Building Brand Trust Through Trusted Advocates

Nothing builds trust like a third-party endorsement; especially an endorsement from someone the consumer knows and trusts. Brand advocates extend your brand to their personal networks, generating more inherent trust among prospects. Customer advocacy and brand advocacy programs are interchangeable terms describing when companies cultivate brand advocates in a dedicated effort.

customeradvocacyNothing builds trust like a third-party endorsement — especially an endorsement from someone the consumer knows and trusts. Brand advocates extend your brand to their personal networks, generating more inherent trust among prospects. Customer advocacy, or brand advocacy, occurs when companies cultivate brand advocates in a dedicated effort.

A customer advocacy program aims to build consumer trust by increasing the volume of trusted voices on behalf of the brand. Brand advocates are most likely to be your customers or employees, but they could also be analysts, partners, writers or others involved with your industry, category, company, or products and services.

While advocates can appear naturally and organically, a successful customer advocacy program requires the structure, funding, time and talent to find, recruit and nurture these valued relationships. The program must meet the needs of both new and long-time advocates, from various locations, across target populations, in different channels, with different motivations and different response triggers.

It may seem like a monumental amount of work, but it will be worth it. All evidence suggests that quality personal recommendations and objective reviews highly impact buying decisions. And the results are even more exaggerated in decisions regarding technology, high-ticket items and B-to-B.

As consumers become less reachable through traditional advertising methods, a customer advocacy strategy becomes a necessity. The crux of a consumer advocacy program is finding the right advocates to engage in strategic brand conversations. These advocates may have a lot of followers and influence, or they may serve a niche audience. Most importantly, you want them to have passion and knowledge of your subject area and relevant topics to assure credibility. These advocates are often found on social media, but can also be gleaned from customer email lists and other channels.

Dedicate social listening and other research efforts to look for those with digital influence, quality content and brand affinity. You want them to already have a platform that you can enhance with product trials or betas, special access to company leadership, partnership opportunities and special offers for their followers. But reward their brand participation only through a completely transparent relationship, so as to protect the your public integrity and trust.

A brand with a customer advocacy mindset thinks of their advocates as more than opportunistic sources of content, leads or sales. Smart brands cultivate customer advocates as precious resources that create credibility and positive sentiment, reaching into and influencing populations the brand can’t touch as effectively itself. If a brand is authentic and responsive to these advocates, the relationship can start dialogue that returns immediate value.

The brand derives value from customer advocacy in numerous ways, including:

  • Frank feedback from knowledgeable and objective resources.
  • Reviews and testimonials that ring honestly to broad audiences.
  • Increased referral rates.
  • Humanization of the organization or brand.
  • An empowered staff.
  • Personalization of the customer experience.
  • Development of third-party resources, knowledge bases and assets.
  • Increased positive brand sentiment.
  • Increased overall awareness, share-of-voice and influence in your industry.
  • Increased leads and sales.

Tracking the value of an advocacy program requires the same strategic approach as other marketing program analytics. Start by crafting a goal statement that outlines specific, quantifiable objectives and then benchmark the appropriate KPIs. Regularly track and report against goals to keep the program performance on target, and to understand the relative value of different advocates. Look for impacts on business outcomes, not just measures of activity, to draw a straight line between this critical effort and your strategic business goals.

It is likely that your program analytics will identify some assets and channels that have more activity than others. Share these great stories and numbers with your team to develop key insights about your audiences and inform content planning across the organization.

Many organizations are investing in some of the activities that define a customer advocacy program but have yet to combine the elements into a cohesive plan under dedicated leadership with appropriate goals and funding. Plant the seeds for a true customer advocacy program by following these few key rules for advocacy within your organization:

  1. Earn Trust: Brand trust is essential to advocacy success. Organizations or brands challenged by scandal or disappointed customers should reform their business practices before attempting to encourage word-of-mouth marketing.
  2. Show Empathy: Understanding and communicating an emotional brand message will resonate with audiences in a way that other messaging approaches cannot.
  3. Focus on Quality: You don’t need the biggest network of advocates — you need the most impactful.
  4. Think Long Term: You will need to dedicate resources and incorporate advocacy activity into strategic planning.

