Want to learn about Formalized Social Advocacy Programs? An embedded recording is below.
What are some of the most advanced social media programs by companies? We see formalized Advocacy Programs like Fiskers Fiskateers, Intel Insiders, Microsoft MVPs, Walmart Moms (and Dads), and beyond (see this quora thread) as the most advanced. Why? In order to gain scale and trust, companies must give up significant control and management to allow these advocates a platform to speak. Furthermore, we found in our research that these advocacy programs often put the advocates front and center, often before the brand.
Altimeter has been tracking these programs for research for over 2 years, and have conducted a handful of workshops for clients, but for the most part, haven’t shared our findings in public. Because this topic is so niche (our survey data yielded less than 20% of companies were investing in these programs) we held off on publishing till the market matured. Interestingly, we found companies that were ripe for these programs either had already an engaged set of brand loyalists, or was a brand under scrutiny, or those that were ready for uncomfortable conversations with critics performed best.
We do not recommend this program for companies in their formative years, as these programs impact all customer relationships spanning product teams, sales, marketing, corp comm, media and executives. Companies that have become ‘social organizations’ throughout are able to properly invest, sustain, and use advocate feedback to actually change products and services.
Also, please welcome Christine Tran, Senior Researcher at Altimeter who was a driving force in this webinar. The webinar recording is embedded above.
Social media doesn’t scale. That’s right, social media doesn’t scale. Consumers will only increase their adoption of social technologies, most social networking data shows this is going ‘up and to the right’. You can never hire enough community managers to manage your millions of customers that are now using social channels to communicate. You must have a strategy to scale.
This article, which I originally wrote on my regular column on the Forbes CMO network explains in pragmatic steps what marketing executives must do to develop a scalable program. I look forward to hearing what you’ve learned below.
How To Create A Customer Advocacy Program
CMOs must tap the voices of their customers.
While marketers traditionally were the direct channel and voice to the customer, creating direct mail, advertising and corporate press releases. CMOs today must develop advocacy programs in order to scale, increase credibility and demonstrate commitment to customers. In doing so, marketers will develop a low-cost trusted unpaid army of customer advocates.
Why an Advocacy Program?
Research by Edelman’s trust barometer indicates that buyers, customers and consumers often will trust each other far more than they’ll trust employees, sales or company. While factual information about product specs, pricing and usage will still be relevant on the corporate website, expect customers to do online research and consider advice from their peers before they make purchasing decisions.
Five Phases of Mature Advocacy Programs
To develop advocacy programs, CMOs must conduct the following five steps:
1.) First, get ready internally. You’ll need to dedicate an internal staff member on a part-time basis to manage this program. Look for folks who have a background in influencer relationships and are savvy about social media–traditional command-and-control techniques need not apply. Develop a plan and educate internal stakeholders. You will need to inform Support, Product, Account Managers, Legal. Next, develop a content plan to constantly fuel the advocates with topics and time with upcoming product releases.
2.) Find the right advocates that will represent your brand. It is important to select the right advocates. First, find them where they already are. Look at top blogs in your industry, the most helpful and knowledgeable community members in the support forums, and those that have dedicated their time to managing Facebook pages, online forums or are active in the ecosystems. Use the following six attributes to gauge if they’ll be successful advocates: 1.) They should have a track record of their contributions and expertise. 2.) They should be respected and have influence in the community. 3.) They must be helpful, passionate, reliable, trustworthy. 4.) They should possess strong communication skills. 5.) They should have existing communication platforms. 6.) They must be committed to the program requirements.
3.) Build a relationship for the long term. Just like courting, in any relationship it is best to start by building trust. Invite your select group of advocates to your headquarters to meet with key product teams, communications and customer-focused executives. Be prepared to listen, and be attentive to their requests. The key is to acknowledge their ideas, without coming across as defensive. After this effort, you’ll have a strong sense of who you’ll want to work with more closely. Wal-Mart invited top bloggers to its HQ in Bentonville AR, which resulted in an advocacy program called the Elevenmoms. Intel invites its ‘Insiders‘ to social media and digital savvy folks to key events like Intel Developer Forum.
4.) Give them a platform–but do not pay them. The crux of an advocacy program is giving fans a platform for communicating. You’ll want to support their efforts by giving them a publication platform such as a group blog or community, so they can tell their story. Ensure they are properly kept up to date, and that the lines of communications are always open for discussion, even when there is negative content. Enable them with graphical “badges” they can put on their blogs, email signatures, T-shirts, and business cards as they become extended ambassadors to your brand. Microsoft MVP program showcases their advocates, and provides them with a variety of resources to evangelize.
