5 Common Brand Advocacy Challenges and How to Solve Them

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Brand advocacy isn’t the sexiest of marketing concepts. It doesn’t yet have the ‘punch’ of influencer marketing or social advertising. That is, until you look at the numbers.

While 18 percent of people trust brand influencers, 92 percent trust brand advocates. And 9 out of 10 online consumers say recommendations from friends and family members are their most trusted form of advertising worldwide, while only 2 out of 10 trust online ads.

How’s that for punch?

Maybe the hesitation comes from the fact that brand advocacy requires work to build, in terms of both time and effort. Many people would rather just pay the money for advertising. Don’t make that mistake. When you put in the work, brand advocacy can pay off huge for your brand. It’s how we grew Hootsuite globally in the early years, and how countless other well-known brands made a name for themselves with little-to-no marketing budget.

We’ve identified five common brand advocacy challenges and solutions, inspired by bring brands, for how to overcome them with the help of social media. Take a look.

The challenge: Turning fans into ambassadors

There’s a big difference between a social media fan and a social media advocate or ambassador. One follows you, maybe listens to you, and hopefully engages with your content. The other supports you, promotes you, stands up for you and spreads your content through their own networks. It isn’t hard to see which one is more valuable for your business. What is hard is bringing your fans to that next level.

Many businesses struggle to turn their fans into ambassadors. Try as they might, they can’t seem to build up the relationship to where fans feel connected enough to the brand to start taking on a more active role. So how can brands overcome this obstacle and build real brand advocates?

The solution: Recognize and incentivize

hootsuite uk swag

How do you turn fans into ambassadors? The first thing you need to do is hone in on the right fans. Only certain fans will be right for the role and be willing to make that transition. It’s your job to engage in strategic conversations; to find people who represent your ideal brand advocate. Focus on quality over quantity. These people will be interested in your business and your industry or focus area, they will be engaged and regular social media users and they will be friendly. You might find them in your existing networks (online or in real life), or you may have to seek them out and search for them.

Bring these people into your social media communities through a commitment to two-way communication; engage them, talk with them, listen to them and answer any and all feedback (on a one-to-one basis, not through mass messages). These conversations show a level of commitment and accessibility on your part that will help turn fans into engaged community members. Only through a long-term commitment to these practices will you be able to move some fans to the next step.

Once you’ve identified them and brought them into your social media community, make a point of recognizing and incentivizing your fans:

  • Follow users that follow you, and engage with the content they share.
  • Shout-out community members who contribute positively to your online discussions.
  • Don’t skimp on Favorites or Likes.
  • Reward the people who stand out in your community.
  • Send them swag or discounts.
  • Send them hand-written letters.

Essentially, you need to show these people that you value the contributions they make. Some brands think people will jump at the ‘privilege’ of being an advocate. That’s the wrong attitude. Approach the relationship for what it is: mutually beneficial. You have to give to receive, and the work these advocates will be undertaking is very important to your business. Show your appreciation and people will begin to see the benefits of being active members of your community. Once you put in this work, turning fans into advocates and ambassadors will come a lot easier, and more naturally.

The challenge: Keeping things personal as you grow

The first group of advocates will always hold a special place in your business (read: heart). These are the people who put their faith behind a young business, helped you grow and evolve, and stuck with you along the way. These relationships will be very strong. As your business grows, your brand advocacy program will need to grow along with it. And this presents a challenge to many companies.

The more advocates you have, the less connected you feel to each one, and the harder you’ll have to work to maintain personable relationships. How do you maintain the same degree of closeness with your brand advocates as you scale? How do you keep that connection?

The solution: Emphasize and systemize one-to-one interaction

Community-Building-Tips

The key is to maintaining those relationships is to not shift your approach to interacting with advocates. You can’t transition from personal emails and regular conversations to bulk messaging your ambassadors, and expect them to feel appreciated, let alone excited about their role in your business.

The personal connection means everything when it comes to connecting brands to brand advocates. It’s the same reason Coca-Cola put people’s first names on coke bottles in their hugely popular campaign last year: people want to feel like this big brand is talking directly to them. In the case of brand advocates, you actually should be.

Really listen to your advocates, no matter how many you have. Hear what they’re saying, about your business and their relationship to it. This will provide you with invaluable insight to guide your interactions with them. In the early days of Hootsuite, even if just one enthusiastic fan in Iceland or Siberia reached out to us via a Tweet or Facebook update, we made sure our community and support teams were paying attention and engaging or responding. We still try to do that to this day.

In addition to emphasizing this one-to-one interaction, as you scale you may need to systemize it. What we mean by this is creating systems to ensure you’re connecting with your valued advocates. This might mean scheduling once monthly chats, if only for 15 minutes, to check in, catch up, and show them they’re worth the time of day. It might mean creating calendar reminders or push notifications to check in and see if your advocates are talking to you and your followers. It might mean a scheduled Tweet or Facebook post every week encouraging your ambassadors to reach out to you with feedback and questions. Create systems which ensure you’re interacting with these advocates, so that “I’m busy” or “I forgot” won’t be justifiable excuses for you or your team.

The challenge: Offering a localized experience to global ambassadors

As you scale in size, you’ll often scale globally as well. Even if you’re a local business, social media has made your company a global company. You’ll have followers and fans from all over the world, and that’s a good thing. But it can also present a challenge for your brand advocacy efforts.

Local ambassadors except a localized experience. Not all ambassadors operate on the same networks, use the same tools or want the same experience with your brand. Plus, you know, they’re not all awake at the same time and they won’t always speak the same language. This can cause some trouble for businesses, especially small businesses, who are trying to foster global brand advocacy.

