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The 4 pillars of a customer advocacy program

I write a lot about customer advocacy. I am kind of obsessed with it. I am also vocal about the differences between advocates and influencers and I am often criticized about how I define each. Nonetheless, an advocate is someone that talks about a product or brand even if the brand isn’t listening. They have a high degree of affinity or what I call “emotional equity” towards the brand for a variety of reasons. An influencer, on the other hand, is someone with significant reach (fans, followers, friends), usually a high Klout score and often referenced in the media.

A relationship between a brand and an influencer is “usually” built on incentives. In other words, an influencer will write about a product or brand as long as they get first (or early) access to review a product, an “exclusive” interview with an executive or free passes and an all expense paid trip to CES.

A relationship between a brand and advocate (assuming there is one) is built on love. Sounds cheesy but it’s true. One quote that I live by sums it up quite well … “if you love your customers, they will love you back and tell others.” Think of it as this concept of reciprocal altruism; where by a brand gives to its customers without any expectation of receiving anything in return. And even then an advocate might not have high expectations from a brand other than to keep building “kick ass” products or keep providing stellar customer support.

That being said, there are four things to consider when creating a customer advocate program — infrastructure, technology, content and measurement.

Building the customer advocacy infrastructure

Think of the infrastructure as the “terms and conditions” or “plan of record” for the program. The infrastructure will document a variety of information:

  • Selection Criteria: The process for selecting advocates. This could really be anything i.e. random selection process, how often a fan is RT’ng content or commenting on the Facebook wall. Or, customers can apply to be an advocate.

  • Longevity of Program: How long will the program last? Some companies rotate in and out advocates every 6 – 12 months. This will certainly depend on resource and/or budget constraints.

  • Organizational and Customer Expectations: Organizations have to be completely clear when communicating their expectations of the program AND outline what the advocates can expect in return. For example, an advocate program might consist of a brand soliciting feedback on new products. This should only be done if the brand is willing to implement the feedback (if it makes business sense).

  • Organizational Support: If the marketing team is managing the advocate program, there has to be internal support from executives, product organizations, customer support and legal BEFORE the program is launched. This requires collaboration across job functions which is always a good thing.

  • Contract OR NDA: An advocate program should also have legal terms that can include and NDA, terms of the program; and should have language that explains that advocates can leave the program at any time OR be asked to leave the program for whatever reason. Disclosure: I am not a lawyer so please consult with your legal team about an advocate program.

Investing in the right technology

A decision very early on needs to be made about which technology platform to use in order to manage and communicate with advocates. Many companies use private LinkedIn and/or Facebook groups to manage communication. Others use private communities built with popular applications like Jive or Lithium. This option give more flexibility to match the look/feel of a corporate website as well as integration with other sCRM or social media monitoring technology solutions.

There are also a few new players in the market that are building functionality that makes it very easy to communicate with advocates, manage content and also pull metrics. Halogen Media and Fancorps are the two vendors that I am super impressed with. What’s interesting about Fancorps is that they included a gaming element (or point system) into their software which is quite cool.

Define the content strategy

Many teams that manage advocate programs often over look a content strategy and then struggle to keep the conversations live and fresh with advocates. Just like a brand communicates with friends/fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter, there needs to be a plan to communicate with advocates. A content plan should be planned weekly, monthly and even quarterly; and take into consideration the following:

  • upcoming events

  • upcoming product launches or new releases of an existing product

  • other, fun things like contests (although not a big fan of contests), polls and research questions

  • user generated content (uploading and sharing photos on Facebook/Twitter)

  • featuring advocate content on the corporate web site

  • Smart and innovative companies are taking it one step further and co-creating new products and services with the community. One example is GiffGaff, a mobile virtual network operator based in the UK that built their entire business with the community (read the Lithium Case Study).

Establish a measurement framework

Lastly, there needs to be a measurement framework in place that will determine the success (or not) of an advocate program. Some companies are measuring reach and impressions of brand or product related conversations. Others are measuring actual sales generated through an advocate program. Zuberance, a brand advocate platform provides this level of measurement and engagement to its clients.

Whatever the measurement criteria is selected, it should be used as a benchmark internally for all other (and future) advocate programs. And, more importantly, the KPIs need to be in alignment with business goals and metrics; and should be shared internally with all stakeholders.


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