5.) Integrate them into your business and recognize them. It’s key to continue to build on the momentum you’ve established by following the above steps. Next, continue to integrate them into your existing events, product launches and even planning meetings with product teams. Lego invited top advocates for their next-generation mindstorm product, and intertwined customer opinion with the produce team. As a result, a successful product launched, that was quickly sold out. Microsoft ( MSFT – news – people ) has “conference” funds for MVPs who are encouraged to speak at industry related conferences about their passions–further spreading the brand.
These five phases of your program will make you successful. But remember above all, give them recognition and access to special events, review on-brand products, access to important people and information–and do not pay them, or you risk making the relationship a thin transaction. Instead, focus on building a long-term relationship with customer advocates who are an extension of your authentic brand.
That’s my take, after taking briefings and meeting with the folks that have run these programs. Just wanted to share my research over the years in a consolidated pragmatic step-by-step. Please leave your suggestions below, thanks!
The recession has been great for social marketing, in fact, I feel it’s spurred the industry on. With overall reduced marketing budgets, companies must innovate, and find new channels that are more efficient than the ‘carpet-bombing’ techniques of traditional marketing.
There are a handful of goals that companies can have with social technologies, from learning, dialog, support, and innovation (see Charlene’s deck, starting at slide 8 to learn more), I want to drill down in the following matrix to focus on the goal of spreading, and word of mouth, and viral. I call this “Advocacy”.
Marketers, who strive to find efficient ways of reaching customers at lower cost, seek ‘force-multipliers‘ or a method where using a small degree of energy (or the energy of another force) to your advantage. Do remember, there is a downside to any action, and with ‘advocacy’ there’s reduced control over message and therefore more risk. With that said, many marketers know the benefits of content spreading are worth the risks.
Matrix: Breakdown of Advocacy Marketing
||Sophistication and Description
||Investments and Returns
||Baseline effort. Tools like Sharethis, AddThis, Gigya, and some features in Pluck, and Kickapps.
||High. Low investment as it can easily be deployed on CMS templates. Continual returns of content spreading with no additional overhead or cost.
||Easy to deploy, yet transactional
||Do not build deep relationship with customers
||Getting started, a baseline activity.
||A basic technique. Word of mouth campaigns on Facebook apps, YouTube (see popular), or Twitter (see moonfruit example)
||Low. Being able to hit the right elements of the content people want, timing, and other factors are difficult. Chances are, most campaigns that intend to be viral never are
||Easy for media and interactive agencies to create and deploy.
||Dime a dozen. Short term and cheap. Not conducive to building long term relationships.
||Traditional agencies and transactional marketers that are trying to learn social
|Social Network Connections
||An intermediate technique. Facebook, Twitter Connect. Easy to comment systems on blogs, to sophisicated Huffington Post social recommendations, see Buddy Media.
||Moderate to High. Allowing customers to login to your site with existing connections increase value of social sharing and chance to serve up contextual data. However there are considerable costs in creating contextual content and systems that are not yet mature.
||Encourages people to quickly login, share, and find others who have interests
||Challenges in collecting email leads as customers now ‘login’ using social connections.
||Static websites who need to inject social interactions.
||An advanced technique, see this checklist. Longer term programs with customer advocates like Microsoft MVP or Walmart’s 11 Mom’s
||High return but high cost. Companies can benefit from an unpaid army that will market, defend, and support customers, but this requires significant resources to launch, grow, and maintain.
||Builds long term deep relationships with a customer group that will defend brand.
||Requires full resources for program, takes time to build
||Companies that can’t scale their marketing in a high touch customer experience.
Companies Should Embrace Advocacy Programs
Organizations are already deploying these word of mouth tools, but often without a plan or strategy, get started now by:
- Deploy simple sharing features now. These cheap and easy to insert embeds should be on every content type where companies want the content to spread. From press releases, to blog posts, companies need to make it easy for their market to share with others.
- Reduce risks by providing proper support and resources. Organizations should first understand the costs, downsides and risks for each type of marketing program, with greater returns (Advocacy program) comes greater commitment of resources, and greater risk, so to reduce those risks, put the right resources behind it.
- Develop new measurement techniques. Measuring the spread of information is more difficult, as often companies won’t have web analytics installed on third party websites. Instead use a variety of mention and url tracking with brand monitoring software to track how far information spreads over time.