The distinction between Advocate and Influencer, and how to build a Customer Advocacy Program
by MICHELLE KOSTYA
Formalizing The Customer Advocacy Program
This post is not about influence; what it is or who influences who. That topic has been discussed by people with far more knowledge than I have on the subject. Instead I want to show the distinction between advocate and influencer and the importance of building a customer advocacy program alongside your influencer program. The two aren’t interchangeable and an influencer program doesn’t replace the need for a customer advocacy program simply by reaching out to the folks with clout. The truth is your brand advocates or ambassadors aren’t necessarily influencers (in the traditional sense of fans/followers and klout score), and an influencer is not necessarily an advocate of your brand. Having a program to reach out to your influencers and one to empower and connect with your advocates are both equally important.
Companies often build out in-depth “influencer programs” with lists of people who are thought leaders in their industry. Influencers may have hundreds or thousands of fans on twitter, a high profile blog, or they speak at conferences due to their leadership in a given area. Often these programs divide their lists by context and audience, helping them to determine who to pitch what new product, service or events.
If a pitch receives the outcome the brand is looking for (a mention on a blog post, or a tweet as an example) it can help drive conversation, and build awareness. However, the pitch can be challenging.
These influencers are not necessarily fans of the brand, and in many cases they may be indifferent or detractors rather than advocates. And, if they are considered influential for your industry, chances are your competition is also pitching them – so getting noticed is not an easy task.
Brand advocates or ambassadors are those customers who support your brand positively in online and offline conversations with their network. They will share their opinion, recommendations and even defend the brand from detractors. They may not have thousands of followers or be quoted in the media as an industry thought leader, but they have influence within their social network. And, a huge advantage of advocates is that they aren’t likely being pitched from the competition. I have seen many advocacy programs start out from the customer service side of the business where they create MVP or “Super User” programs within their support communities. But the most successful ones seem to be those that are tied to influencer programs or which have the additional support of marketing or PR so that the advocates get the inside scoop and special offers that the influencers receive.
Don’t forget your influencers, they are still a key part of the mix. But, remember to treat your advocates a bit more like influencers. By creating your advocacy program alongside your influencer program you can consider these ideas:
- Planning a big launch party or event for media and influencers? Make it a fan night by inviting a few of your ambassadors to join in the fun. They will love hobnobbing with the influencers and your employees. As an example we invited our ambassadors to an industry event where they got to spend time learning more about the product, as well as build a stronger relationship with each other and with us.
- With new product launches it is normal to send demos or samples to media, and to influencers but there are also great benefits to sending these to your advocates. If they have products early they can help to spread the word, and to support the product by answering questions on and offline.
- Sharing offers and the inside scoop before they are widely known help to make your advocates feel special to the brand.
- Inviting ambassadors to meet your employees or thought leaders via a conference call, or at an event provides them with stories, information and ultimately strong ties to the brand. I once had one of our brand ambassadors come for a tour of our office – he was so excited about seeing our desks and meeting our colleagues and we were thrilled to be able to do something so big for so little.
- Give them a special space in an online community where they can talk to other brand advocates, or introduce them to your customers in an interview on your blog.
What do you offer your brand advocates? How do you make them feel special?