Want to know more about building an effective customer advocacy program? View our free, one-hour webinar on the topic with audience Q&A, available here until 3/2/2017.

Turn Your Customers Into Your Best Salespeople

Happy customers are your brand’s best salespeople. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for brand advocates to share their enthusiasm with hundreds (if not thousands) of colleagues and other prospects in their online networks. The power given to consumers is real. It’s created a sort of forced collaboration between marketers and their customers — with industry bloggers, analysts and journalists chiming in too. Empower customers and your marketplace and you win. Try to control it and you may incite a mutiny.

Happy customers are your brand’s best salespeople. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for brand advocates to share their enthusiasm with hundreds (if not thousands) of colleagues and other prospects in their online networks. The power given to consumers is real. It’s created a sort of forced collaboration between marketers and their customers — with industry bloggers, analysts and journalists chiming in too. Empower customers and your marketplace and you win. Try to control it and you may incite a mutiny.

Enabling satisfied customers to spread the word takes a combination of the right messaging and some careful listening to ensure you don’t lose out on valuable opportunities for positive online word-of-mouth. Empower your brand advocates by devoting attention to these four specific areas:

1. A great customer experience. Certain customers will go out of their way to praise a high-quality product, helpful customer service or even a compelling interaction with a brand. (This holds true whether they’re B-to-C or B-to-B customers.) Naturally, the first step is to offer a great product or service. Then start paying attention to who’s talking about your brand, what they’re saying and where they’re saying it. Social media listening tools will help you locate enthusiastic customers online. Make them prime targets for engagement.

Don’t wait for the active few, go after the silent majority, too. The primary reason most customers don’t share good news about brands they do business with is because they’re never asked. After every appropriate interaction — and without being creepy or becoming a nag — invite your customers to participate in product reviews, experience surveys, customer forums or just plain telephone calls as part of “executive outreach sessions.” Use the channel that the customer used, whether it’s SMS, social, email or retail.

2. Loyalty. Customers willing to share their positive experiences with your brand are well worth your time and resources. Once you’ve found these happy customers, invest in them to create a loyal following. You can’t underestimate the power of simply thanking customers for their business.

In addition, keep your database up to date and integrated with your segmentation and campaign management tools. Update customer profiles to include recognition of brand advocacy and nurture loyalty with special acknowledgments, promotions and discounts. It’s critical to keep these interactions relevant, personalized and well-timed. In other words, don’t spam. Just because you can email a brand advocate on her birthday, before holidays and whenever her favorite item is on sale doesn’t mean your messages will be welcome.

Track response rates over time so you can optimize message frequency and timing. While many of your loyal customers will be happy to receive lots of notices from you, never assume their interest. One of our retail clients recently found that a whopping 10 percent of their most loyal customers had marked their email messages as spam in the past year. When the retailer reached out to these customers via other channels to find out why, it learned that the email messages were too frequent and not specific to the interests of those customers. Don’t risk upsetting or annoying your customers to the point of complaints. Listen to the response data you have and back off when necessary.

3. A platform to promote. Help your brand advocates find their voice by giving them ample opportunity to share their feelings online. They’re multichannel, so think across channels too. Engage them via email, your website, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Make sure they feel welcome to talk about their positive customer experiences online.

Is your company blog comment friendly? Do you provide a timely response to mentions of your brand on Twitter? Are you using clickstream and email data to inform your personas and segmentation? Does your website provide easy access to contact information for customer service and social media accounts? Present a seamless approach across all platforms — both traditional and digital — so that your messaging is consistent and credible.

4. Pull your head out of the sand. There are dozens of examples every month of brands that tried to ignore negative social commentary or got “shamed” for suppressing negative comments on Facebook. Nestle, for example, battled with Greenpeace supporters who voiced their concerns over the company’s use of palm oil. Rather than listening and engaging with concerned consumers, Nestle created a wealth of bad PR for itself by deleting posts and snapping back at fans. Similarly, Pfizer agitated consumers by deleting Facebook posts that suggested one of its viral video campaigns may be sexist.

