This is a cross-post of an article appearing here on Forbes.com
Every marketer hopes fans of their brands will talk up their products among friends, but few realize how chatty and effective such people can be. New research shows that brand advocates–consumers who habitually talk about brands they love–are 83% more likely than typical Web users to share information about products and 50% more likely to persuade their friends to make purchases.
It is more important than ever for marketing executives to identify these social broadcasters and understand their online behavior.
Here are eight tips for managing this powerful volunteer salesforce:
1. Scoring is more important than monitoring. Knowing where people are conversing and what they’re saying is essential, but knowing each individual’s effect on his or her peers is critical. The smartest marketers use scoring systems to identify and rank their customers on an advocacy scale. Frequency and sentiment of communications, whether one’s social connections reply or comment, and what type of content they like to share are all vital elements to track. Most important, marketers have to score in a way that penalizes those who oversell. Overzealous brand fans annoy more often than they persuade. (And make sure your programs comply with Federal Trade Commission guidelines on consumer endorsements.)
2. Remember that advocacy is a fluid state. Advocacy is far from a stable equation, especially among the most influential advocates. It’s something more like a love affair: There’s the euphoric honeymoon phase (Wow, you’re new!), moments of realization (I like your advertising a ton), troubling times (You’ve discontinued my favorite product) and, ideally, a finely balanced marriage (I like you even though you’re not perfect). People fall in and out of states of advocacy with every interaction they have with a product or marketer. To keep things fresh, you should see every consumer interaction as a moment when fans might break up with your brand or product–or might fall more deeply in love.
3. Individualize the conversation. Once you start scoring and tracking advocates, you can start analyzing how your engagement tactics perform. The first rule is to treat people as individuals and avoid group interactions. If as a marketer you post a status update on Facebook, your company should be prepared to have one-on-one conversations with as many responders as possible. The best way to foster advocacy is by creating individual relationships that break down the walls of the typical customer-to-vendor relationship.
4. Fish where the fish are. Engage advocates where they hang out. Some consumers like to Tweet. Others flit around Facebook. Still others blog or text, and many still (gasp!) have face-to-face conversations. Trying to move someone from one medium to another is futile. You must communicate with brand advocates in the stream where they’re already swimming.
5. Respond rapidly. Monitoring social channels and responding to conversations is important, but to best inspire advocacy you must behave as if each conversation is your only one. Forget the 24-hour-response rule. Respond within seconds. Also: Scrap the script. Real conversation between humans inspires advocates.
6. Advocates hunt for the easy-to-share. The social Web has made each consumer his or her own curator and editor. Advocates constantly seek out things they can share with others, and the easier you make sharing, the better. Turn a coupon into a Foursquare offer, or add a bit.ly link to make it easy to share (and track). Create a video of a cat licking the camera (hello Skittles), and keep it under 30 seconds so the time-pinched can watch it in their Facebook stream. Create great content, and then make it infinitely shareable.
7. Make mistakes, and then rectify them. Few things make people quite as vocal as uncovering a mistake or problem. The only thing that makes them more vocal: believing they’ve helped fix it. That doesn’t mean you should go around busting things, but whether you’ve got customer service issues or a malfunctioning product, don’t run away from your mistakes. Highlight them and then be open about how you’re working with your advocates to solve them.
8. Treat people unequally. People who are already outspoken are likely to continue to be that way. Pay more attention to your squeaky wheels and those who already generate superhuman acts of advocacy. Give them more attention than the rest of your customers. With those most vocal, practice random acts of reward and delight that will serve as fodder for their next outspoken outburst.
Managing advocacy is now a critical part of marketing. It was once merely an art form but is now a science, with quantifiable returns when you implement the right structures and system. You’ve got to break out your ruler, become an extrovert, and help along the conversation that your brand advocates are already having. Your business will only benefit.ReTweet