How to Build a Brand Advocacy Program

By Dara Fontein

Social

While you can boast about your own product and service, there’s no better way to spread the word than through third-party cheerleaders such as brand advocates. As we describe in our post 5 Common Brand Advocacy Challenges and How to Solve Them, “while 18 percent of people trust brand influencers, 92 percent trust brand advocates. And nine out of 10 online consumers say recommendations from friends and family members are their most trusted form of advertising worldwide, while only two out of 10 trust online ads.”

It can be hard to know how to get started building your own brand advocacy program, so we’ve put together the following guide to doing just that—no magic tricks required.

What is a brand advocacy program?

For many companies, the biggest untapped resource are their own customers. These people have the information you need to spread and the power to share it in a valuable way. A brand advocate takes the customer relationship a step further. Advocates will work for your brand and share positive sentiments with their community, whether that be online or offline—information that is far more credible than any company-led advertising methods.

A brand advocacy program is a structured strategy put in place to build your network of brand advocates in order to enable your company the power to harness this community. You’re not simply taking advantage of the free exposure and marketing potential of these advocates, but rather taking their feedback and engaging with them in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Now that you understand the core of what a brand advocacy program is, you’re probably wondering why you should care.

Why you need a brand advocacy program

While you could just rely on traditional advertising methods, a brand advocacy program will prove much more effective. In the digital age, peer-to-peer recommendations—such as with a brand advocacy program—are the most powerful advertising tools available. By leveraging existing fans, you can increase brand awareness, develop strong customer loyalties and facilitate valuable customer feedback loops.

If you need further proof, Google found that 60 percent of business technology customers rely on the reviews and testimonials of other consumers when making purchasing decisions. Brand advocacy is ranked even higher than influencer marketing. According to the above mentioned Forrester Research Inc. study, 18 percent of consumers trust influencers while a whopping 92 percent trust brand advocates.

Deciding to launch a brand advocacy program means activating advocates all over the globe. When done right, fostering brand advocacy can lead to company wide benefits, including an increase in sales and positive brand sentiment, as well as a greater share of voice in your industry space.

Ready to get started? The following strategies will guide you as you build your own brand advocacy program.

How to build a brand advocacy program

With a brand advocacy program on the horizon, you need to carefully consider the steps to take to make it successful. You need to think about how you will get your advocates onboard, the necessity of employee advocacy, and how you will keep these advocates engaged once they are part of your community.

1. Plan ahead and set goals

Deciding to develop a brand advocacy program doesn’t have to mean starting from scratch. If your brand is active on social media, then there’s a good chance your customers and fans are as well. This community is already active, and talking about (and to) your brand. The key to building a strong brand advocacy program lies in leveraging your existing communities, which you can do by:

  • Sourcing the right fans
  • Targeting strategic influencers
  • Leveraging employee evangelists

Before we go into those points in detail, you need to consider what you’re trying to achieve with your brand advocacy program. What kinds of brand advocates are you looking to build your community with? What kind of ROI are you aiming for? To help set the most effective goals possible, the S.M.A.R.T goal setting program is recommended.

Whether you’re considering how you will build the program itself, or what you want it to achieve,  you need to set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

So your goal here could look something like: “Create a brand advocacy program that will help grow my Twitter following by 15 percent over the next three months.”

With a clear goal in mind, you can focus on working towards it as you begin getting brand advocates onboard.

2. Getting advocates onboard

Your goals are set, so now you need to develop a strategy to find your brand advocates, get them on board, and grow excitement about your new initiative. Be sure to develop the program around valuable opportunities and rewards for the participants. Show them how taking part in the program will benefit them. Three core things to focus on as you do this are:

  • Effective communication
  • Clear program architecture
  • Professional integration

These three things will drive the program, including your search for the perfect participants. To find these individuals, you need to understand who your target brand advocates are. Think about things such as what their pain points are, what incentives are valuable to them, what their interests are, and who they engage with on social media.

Once you have answered these questions and have your target demographic in mind, you can turn these people into advocates with the following tips from our post 5 Common Brand Advocacy Challenges and How to Solve Them:

  • 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 likes and shares
  • Reward the people who stand out in your community
  • Send them swag or discounts
  • Send them hand-written letters.

While these are great strategies for reaching out to external advocates, you could be missing out on the best brand advocates available—your own employees.

3. Turn employees into advocates

Employees can act as built-in advocates for your brand and business. As our post The Secrets to Turning Your Employees into Social Advocates explains, “You can increase the reach of your social media campaigns by over 2,000 percent by using employees to amplify messaging.” Amazingly, only one-third of companies are doing this.

If you’re thinking that customers won’t trust people who work for your brand, think again. Communications marketing firm Edelman actually found that 52 percent of consumers see employees as very credible sources of information about a business. One of the main challenges you might find yourself coming up against as you build and maintain your brand advocacy program is that your advocates will always be changing, having employee advocates could be your solution.

Internal advocates hold a lot of power and have many benefits for your brand advocacy program. As we’ve said previously, “Where you often need to keep advocates out of the loop until the last minute, you can share private information with your own employees.” It’s also easier to find and reach employee advocates than external brand advocates, and you’ll most likely have a stable and dependable number of employees on hand to champion your brand. Just like external advocates, internal advocates see the value in incentives. Possible ways to incentivize (not bribe) employees include:

  • Promise to following them on social media from corporate and executive accounts to boost their network
  • Retweet or share the most creative messaging tweeted by employees from the company account
  • Create a contest where everyone who shares a piece of marketing content is entered to win a prize
  • Keep track of consistent sharers within your business and provide that information to managers as evidence of the positive contribution they make to marketing
  • Acknowledge frequent sharers in company meetings

Incentives are a great driver of a brand advocacy program, but are nothing without interested and capable advocates. To ensure your employee advocates are with you from the start, you need to make sure things on their end are as easy as possible.

Use a tool like Hootsuite’s Amplify to help your employees share content from your brand as seamlessly as possible.

Learn how to get even more out of Hootsuite with free social media training from Hootsuite Academy.

Amplify helps your employees be the best brand advocates possible, through three simple steps:

  1. Onboard employees quickly and easily with an intuitive mobile app that carries your branding.
  2. Curators send content from the Hootsuite dashboard to the Amplify app with a single click.
  3. Employees share content on their social networks using Amplify—extending your reach.

There are people and communities available both internally and externally to work with your brand advocacy program. While getting them involved in the first place is one part of the process, you need to work proactively to keep them on board.

4. Keeping brand advocates engaged

A well structured brand advocacy program will expand rapidly. Before you know it, you will be challenged with keeping the hundreds, or thousands, of brand advocates engaged and championing your brand. You may even want to consider having a program lead within your organization to take on the engagement task.

Incentives are a great way to show your appreciation and celebrate your brand advocates. You can also make the experience fun—or even gamify it—by running contests or fun challenges specific to your brand advocates. This will keep your advocates dedicated to your brand. Nobody wants to be a part of something boring or dull, so ensure you’re flexing that creativity and coming up with fun ways of interacting with your advocates on the regular.

Another way to keep members engaged is by adding value to their experience. Provide programs and lessons to your brand advocates, or offer them discounts on educational opportunities such as online courses or in-person meetups. A relationship with a good brand advocate is mutually beneficial, so ensure you’re keeping up with your end of the bargain.

Whether you tap into the collective power of your employees, or use the trusted voices of your current customers—advocacy programs are a great way to add value and reward loyalty, while generating brand awareness and increasing your reach.

Tap into the power of employee brand advocates with Hootsuite’s Amplify.

Learn More

This is an updated version of a post originally published in February 2014. With files from Alyssa Kritsch.

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