If you’re going to listen and respond to social data, you must accept and engage with consumers who don’t agree with your positions or didn’t have a good brand experience. Like all battles of public opinion, the trick is to empower your advocates to respond to your detractors while providing a fact-based, reasonable platform for thoughtful discussion.

Brand advocates have always played the role of valuable, cost-effective salespeople. Now their voices can be amplified even more via social media networks. With a little encouragement and support, today’s brand advocates can become a powerful sales force. Put marketing automation and integration tools to work and you’ll be able to find your satisfied customers, engage with them and delight them even more with offers and promotions that resonate and cultivate deeper brand loyalty.

5 Ways to Leverage the Power of Social Communities This Holiday Season

Tough economic conditions have led to some pretty dramatic changes this holiday season, including earlier and more aggressive promotions, extended store hours, and more aggressive digital marketing efforts such as extended free shipping offers. How can brands leverage their social communities to best stand out from the crowd and drive success this holiday season and beyond? Here are five simple ways to leverage the power of your social community this holiday season:

Tough economic conditions have led to some pretty dramatic changes this holiday season, including earlier and more aggressive promotions, extended store hours, and more aggressive digital marketing efforts such as extended free shipping offers. How can brands leverage their social communities to best stand out from the crowd and drive success this holiday season and beyond? Here are five simple ways to leverage the power of your social community this holiday season:

1. Time and execution. Every marketer is working towards Shangri-la — i.e., the right offer to the right consumer in the right channel at the right time. One of the easiest tactics in this equation is to get the timing right. Take the time to analyze critical response patterns within each of your social communities, including what day and time of day your community members are more likely to engage with your social posts. Then schedule your holiday promotions accordingly to increase reach, response and conversion.

2. Integrate and coordinate. Support your holiday promotional efforts with coordinated social posts. Test the sequencing of these efforts and their impact on sales. Take it a step further by offering exclusives to community members and/or early or special access to sales events and specials. Finally, encourage sharing and consider rewarding those that do with additional discounts and/or rewards. Remember to tag and track all social media efforts so you can measure the impact they have on overall sales. Also be mindful of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines governing social media endorsements.

3. Localize and alert. Leverage the power of social media to update communities about local events, extended hours, price changes and even restocking/delivery of popular out-of-stock items. Use geo-targeted posts on platforms like Facebook as well as location-based services like foursquare to help spread the word and optimize sales both online and in-store at the local level.

4. Thank and welcome. As the 2011 holiday season winds down, remember the importance of the post-holiday season as shoppers return unwanted items and look to use gift cards. Fine-tune post-holiday community efforts and communications by identifying new customers, dormant customers who came back, lapsed customers and brand advocates.

Invite those that aren’t already members of your social networks to be part of the community, thank existing customers for their patronage and recognize brand advocates for their support. Consider leveraging this intelligence to boost post-holiday sales pushes with viral programs starting the day after Christmas. By inviting new customers to join your social communities you’ll be building an even bigger foundation to market to throughout 2012.

5. Survey and build buzz. Use collaborative filtering and data to highlight popular products by category, region and customer segment. Solicit feedback and survey customers about their experience with your brand or products and encourage them to share that experience on your social communities and across the social web to build buzz.

It’s hard to believe the 2011 holiday season is upon us. However, with a little planning and coordination there’s still time to leverage the power of your social communities to build sales for 2011 and beyond.

10 Tips to Help Grow Your Twitter Followers

This past Labor Day weekend saw Republican presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, and Twitter was buzzing with location updates, photos and 140-character sound bites. While many of the candidates boast huge Twitter followings, several have come under criticism for the authenticity of their numbers.

This past Labor Day weekend saw Republican presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, and Twitter was buzzing with location updates, photos and 140-character sound bites. While many of the candidates boast huge Twitter followings, several have come under criticism for the authenticity of their numbers.