The solution: Empower locals to take the lead

One of our Hootups in Spain
One of our Hootups in Spain

The key to successful international (and cost-efficient) expansion is reinventing your brand and product for each unique culture and market you enter. The key to successful international brand advocacy is much the same, and it is accomplished through engaging with the local community, really getting to know a place and focusing in on the details.

This will depend first and foremost on the relationships you build with advocates in the region. Local advocates will provide you with useful information, from the most popular local social networks do culturally specific norms or nuances. The more you know about the local community, the easier it will be to attract more local advocates and ensure they’re getting the most from your relationship.

Beyond simply learning from locals, you may want to consider empowering trusted local advocates to take the lead, especially in situations where you don’t have a branch or representative in that country or city. These ambassadors will be communicating with other locals in their language and their time zone, making it easier for them to foster the relationships. You can encourage local advocates to organize community events, like Hootsuite does with Hootups, to inform the local community and provide incentives to your local fans. They can also help with other localization efforts, from translation to creating and managing local Twitter handles.

Once you’ve empowered local advocates to take the lead, it falls on you to make sure your regional advocates still feel connected to your business. Celebrate the regions by sharing their photos and stories on your brand channels. Highlight the work of local ambassadors in blog posts or videos. Turn to local advocates for feedback, since they likely understand how your business is being received in their market better than you do. Maintain the bond remotely as best you can, and let the locals take it from these. You’d be surprised how far this trust can take you.

The challenge: Your advocates are always in flux

Even the most dedicated businesses will go through ups and downs when it comes to brand advocates. People will come and go, they’ll get busy with their own jobs or find other passions that occupy their online time. This is natural, but it does put some strain on your advocacy program.

What do you do when you have a big announcement coming up and your advocates are nowhere to be found? What if you’re only starting to build out your advocacy program, and you’re not yet getting the kind of participation that will make a big impact on social media. How do you kick things into high gear?

The solution: Look inside your company for reliable advocates

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Far too many businesses fail to realize that their best brand advocates are sitting at the desk across the room. Who knows your company better than your own employees? Who is more invested in your brand’s success? You can increase the reach of your social media campaigns by over 2,000 percent by using employees to amplify messaging, but only one-third of companies are encouraging them to do so. That gap can’t be ignored.

Internal advocates has several advantages over the external counterparts. Where you often need to keep advocates out of the loop until the last minute, you can share private information with your own employees, and show them new products or information well before it sees the light of day externally. While you may struggle to reach ambassadors, you’re always a quick walk or meeting away from your staff, so it’s easy to stay on top of them and keep them in the loop. While external advocates will come and go, you’ll always have a stable number of staff members to support your marketing efforts through advocacy. Plus, your employees hold inherent influence when it comes to your business. Edelman found that 52 percent of people saw employees as very credible or credible sources of information about a business—a level of trust that will pay off big time when it comes to content sharing.

How do you inspire employees to become advocates? Look at online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos, which has built a reputation for having one of the best advocacy programs. Employee engagement is a huge part of that success, and Zappos achieved it by giving employees a lot of social media autonomy. They allowed them to solve problems and encourage them to take on bigger challenges. In doing so, their staff felt like they were part of something bigger, and really core to the DNA of the purpose. This feeling meant a great openness to promoting the company, sharing content and supporting marketing efforts.

You should also be making it as easy as possible for employees to support your campaigns, by keeping them informed and providing them with messaging they can use or share. You can also use internal incentives to help prompt that action. This isn’t bribery; it means giving people an extra boost. Incentives you might consider include:

  • Following them from corporate and executive accounts to boost their network
  • Using corporate accounts to retweet or share the most creative messaging tweeted or posted by one of your colleagues
  • A contest where everyone who shares a piece of marketing content is entered to win a prize
  • Keeping track of consistent sharers within your business and providing that information to managers as positive contribution they make to marketing
  • Acknowledging frequent sharers in company meetings

The challenge: Proving the value of brand advocacy

Now your brand advocacy program is built, you’re engaging with advocates around the world and feeling great about those interactions. It is taking up a good chunk of your time, but you see it paying off every time your share a new piece of content or make an announcement.

You see it, but your boss doesn’t.

Many people struggle to prove the value of brand advocacy to their bosses or stakeholders. This common problem often boils down to how people communicate this value. The support you get from your advocates may not always be quantifiable through dollars and cents, which makes it tough to justify your investment in an advocate program. So how do you prove the value of your advocates? A strong relationship should take precedence over ROI, right?

The solution: Build measurable action into your advocacy program

Image by Sunny Mama via Flickr CC 2.0 by SA
Image by Sunny Mama via Flickr CC 2.0 by SA

Much like with any social media activity, the key to proving the value of brand advocacy is in building measurement into every action you take. The numbers are there, but you need to identify them in advance, set goals and measure your progress.

The first step will be setting out the various tasks or accomplishments you expect from your brand advocates. These might include

  • Sharing your most recent piece of content
  • Providing feedback on a new product
  • Addressing social media questions or negative comments
  • Hosting localized events in regions where you’re not present
  • Translating documents

Once you’ve established what you expect from your advocates, you need to identify the metrics by which you’ll measure your success. This may involve providing your advocates with specific, trackable links or utm codes to use so you can separate their contributions from the pack.

In the case of the above tasks, your metrics or KPIs would look something like:

  • Social shares by advocates/reach of advocate shares/clicks or traffic driven by advocates
  • Survey results/Survey participation
  • Social media sentiment of your brand in specific regions
  • Number of local events hosted/number of attendees
  • Documents translated/money saved on translation

These metrics might not be perfect, but they’ll go a long way in proving the value of your brand advocacy program. Tracking these metrics will also allow you to show your progress over time. As you gain advocates, you can illustrate the increase in their contributions. A line graph that moves up and to the right is never a bad thing to show your boss.

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