Leveraging Customer Advocates in Your Social Networks

They're out there, they love your products and they're telling the world. Your social media advocates can make a big difference in how your brand is perceived in the marketplace. If done strategically, initiating a social influencer program that reaches out and rewards these talkative enthusiasts can bolster your marketing efforts while easing the load in your call center.

Finding Quality Advocates

With all the tools that are available for online listening and engaging, finding those people who blog positively about your products is not hard. The point is to find advocates who are not just talking, but who are actually communicating your brand strategy, which will lead to referrals and ultimately conversions.

When evaluating advocates, think in terms of quality, rather than quantity. "The more niche they are the better," says Kevin Green, vice president of strategy at Digital Influence Group, a full-service digital agency located in Waltham, Mass. "You could go after the biggest audience—and from a metrics standpoint that may drive more traffic—but for quality leads and potential conversions, you want to find the influencers that your target buyers are listening to because they're respected and credible within their niche."

Understanding What Advocates Want

To use advocates to their best advantage you must be sensitive to their reasons for spending time in a brand or product forum. Many companies miss this point entirely. "Most companies that are reaching out to a social influencer make the mistake of treating them as if they were reporters," says Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media in Raleigh, NC. "Companies send press releases hoping the bloggers will pick up the story. But bloggers are not reporters."

Think in terms of helping your advocates advance their own goals. Most social media advocates want two things: Credibility within their community and to be a part of something bigger.

You can support these motivations in a number of ways. To help your advocates establish greater credibility look for opportunities to raise their profiles within their communities. You can do this by giving them products and content in advance of the release date. When they use the product and begin blogging, it creates excitement in the marketplace, enhancing your product launch and expanding reach. For the advocates, it marks them as important, knowledgeable voices in their communities.

Advocates are often passionate people who want to be part of an overall movement. "They want to feel they are being heard and making a difference," says Tobin. "The stronger the relationship they have with the brand the more effective they're going to be at generating awareness and driving consumer opinion based on the content and resources you provide them."

Social Media Advocates to Support Marketing

A common business case following social CRM implementations is engaging social advocates to support a product launch. Tobin wanted to get his advocates involved in a client launch; Samsung's new V80000 television. "We needed a series of how-to videos and needed some talent on screen to present different product modules," he says. "We got 12 bloggers and flew them all in and let each one host their own video. One person talked about how to download apps from the app store, another talked about using Facebook and Twitter on the TV, and so on through all the how-tos."

The key was to allow the bloggers to release their videos on their terms and in their own communities two days before Samsung released the videos to the public. "They were thrilled to be able to say, 'Hey, I've got great content because I have the credibility to be asked by Samsung to be in this video.' It got us off to a great start."

Social Advocates in the Contact Center

Having active, knowledge advocates in forums significantly reduces the cost of operating a contact center. When working with T-Mobile, Green called on social advocates to deal with complaints about dropped calls and outages.

"We found people in local markets who were key for T-mobile and empowered them with the information they needed to either direct people to a retail location or to provide them with news on outages and workarounds; basically the same tools they give employees. It's the insider information that differentiates the advocates from everyone else in the forum."