In fact, a recent review of Newt Gingrich’s followers by PeekYou, a social search company that matches online identities through publically available information, found that only 106,055 out of 1.1 million of his followers were legitimate. Similar results were found for other candidate’s followers, but at much lower rates. Mitt Romney was found to have 26 percent real followers, Michelle Bachman had 28 percent and Tim Pawlenty had 32 percent. With that in mind, here are some best practices for keeping it real when it comes to growing your number of Twitter followers:

1. Mine the database. As always, the best place to start is with your customers. Leverage the knowledge you have about existing customers and prospects in your database and reach out to them communicating the benefits of following your brand on Twitter. Consider sending an email campaign to acquire new subscribers. Remember to tag all existing promotional campaigns, newsletters and service email communications with your social communities.

2. Listen and follow. Leverage listening and monitoring tools such as Radian6 to find out who’s already talking about your brand. Follow them to keep the dialog going and be sure to recognize and thank those that retweet or @mention you.

3. Leverage social tools. Look for and engage key influencers to help spread the word about your brand. Helpful tools include wefollow.com, which helps you to find key influencers within your industry or topics related to your brand. Use Klout and PeerIndex scores to identify who are the most influential. Also look at Twitter’s “Who to Follow” tab for some contextually relevant suggestions on an ongoing basis.

4. Hashtags, advertising tags and Twitter ads. Include hashtags pertaining to popular topics and conversation threads to ensure users interested in similar topics can easily find you. Tag TV, radio and print advertising with your social communities. Use that opportunity to highlight exclusive content prospective followers may find there.

Twitter has and will continue to develop new opportunities to help marketers call greater attention to their brand. The most recent announcement includes Twitter’s expanded advertising program, which allows brands to display ads to Twitter users who are following a particular type of company within a vertical niche. This program is similar to promoted tweets highlighted in a user’s timeline.

5. Directories. List your Twitter account in directories such as Twibes.com, TweetFind.com and Twellow.com. Consider building lists on key communication streams so potential followers with similar interests can find you easily.

6. Search tags, bios and backgrounds. Create a bio with a clear description of your brand and the kind of content you plan on posting. If you have several Twitter accounts serving different purposes, make it easy for users to find those as well by listing them or creating a custom background with the address. Add social links to paid search terms to increase visibility and visitation for your social communities. In addition, be sure to promote your social communities on your website. Include your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other communities on each platform. Better yet, use the strengths of each community to create a conversation flow — e.g., break news on Twitter and ask folks to join the conversation on Facebook.

7. Partnerships and sponsorships. Leverage and cross-promote key partnerships and sponsorships. Retweet, @mention and build a dialog with these partners; become a resource for their followers as well.

8. Unique content. Offer followers unique content they can’t find elsewhere. Grant followers “first to know” status, which will keep them tuning in and engaged. Consider building Twitterviews if you have access to individuals that will resonate well with your followers. Challenge users with trivia and reward those who actively engage with recognition. If possible, offer the chance to win prizes.

9. Engaging conversation. As we all know, the best way to grow your followers is to engage your audience with entertaining and valuable content. Ask and answer questions; encourage people to tweet their thoughts and opinions on key issues; address concerns; ask for feedback and input; and be sure to thank those that engage your brand by either direct messaging them or giving a public shout-out for their contribution. Build a communication calendar around engaging content ideas and find a unique voice. By showcasing your most engaged followers, you’ll create an army of advocates for your brand that will help accelerate your growth.

10. Analyze and focus. Leverage social campaign management tools to analyze consumers’ reactions to your content. Create content categories such as news, articles, events and promotions to track responses. Adjust the mix of these categories based on the feedback you receive from your community.

In addition, use your social media campaign management tool or free tools like friendorfollow.com to see who you may be following but isn’t following back. This will help you keep your follow-to-following ratio in check. With a little analytics and creative writing, you can optimize your voice and ultimately your results.

