From the little coffee shop around the corner up to international corporations, there is hardly a business that does not try to promote its brands and products on the social networks. Running a Facebook page and twittering are now part of any marketing strategy. The more fans, followers, and commenters you have, the higher is the level of brand awareness. This, at least, seems to be the widespread assumption.
Social media experts, however, agree that quantity alone is not the key to successful social media marketing. What really matters is the word-of-mouth between users, as consumers are increasingly relying on third parties, such as friends, family, or colleagues when making purchasing decisions. The so-called "brand advocates" play a leading role in all this. Brand advocates are highly satisfied and loyal customers who regularly and voluntarily recommend brands and products to others. They thereby influence the purchasing behavior of other consumers, and help to increase brand awareness. And the best part: They do it all for free! Small wonder, then, that more and more businesses are trying to engage with brand advocates.
Who are brand advocates and what motivates them?
A study by Yahoo! Deutschland from 2008 provides a fairly accurate description of brand advocates. Accordingly, brand advocates are "open-minded, well connected, and affluent opinion-leaders" who are well respected by their real-life and virtual friends. They tend to inform themselves in detail before buying a product, are among the first to test new products, and enjoy recommending good products and brands to their friends. Their friends, on the other hand, ask them for information and advice on certain products. Brand advocates communicate product information and positive experiences with brands more often and through more channels than the average Internet user. They are also likely to defend their favorite brands against criticism and hostility. Brand advocates act as "positive multipliers," which makes them particularly attractive for advertisers.
Besides the desire to help other consumers in their purchasing decisions and to promote their favorite brands, there are other motivational factors driving brand advocates. More than half of the respondents to a survey conducted by BzzAgent indicated that they share information on new products online in order to relax, to be entertained, or to solve problems. Moreover, they have the strong desire to be recognized as opinion-leaders and a good source of information on a particular brand both by their friends and the brands they are supporting. They want to build a personal relationship to the brand.
Understanding their motivation and behavior is the key to developing successful programs for engaging brand advocates. First, however, you need to be able to identify them.
How to identify brand advocates?
There are a number of tools which can help you in finding out which users frequently share information on your brands and products. Some basic tools include Facebook search, Twitter search, YouTube search and Technorati blog search. Make sure to search not only for your own brand name, but also for your competitors´ names as well as for words and phrases which your customers are likely to use. Real-time monitoring services, such as Google Alerts or TweetBeep can relieve you from this work by sending you email updates every hour on who is currently talking about you and your brands online. Tools like TweetReach and ReFollow allow you to track the reach and impact of your own tweets. Find out which users share your tweets and with whom.
If you are willing to invest some money, you may want to use so-called listening services, such as Meltwater Buzz, Sysomos, or Parature. These are powerful search engines that automatically search the entire social web for conversations about your company and your brands and analyze them. This allows you to quickly find out who are your top brand advocates.
How to engage with brand advocates?
Based on the results of the BzzAgent study, here are some tips on how to engage with brand advocates and make it even easier for them to promote your brand and products:
- Create and maintain a personal relationship to your brand advocates.
Initiate an active dialog with your brand advocates. Respond quickly to their comments, make an effort to reach out, and thank individuals for sharing your content. Show publicly that you value their opinions and suggestions. Publish good ideas on your website, blog, or Facebook page. Remember to give them credit for all they do! Be human and authentic. Send a personal email every month or so thanking individuals for their support.
- Provide them with information and make it easy from them to share it.
Publish exciting content regularly using a variety of channels. For example, post funny or touching anecdotes about your company and the people who work for you on your blog, upload how-to videos on YouTube, or write white papers to solve customers' problems. Also, make sure that all articles on your website have social sharing plug-ins to make it as easy as possible for brand advocates to share your content with others.
- Reward your advocates for their efforts.
Let your brand advocates and the public know that you reward the best promoters. There are many different ways to do this. For instance, you may give them access to exclusive offers, deals, and previews of content. Or you may select a brand advocate of the month and publish his or her name on your website. Such programs can serve as a great tool to recruit new brand advocates!
Brand Advocates are your new best virtual friends! But just like in real life, you need to nurture these friendships in order to make them last in the long-term!