Advocates and Influencers: Differences, Uses, and Red Flags
“Advocates” are customers who are strongly motivated to say positive things about your brand, as well as your products or services. They are critical in your branding efforts, as word-of-mouth is still the most powerful force for influencing potential customers. This isn’t a passing trend; people have always trusted their peers more than they ever trusted brand marketing or advertising.
However, a new business model has emerged based on this human trait: Customer review sites such as G2 Crowd have developed platforms to help facilitate advocacy. They crowd-source and showcase customer opinions for potential buyers to evaluate, and in the process create an impartial, trusted review platform.
Your advocates might broadcast to the world, as Joe G. does in the example above, or behave more like matchmakers, referring specific customers that they think would find your brand satisfactory. Referral customers come into your sales funnel near the middle or bottom, drastically shortening the sales cycle. They cost less to acquire, and tend to be more valuable and loyal than others. A looked at a bank’s referral program and found that “the lifetime value of referred customers, measured over a six-year horizon, was 16% higher, on average, than that of non-referred customers with similar demographics and time of acquisition.”
Brand advocacy doesn’t just happen. It’s a trust-building, marketing-amplifying process that you must design and manage. If you’re doing good work and treating customers well, you should have an organic pool of natural advocates. Satisfied customers are often very happy to share their experiences. You can create programs to reward and incentivize these advocates, and that’s often a good investment. (For a different take on the value and risks of incentivizing advocates, see Zuberance’s blog post on the topic.)
You can also find people with authoritative opinions – those who are followed closely by your target demographic, called “influencers” – and turn them into supporters as well.
So What’s the Difference Between an Influencer and an Advocate?
The marketing world needs both influencers and advocates. An influencer is generally perceived to be “market-smart” in their niche, and is trusted by targeted groups of buyers. (If you’re an influencer, read Daniel Newman’s to be very careful about the brands they associate with.)
As an notes, “An Influencer is someone who, either through their professional or personal brand, has a large following or audience on their blog and/or social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter. They’re often focused on a single niche.” The post notes that according to the Technorati Media 2013 Digital Influence Report, nearly half of Influencers are paid for sponsored posts or articles.”
On the other hand, advocates are actual customers who have a passion for the brand, and express that love by sharing their real experience. Michael Brito, Senior VP of Social Business Strategy at Edelman Digital, refers to advocates as having a deep level of emotional equity – that strong emotional connection between a brand and its customers.
In a recent study by Forrester, it was found that consumers trust influencers (those bloggers, pundits and celebrities) at a rate of only 18%. On the other hand, a Nielsen study found that consumers trust brand advocates (defined as “satisfied customers”) at a rate of 92%, which is at the same trust level as a friend or family member.
Here is what this all boils down to: influencers can be very useful for top-of-funnel awareness and interest. Advocates add trustworthiness and credibility to your brand, and can bring you leads that are in deeper stages of the funnel.
Find Your Advocates
Advocacy cannot be bought, but it can be rewarded. Stay aware of who mentions your brand on social media and on review sites. Train your customer success and support people to track satisfied customers.
Find those people who are passionate and vocal about your brand, and then take care of them. You could start a program for advocates and reward them with early peeks at new features, or ask them to be part of a focus group. Contribute money to their favorite charity. Send them a cool t-shirt. Ask them directly for referrals. See if they’re willing to be the subject of a case study For more ideas on how to reward your advocates, see Zuberance’s blog: The Top Ten Ways to Reward Brand Advocates. You can do any of the things listed above, and much more – just don’t take them for granted or ignore them.
Find the right influencers
Looking for the right influencers to align with your brand can be tricky, especially in a world with purchased followers, social “gurus”, and self-proclaimed experts in just about every field. These recruits could become the voice of your brand, and you want to make sure they represent it well.
Let’s review a few red flags that can pop up when looking for influencer candidates.
Their Engagements are Always With the Same People
Having lots of followers is well and good, but simple engagements from the same small group over and over again isn’t a great sign. Your influencers should be reaching new people on a regular basis, and if their audience is mostly quiet then they won’t be able to move the needle much for your brand. It’s not about the total number of followers in the audience; it’s about the total active number of followers. Measure this carefully.
They Don’t Have Decision-Makers in Their Audience
This builds on the previous point, and where quality over quantity comes into play the most. Who is following them? Who is listening to them? A small audience of 50 decision-makers will beat one of 50,000 non-decision makers any day. Take a look at the candidate’s active audience, and if they have mostly non-industry or non-decision making prospects, then you probably won’t see any benefit in leveraging their outreach.
They Aren’t Transparent in Their Advocacy
This seems like a simple question, but sometimes it requires some digging to uncover the answer. If they are paid advocates of other brands, how do they notify their audience of the connection? The transparency they have with you is important, but you need to make sure they share that policy across the board with their other brands. This has become a larger issue in recent years, and the blurring of the paid/earned line has been coined “the bastardization of influence.”
They are a “Ghost Poster”
This is becoming more and more common with social media schedulers; you’ll see a popular account posting frequently, but rarely (or never) interacting with their audience. If your influencer isn’t regularly interacting and engaging with their audience, they have a high potential to become removed from the wants and needs of your demographic. You want an influencer that is seen as a respected part of your audience, not on a soapbox high above them.
So Who’s Left?
There are trusted influencers out there. Look for people who offer research as well as opinion, and demonstrate fairness. Focus on quality over quantity. Make sure to carefully vet your prospects, and always ensure that the turf they cover, and their attitudes about it, align fully with your brand identity.