Twitter remains an evolving medium. While most brands have their share of followers who are inactive, there’s much they can do to grow and improve engagement. By paying careful attention to best practices and creating content that’s valued by consumers, you’ll be well on your way to creating a vibrant and engaged community of brand advocates.

5 Steps for Putting Twitter to Work for Your Brand

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Coming on the heels of a recent $200 million investment and $3.7 billion valuation, Twitter has firmly cemented itself as a force to be reckoned with. A critical communication tool for leading brands, marketers are flocking to this burgeoning social media platform, adding more than 65 million tweets each day. However, establishing and building an effective presence on Twitter takes more than grabbing a name and sending a tweet. It requires work, just like any other channel. With that in mind, here’s a checklist to get you started:

1. Establish your Twitter objectives and do your homework. Spend the necessary time up-front to identify areas of your business that can be served by Twitter — e.g., customer service, tech support, marketing, PR. Define your objectives and metrics for success. Do your homework by conducting a competitive analysis. Read case studies and learn from industry experts and your peers by attending Twitter industry events.

2. Build your presence. Create and complete your bio. Include a clear description of your brand and your stream. Create an avatar and custom background to help reinforce and distinguish your brand. Include a URL to your website or other official brand communities in your bio. Check out @twelpforce if you need help.

3. Develop compelling content and dialogues. Start by listening before speaking. Investigate how your brand/products are organically mentioned and look for opportunities to establish a conversational feed with brand advocates. To engage users, share relevant content and look for opportunities to provide unique value on Twitter, such as offers or photos not found anywhere else. Test content themes such as trivia, historical facts or challenges, and reward your loyal followers with prizes.

Over time, consider establishing multiple accounts to streamline content or interest areas. For example, the NBA uses its primary Twitter account for game updates, offers and breaking news. However, it launched a separate Twitter feed dedicated to historical facts: @NBAHistory.

Also, remember to listen and respond to customer inquiries quickly. Weave conversations across communities. Many brands, such as @CastrolUSA, share news on Twitter and invite followers to join the discussion on their Facebook page.

4. Grow your audience. Promote your communities using all touchpoints — e.g., TV commercial tags, call centers, email. Consider integrating your Twitter feed into your existing website, and experiment with Twitter feeds and advertising units in contextual environments to peak interest and increase followers. Find people already tweeting about your subject and follow them. Identify key influencers, showcase them and encourage them to retweet or @mention you.

Publish Twitter lists to further extend your content and attract followers. List your Twitter account in directories and test sponsored tweets and/or promoted accounts.

5. Manage and measure. A recent study by R2integrated found dedicating time and resources to be the No. 1 issue for marketers when managing their social media presence. Create a team micro-blogging strategy to help keep your social operations nimble and responsive.

The good news is that many people and groups across your organization are interested in learning more about Twitter, and they’ll all benefit from a successful Twitter presence. Get them involved and consider investing in a social media campaign management tool to streamline the process of creating, implementing and analyzing tweets and Facebook posts.

Campaign management tools also enable organizations to manage multiple users. Create benchmarks around key metrics such as customer satisfaction and service levels. Leverage the real-time nature of Twitter to solicit feedback. Be a stickler about channel attribution by using unique coupon codes or tracking URLs tied to shortened URLs.

Finally, take the time to understand the difference and dynamics between public and private tweets, and use direct messages to handle private or sensitive one-to-one conversations.

Twitter isn’t only a new ecosystem, but a constantly evolving one. While a great deal of its evolution is driven by its users, the recent influx of $200 million and focus on making money is certain to increase the opportunities for marketers — advertising and beyond. For marketers to effectively embrace this channel, however, they need to galvanize their internal teams, build a compelling strategy aligned to corporate goals and customer needs, stay current on industry best practices, and maintain and grow their followers by building an engaging dialogue. In the end, some things never change: same marketing fundamentals, different channel.

Building Your Facebook Community

In July, 2010, Facebook announced that more than 500 million people worldwide were actively using the social media site to connect with family, friends and, yes, increasingly, brands. While Facebook continues to evolve as a marketing platform, a growing number of marketers are looking to leverage this channel to engage consumers and build communities. But what are some of the secrets to success, and how can you leverage these best practices to build a powerful community of brand advocates?

