For years, public relations professionals have known the power of brand advocacy. But in the digital age, brand advocacy is becoming the responsibility of nearly every type of digital marketer.
Whether you're working on a search marketing campaign or overseeing a client's display strategy, you must understand and believe in brand advocacy.
A recent eMarketer report, "Brand Advocates: Scaling Social Media Word-of-Mouth," was a timely addition to marketers' libraries. The report highlights the stunning growth of brand advocacy over the last five years, provides helpful tips companies can use to cultivate brand advocates, and explains how to avoid annoying those who most appreciate your brand.
The report's executive summary sums up what most marketers already know: "Brand advocacy is becoming a critical part of the social media marketing mix."
But there's more that underlies successful brand advocacy campaigns. Consumers don't just like a brand and comment about it on social networks for fun. As eMarketer reports, consumers like brands because many want to see their favorite brands succeed. That can have powerful positive effects on companies—if they respect and use their brand advocates properly.
One interesting point from the report is while brand advocates are interested in companies' content, their loyalty to a brand is more important. A CMO Council study found that brand loyalty (48 percent) was far more important to brand advocates than whether a company had great content on social networks (30 percent). This suggests great content is helpful, but it's more important to be a brand your customers are proud to associate with.
What makes a successful brand advocacy program? Who are these "brand advocates"? Let's take a look:
eMarketer defines brand advocates as consumers who "use social media to not only interact with brand pages, but also to actively promote the brands, products and services they love." They provide valuable insight to marketers about what is—and isn't—working with a brand's products and services, and how people perceive the brand outside its four corporate walls.
What brand advocates do
1. Frequently recommend products and services. According to Zuberance, 38 percent of brand advocates recommend a brand about once a month, while 12 percent do so several times a week.
2. Educate other consumers. As I noted earlier, brand advocates aren't just in it for themselves—most of them, at least. Market-research company TNA found that the No. 1 reason people write about brands online is to offer advice. They want to help their fellow consumers make more informed decisions.
3. Interact with brands and other consumers on brand pages. Brand advocates don't just comment online about brands. They actively participate in companies' online activities. Find ways to target brand advocates beyond just Facebook likes and Twitter mentions.
Recognize brand advocates
eMarketer offers a great list of eight attributes marketers can use to recognize brand advocates:
1. They're young. eMarketer forecasts that 52.7 percent of social network users in the U.S. will be under the age of 35 in 2012. Build a strong base of young brand advocates now to pave the way for powerful brand advocacy in the future, as those millennial consumers will become more affluent and ingrained in purchasing habits in the years ahead.
2. They're helpful to others. This may be the most valuable—or detrimental—aspect of a corporate brand advocacy program. It's not a stretch to say brand advocates can make or break some companies. Marketers shouldn't discount their value, strength-of-voice, and ability to influence others.
3. They want to see brands succeed. Your company's online advocates want you to succeed. Marketers need to develop strategies that help those advocates spread the word about a brand's success.
4. They're active offline, too. They talk up your brand no matter where they are. Think of ways to tie online marketing campaigns into offline campaigns, and vice versa.
5. They make brands part of their online persona. They feel a connection to your brand that extends into how they represent themselves online. Find ways to feed this connection through programs like "Virtual CMO for a Day," and other persona-based advocacy programs.
6. They use social media more than the average consumer. There's no surprise here, but marketers report that despite brand advocates' preference for social media, they find it difficult to get brand advocates to talk about the brand on social media in a way that matches their desired brand attributes.
7. They're influenced by social media.
8. They're moms and dads. Don't just settle for the common perception that your brand's advocates have to be young and technologically savvy. A brand advocate can come from anywhere and be any age. Marketers need to cultivate all potential advocates across multiple verticals and demographics.
What's the best way to reach, engage and cultivate brand advocates? Have a strategy.
Don't just rely on one program for all your brand advocates. Figure out how different groups respond to different promotions and communications, and develop distinct campaigns.
In the digital age, brand advocates have asserted themselves as powerful forces in the consumer-marketing space. Marketers need to recognize and respect their value, and develop sophisticated digital marketing campaigns that combine offline incentives with online recognition and feedback opportunities.
Keith Trivitt is the director of marketing and communications at MediaWhiz. A version of this article originally appeared on the MediaWhiz blog.