each day across social media platforms. Marketers just have to be there to nurture those customers and inspire them to share positive messaging on behalf of their brand.
That’s where social media advocacy programs come in.
Why do you need a social media advocacy program?
Social media advocacy is one of the most valuable strategies marketers can use to grow their audience in today’s digital landscape. A recent study found that 92% of customers trust peer reviews over messaging from advertisers. And new algorithm changes on social networks prioritize posts from friends and family over content from brands and publishers. Advocacy is also one of the key social media management skills you need to stand out from the crowd as a social advertiser. You may have even started building an employee advocacy program already like Rackspace did.
Still not convinced? Consider this: Brands spent $563 billion on advertising and $9 billion on customer care. That means only 2% of their time and resources were actually devoted to taking care of current customers. Yikes. The good news is that social advocacy allows you to accomplish both of these strategies in one shot – nurturing loyal buyers and reaching new audiences. It also often comes at less cost than regular advertising because customers create their own content and you don’t have to build creative assets from scratch.
So, if you haven’t given social media advocacy a chance or you’ve just been too overwhelmed to dive in, this is your opportunity to start.
Let’s break down five steps for building a customer advocacy program on social media.
1. Find customers who love your brand and are active on social
Your customer advocates are already out there. You just need to find them. And your search will be most effective if you look for customers with these two qualities: they’ve posted positive content about your brand and they have a sizeable following.
Yes, you can find these customers manually. And if your head is usually buried in your social notifications, you might already have some ideas off-hand. But you can also automate this process by using social listening tools that quickly sift through social conversations based on keywords, segment audiences, and pull out certain users worth knowing.
SunTrust does a great job of identifying advocates that align with its values. The company’s onUp Movement aims to bring people from stress to confidence in their financial planning. SunTrust engages influencers like mom-blogger Christie of Raising Whasians to share its messaging around budgeting – particularly during the holiday season. Christie’s blog about spreading cheer without breaking the bank was sponsored by SunTrust as part its onUp Movement, and has gotten reshared by numerous other budget-conscious-bloggers on Twitter.
2. Prompt these customers to share on behalf of your brand
The next step is to create opportunities for advocates to share content. You can reach out via social media or email with a variety of ideas, including:
Invite customers to post reviews on Yelp, their social channels, or your website.
Launch online events in which they can ask questions and start discussions. For example, learning management software Schoology hosts a Twitter chat called #SchoologyChat, which is entirely run by its advocates.
Provide customers with templates for copy or images they can use.
Prompt them with a question or hashtag that inspires them to post. Starbucks, for instance, started the Tweet-a-Coffee campaign, inviting people to buy coffee for their friends by tweeting the @tweetacoffee handle along with a friend’s account.
The campaign generated 27,000 participants and $180,000 in roughly a month.
With these tactics, you can make it as easy as possible for advocates to participate in your program.
3. Provide an incentive for advocates to participate
The best incentive for customers to advocate for your brand is their genuine love for your company. To truly build strong relationships with your customers, you need to educate them about your brand values and deliver superior customer experiences that build affinity.
As Brian Sullivan of Sullivan Branding told Forbes, “No one is an advocate for a brand they don’t understand or believe in. It’s not a matter of encouraging consumers to be advocates. It’s a matter of educating them and giving them evidence of the brand’s worthiness … Building advocates requires a constant dialog.”
Still, sometimes customers need an extra push to create content. This is a great opportunity for you to show appreciation to your loyal audiences by:
Following them on social media.
Showcasing them on your website or social channels. Instagram Stories is perfect for this, especially now that you can easily repost people’s content and Stories to your own account.
Sending them company swag or special offers. For example, Shopify generated 50 product reviews in just one week by simply asking customers and providing a coupon code.
Gamifying participation through contests. Just look at Nikon, which hosts the #Nikon_Photo_Contest for cash prizes and recognition.
Providing previews and first looks at products. This is a popular strategy among Instagram and YouTube influencers, especially when they conduct gift hauls during the holidays.
Hosting special events for your advocates. Levi’s, for instance, launched a pop-up studio to promote their new jeans to college women. At the studio, women were custom fit to their perfect pair of jeans and received makeovers to go with their new look.
These incentives not only encourage customers to become advocates, but they also help nurture that relationship and build trust.
4. Repost and reuse their content
Extend the reach and lifetime of consumers’ content by leveraging it on your own website and channels. This way, you can keep the conversation going and show customers that you truly value their opinions, creations, and feedback.
For example, Calvin Klein dedicates an entire page of its website to hosting Instagram posts with the #MyCalvins hashtag. It gives customers a voice and also incentivizes them to share their own posts for an opportunity to be featured.
Sharpie also features customer creations on its Instagram account. They invite Instagrammers to use the hashtag #SharpieArt for a chance to make it onto their feed and gain exposure to almost 300,000 followers.
5. Continue to grow your advocacy network
When it comes to building an advocacy network, starting is the hardest part. Why? Because advocates breed advocates. Just by the nature of the program, the more people who participate, the more people learn about your brand and your community of customers.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can just sit back and relax once you launch your initiative. As in all relationships, you have to continue to nurture, inspire, and motivate your customers to remain loyal to your brand, post their creations, and get others on board. Once you do, you can have a well-oiled advocacy machine running in tandem with your regular advertising efforts.
Incorporating Social Media Advocacy Into Your Digital Strategy
Social media advocacy isn’t a one-and-done course of action. As you plan out your digital media objectives for the year, create an ongoing effort to identify and engage brand advocates for a constant stream of promotion. Over time, you’ll build stronger relationships with your customers while reaching new audiences through their efforts.
Also, don’t neglect the power of an employee advocacy platform! Post Consumer Brands recently won major praise from customers for bringing one of their star employees out of retirement as a brand ambassador. Diana, a memorable face and voice behind Honey Bunches of Oats, has always been beloved by the public for her enthusiasm on the production line. Bringing Diana back into the fray is like having an old friend return to the screen.
When building out your digital strategies, think of new ways to broaden the reach of each campaign. Activating social advocates is a great way of doing this. And remember, sometimes you don’t have to look far to find your best advocates; they might already be on your shop floor.