Five brand advocacy myths

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Marta Strickland
Marta Strickland

Brand advocacy is a term that is thrown around a lot within the social media spectrum. Conversations usually center on finding brand advocates who will serve as a social media lightning rod and generate an avalanche of user-generated content from a community based on their actions. Marketers are just as likely to find these mythical advocates as they are to track down Big Foot riding a unicorn.

Igniting a social media avalanche does benefit greatly by finding exceptional advocates; however, marketers can't simply rely on finding the right catalysts to spark success. Here are five myths brands need to free themselves from before they can deploy a successful brand advocacy program:

  • They aren't out there looking for you
    Guess what? People have been sharing tips and advice on products brands they use and love long before advertisers realized the power of word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing. Consumers will continue to do so regardless of a brand's interaction, to help their friends, being acknowledged for their expertise, and sharing something they have found. It's the brands that need these people to help them authenticate and speak to potential customers they can't reach with ad dollars. However, marketers cannot expect these advocates to fall into their lap. If marketers don't have a CRM program, a strategy to reach out to bloggers and loyalists in niche forums, or any other venue for consumers to raise their voice, then you don't have a brand advocacy strategy.
  • Some of your best advocates might not be your current customers
    What many brands fail to realize is that sometimes advocacy has nothing to do with a particular product and everything to do with a lifestyle. People who love Jeep, for example, may be fans of the brand in spirit as they associate with the car maker's branded outdoor adventure lifestyle long before, and even long after, they are owners of the vehicle. Some of your brand's biggest loyalists might not be talking about the company at all but talking about other products or activities that fit in with this lifestyle, including GPS devices, off-road trails and quality tires. While a truly great advocate will be able to speak about a product passionately and authentically, marketers shouldn't limit their search to current customers.
  • It's not the size of your pool of fans, it's how you use them
    Coca-cola has 4 million fans. FAGE Greek Yogurt has 36K fans. Does that mean that Coca-cola is over 100 times more successful than FAGE in terms of brand advocacy? Well, that depends. What is the value of an advocate for Coca-cola versus FAGE or any other brand for that matter? I find myself asking, what does Coca-cola even need a Facebook fan page for? Coca-cola does not lack in awareness, but the purchase decision is largely made in the last steps at the grocery store as the result of a sale or coupon or is tied to beverage brand loyalty. But for FAGE, a small-time yogurt brand without much awareness, each one of their 36K fans could represent an opportunity for a new customer, coupon-pusher or a new voice piece to spread awareness to their circle of friends.
  • A Facebook fan does not directly equate to a brand advocate
    For many people, becoming a “fan” of a brand on Facebook is as meaningful as acquiring a new bumper sticker or a patch on a heavily collaged backpack. It's a symbol of a lifestyle, it's a funny statement to their friends and is as temporarily interesting as the flow of the newsfeed that day. Ninety percent of the time a user spends on Facebook is in the newsfeed, so after they hit that “fan” button they likely will never return to your fan page. So while your fan page might say 10,000 “fans,” that doesn't mean you have 10,000 “advocates.” What it does mean, however, is that you have as many as 10,000 opportunities – but realistically probably much fewer – to create advocacy.
  • Recognition, while always important, is not one-size-fits-all
    Some advocates are altruistic, so in love with your brand and what it means to them that they aren't particularly looking for a reward. Others need to be motivated by the allure of something a little extra to come out of their shell. In either case, recognition can't hurt as it lets people know their participation is appreciated as they further the brand's awareness goals. However, approaches to recognition are not one-size-fits-all, as they have to be evaluated closely by audience and by industry. In other words, what does your audience want? The prize of “front page of YouTube” exposure that might appeal to the 18-year-old girl posting a video of herself singing about a new energy drink is likely going to terrify the middle-aged man or woman opening up about their use of incontinence products. Both should be rewarded, but not in the same way.

With the right mixture of targeting, motivation and recognition marketers can create the wave of user-generated content and goodwill that they crave from their social media strategies. There are many ways to do this but developing a stable of knowledgeable evangelists is a boon to marketers. Rather than simply locating brand advocates, marketers must also inspire evangelists within their community by delivering fun, engaging social media experiences to create a thriving online community. Once a community is effectively promoting members from within to carry the brand torch, marketers can claim victory in the social media space.

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