In July, 2010, Facebook announced that more than 500 million people worldwide were actively using the social media site to connect with family, friends and, yes, increasingly, brands. While Facebook continues to evolve as a marketing platform, a growing number of marketers are looking to leverage this channel to engage consumers and build communities. But what are some of the secrets to success, and how can you leverage these best practices to build a powerful community of brand advocates?

Listen. Understand. Then frame the conversation.
Before attempting to develop a full Facebook fan page for your brand, first determine the nature of the conversation between your brand and its customers. When it comes to framing the conversation, the brands that build successful Facebook communities take their cues from their customers and don’t try to dictate or dominate the relationship. They do this by listening. Follow these tips to tap into multiple listening sources to uncover shared passions:

Brand audit. Type your brand name into Facebook’s search bar to take a pulse of the nature of the conversations already taking place about your brand.

Leverage traditional market research. Collect information about how your customers use social media, and what kind of content and conversations are important to them. Survey your customer base through database marketing, website intercept surveys and third-party research panels. Use focus groups to drill down into the attitudes and particular content, features and functionalities that will set you apart.

Listening tools. Use powerful monitoring tools to filter the immense amount of discussions and activity surrounding your brand, and to identify opportunities and key areas of interest.

Acquire and grow: Build your fan base. So you’ve identified a shared passion that will underpin your general community framework. Up next: building your base. The best acquisition strategies leverage existing customer touchpoints as well as opportunities within Facebook’s ecosystem. Take the following steps:

  • secure a vanity URL and make it easy to be found;
  • clearly define the benefits of joining your page;
  • invite existing customers via email;
  • offer something unique or exclusive, giving those who like your brand a reason to visit, engage with and recommend your page;
  • test different placements of the “Like” button across your existing digital touchpoints;
  • include your Facebook page’s link on relevant paid search terms;
  • include Facebook URLs/tags on traditional advertising efforts (e.g., print, TV, radio);
  • “favorite” related brands; and
  • test Facebook advertising.

Stir the pot: Engage your fan base. Once you’ve acquired fans, create a compelling experience that keeps them engaged and actively participating. Keep in mind that engaging your fans is a journey, not a destination. Do the following to keep fans engaged:

  • provide them with unique access to special content and/or offers;
  • create and test applications like polls, trivia, simple games and widgets, making sure the underlying subject of those applications syncs with the shared passion of your community;
  • shower your fans with public recognition;
  • encourage user-generated content;
  • rotate and target content (e.g., geo-posts) to keep it relevant;
  • think internationally; and
  • adjust your content strategy accordingly.

Build trust. Being open isn’t always easy. Many brands shy away from social media out of fear that their fans and followers may say something negative or turn on them. Deal with issues and problems in an open, transparent way. In fact, if you’ve done a good job offering value and engaging those who like your page, you may find they’re your biggest defenders. To build trust with your fans, do the following:

  • post a comment policy;
  • remove spam;
  • be transparent and authentic;
  • remain calm and think before you act (i.e., respond/post);
  • train and communicate your goals with those responsible for managing/engaging fans; and
  • build a corporate policy and communicate that policy internally so employees understand how to engage consumers in a transparent manner.

Have fun: Analyze and optimize. So, how do you know if you’re doing a good job? Tracking and analytics will help you get a handle on your page’s performance. Try the following tracking tactics:

  • use unique tracking codes for Facebook posts;
  • leverage Facebook Insights to understand activity and usage;
  • identify brand advocates and tag them in your database — you may even want to consider rewarding them for their support with bonus points; and
  • communicate your learnings and institutionalize them.

Finally — and perhaps most importantly — don’t lose sight of the fact that Facebook is an evolving platform. No one person can keep up with all the developments, so make sure you partner right. Find an agency and/or support system that’s well-versed on Facebook best practices and your brand, and has shown a proven ability to engage consumers.