If you’re looking to make a major purchase, or maybe you’re changing suppliers, what’s one of the first things you do as part of your research? You turn to your networks for suggestions and personal recommendations, right? Depending on what you’re looking for, you may even turn to social media or Yelp or different online forums. Why do we do this? Most of us are looking for someone who’s been there and done that, someone who you trust who can help you work out which way to go. This is where there’s a massive business opportunity you may not be exploiting effectively.
As a business owner, you can’t be everywhere all the time. That’s why your business needs advocates – people who are happy to sing your praises to anyone who will listen. After all, word of mouth is a critical part of the decision-making process, and a much more trusted source than salespeople or marketing campaigns.
People need to know the reality. These days they are much less inclined to believe ad speak or hype. Modern consumers are far too savvy. The advent of social media and the internet has made it easy for potential customers to find out first-hand information about other customers’ experiences. What are your customers saying? And when people search, whose comments are they going to find first?
Advocate Marketing: Who are advocates?
Advocates are satisfied customers who are aligned with the vision and ethos of your business. They’re happy to recommend people to you and they do it because they want to. That is a very subtle point. Why? The big difference is between a passionate customer and an advocate is that an advocate has been given the tools, structure and encouragement to actually make a real, tangible, measurable difference to your company. A happy customer might have been doing this all along, but with the right support, they could do so much more. They could be in the loop with your marketing campaigns and goals. They could be made to feel included and part of the team, which would stoke their passions further. That’s what an advocate marketing programme is all about. And don’t forget, your employees can make great advocates too!
How do I find my advocates?
At first, you might think your business doesn’t have any potential advocates. But do a little digging in the right places and you’ll be surprised who you find. Who is saying nice things about you on social media? Who are your happiest customers? Speak to your sales and customer service staff to see if any names jump out at them. Look through customer satisfaction surveys and find the people who give high ratings to questions like, ‘would you be willing to refer us to people you know?’
Another useful way to find advocates is to use social listening tools to see what people are saying about you on social media. Do people review you on Yelp? Do you get a lot of retweets or engagement from the same people? Start building a private list on Twitter of happy customers. It will certainly come in handy in future.
Once I find my advocates, what do I do with them?
When you’re bringing new advocates onboard into the business, it is best to begin by asking them to do something simple, something low-commitment. Getting them to share, comment and retweet your content on social is a great way to start but try and be original in the way you ask for that. You might ask them to fill in a survey but that too can be burdensome if everyone is asking for their time in this manner. Maybe they could review your business online? For some advocates, that’s as far as they’ll want to go. But some will want to do more.
People want to find companies that go the extra mile, that they can rely on. If you fit the bill, some people will become really invested in what you do. Think of big brands that inspire true loyalty. That is not out of reach, even if you’re just a small local business.
You can train these advocates and begin to think of them as extensions of your team. Perhaps they’d like to chime in on particular posts on social media, almost like a customer service rep? Maybe they could speak at an upcoming conference? Could they refer customers from their own networks? Maybe they’d like to be interviewed for a potential case study on your site? Obviously this is the territory of very special customers and can’t be used ad hoc.
Try to keep things light, varied and fun, and of course, make sure they know how much you value them. Ask for their opinion on new campaigns or ad designs. Invite them in for a market research session?. When you stroke people’s egos, most respond positively – it’s a fact of life.
Put the advocates first or the well will run dry
The biggest thing to consider throughout this is prioritising the needs of the advocate, otherwise they will lose interest and your programme won’t grow and evolve. Find out what they want to get out of this experience and how you can help bridge that gap. Surprise them from time to time with free gifts, an invitation to something special or maybe give them a bit of social media glory.
Remember, neglected or unloved advocates may end up doing more harm than good, so if you’re going to bring someone into the fold, look after them.
Which companies are winning at advocacy?
Hootsuite’s global ambassador community is an excellent case study to examine and emulate. In early 2014, the company had a small but dedicated group of 84 loyal Ambassadors located all around the world. By 2015 that number had increased ten-fold. They did it by putting their advocates first and by really getting them involved in online and offline communities.
Are you thinking about starting an advocacy programme at your business? We’d love to help you identify those special people and maximise their potential. Please contact us for a free Skype consultation and let’s discuss the possibilities.
WHO IS VKN DIGITAL?
Vivienne Neale is a digital marketer and director of VKN Digital, which is a digital marketing agency in Hertfordshire, UK. We aim to help SMEs overcome marketing hurdles and create compelling digital content that drives results. If your website needs a refresh, new content, a rebrand, some general housekeeping – or perhaps you’re looking to build a new one from scratch – please get in touch via our contact page for a free Skype consultation. We can also help with SEO, design and social media.