As buyers' habits continue to change, marketing professionals have to either adapt to the changes or risk being left in the dust. Traditional marketing is on the way out and more and more buyers are showing us that they value information from their peers over that from marketing and sales. According to the MarketingCharts.com 2015 Advertising Influence Study, brand advocates are 50% more likely to influence a purchase than a traditional sales rep.
In order to keep up with this trend, many companies are turning towards online communities. From your community you are able to cultivate a group of customer advocates that will act as your brand ambassadors to prospects by telling their stories and helping to answer community members' questions. This is a win-win because it reduces some of the strain put on your support team, and your prospective customers will view information from peers as a more trusted and unbiased source.
It is for these reasons that customer advocacy expert, Bill Lee, founder of the Center of Customer Engagement, believes that, â€œwe are now on the verge of a golden era of customer communities.
Here, we'll go over some of the common traits of customer advocates, how you'll be able to cultivate your own, and some pitfalls to avoid when building positive customer advocacy.
How to Recognize a Customer Advocate in Your Customer Community?
Before you can begin to cultivate more customer advocates, you should first understand some of the common traits that they share to recognize the ones you may already have and to be able to identify them in the future.
Customer advocates are much more likely to actively participate and engage with other customers within the community. They don't just make one post every 6 months or so. They are active and their activity is consistent.
You will find that your customer advocates are passionate about your brand and the future of your brand. They feel attached to your cause and want to feel like they're a part of something bigger than themselves.
Share Great Stories
By tracking community blogs and discussion forums, you should be able to find the members that are sharing their product stories. I find that the really strong customer stories are the ones that are focused on an experience a customer has with a product. Customer advocates are generally willing to share their great experiences with your products with other community members.
Along with sharing their stories, brand advocates are also willing to answer other members' questions. Because your customer advocates are generally seen as experts within the community, their feedback is appreciated and they are viewed as trusted advisor.
By keeping an eye out for your community members that exhibit these traits, you will quickly become an expert at picking out potential candidates to become customer advocates. Once you have identified the customer advocates that you may already have, it's time to learn how to cultivate new ones.
How to Generate Customer Advocates
So, now that we have learned to identify some similar activities that customer advocates fulfil while using communities, we can now get into how you can continue to grow your customer advocate team, or how to start a customer advocacy program if you don't have one in place already.
In order to really build a network of customer advocates, we first need to get a clear understanding of what makes them tick. Rather than compensating advocates with incentives like money, special promotions, etc., it is much more effective to drive positive advocacy off of both social and personal drivers.
Here is an example of a social driver and an example of a personal driver.
Reputation and Status
One of the best ways to appeal to someone's reputation and status is to recognize them. You can reward active participants in your community by tagging them in a forum that you would like them to comment in. The person you tag should be an expert in that specific topic. This will make them feel recognized as being an expert in that topic and will also make them feel like a valued member of the community.
When it comes to autonomy what's really important is that your customers feel that they have a say. An effective way to build autonomy into your customer advocacy program is to survey your customers and ask them what's important to them and what they're struggling with. From this, you can roadmap and build these responses into your product. This will not only solve the issues that those customers were dealing with, but it is almost certain that you're solving the same problems for numerous other customers as well, and it makes the customers that you surveyed feel as though they had a say in the process.
You can effectively drive customers in your community to become advocates by internalizing what they want to achieve and the problems that they are struggling with. The best way to get in the head of your customers is to ask them these questions.
Now, there are several ways that you can ask them. One way may be to call a sample of your community and ask them. Another way might be to ask members as they join your community what they hope to achieve, or what they want to get out of the community.
This way, you can tailor your community around the challenges and goals of your customers. In turn, this will drive customer engagement in your community, and ultimately, will drive customer advocacy.
Common Customer Advocacy Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)
We just learned some great ways to generate and promote customer advocacy. But, there are also somethings that you can do to shoot yourself in the foot when it comes to your customer advocacy program. So, that being said, here are a few of the things that can really hinder your advocacy program and by knowing them, you can prevent them from happening.
Using Special Promotions or Discounts
Many times when people think about incentivizing their advocates to promote their organization or product on their behalf, they think that they should offer them special discounts or promotions to do so. This does not promote a positive advocacy program. If anything, it will be like pouring a bucket of cold water on the relationship that you have been developing with the customer up until this point.
Going for the Ask Too Soon
Rather than just coming out and asking your advocates to share their stories for you benefit, you want to nurture and build your relationships with them. You want to focus on creating new opportunities within the community in order to keep them engaged and involved. When it's time for them to share their stories, they will feel recognized rather than inconvenienced or used.
Asking Your Advocates to Share Your Story
The one thing that you have to keep in mind when getting your advocates to share stories is that it isn't about you. Well, at least not directly. Instead of trying to convince your advocates to share your story, you need to give them opportunities to share theirs. As I mentioned before, your customers are more influenced by other customers than your sales team, so chances are that they will heavily value their peers' stories.
Customer Advocacy Takeaway
Developing a customer advocacy program can be a very delicate process, but one that will be very meaningful to your community, customers, and company as a whole. The best way to generate customer advocates is to develop a community that is meaningful to your customers and gets them to engage consistently in positive ways.
The way that you do this is by asking your customers the right questions. This way you can get an idea of what their priorities are and what difficulties that they're facing. If you build your community around what your customers' needs are, then they will feel that they have some control over the process and will feel more attached to the community and your organization.
By following these steps you will build a positive and flourishing customer advocacy program that is sure to drive positive real business outcomes.