In previous posts on how social media supports the product life cycle I examined how to create a beta community for product testing and how to build social media buzz around your product. After those two stages, you need to tap in to your brand advocates and harness their support for your product.

Brand advocates promote and embody a brand’s values. They are different from influencers. Brand advocates are typically satisfied customers who are committed to your company, your services or your products. And when you're planning a product launch - or relaunch - they're an invaluable resource.

In a recent Crimson Hexagon London survey, 93% of brands and agencies state that social media offers unprecedented opportunities for product development teams to collaborate with customers and react to consumer feedback.

A question of passion

Influencers may have a large audience. But they are less likely to have the depth of conviction of a brand advocate. It's a question of passion. The difference between driving awareness and driving action.

In brand advocates we trust

Customers are more likely to trust a brand advocate than a high-profile influencer. They create trusted recommendations that echo across the internet. Trust has better traction than the conveyor belt endorsement of a celebrity mouthpiece.

But it's not just about sales. It's also about supporting service. A brand advocate is more influential than an average customer. These external agents will support, promote and defend your brand. And they aren't just there for product launches and service feedback. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself caught up in a social media crisis, powerful brand advocates can help turn back a tidal wave of negative sentiment.

How to balance the give and take

Brand advocates feed on engagement from your brand. Here's what you can do to encourage and retain your brand advocates:

  • Give shoppers extra incentives to make repeat purchases
  • Offer exclusive previews of products to make them feel 'in the know' and 'first to try'
  • Make it easy to share content through your chosen platforms
  • Provide customer service through social channels and forums
  • Recognise and give responsibility and/or accolades to your most trusted advocates
  • Harness your employees, their advocacy is often correlated to that of customers

Here's what you're looking to achieve in return:

  • Positive reviews which increase ratings and give your SEO a boost
  • Real customer stories and experiences which boost your brand's reputation
  • Facebook comments and tweets that drive word of mouth
  • Increased engagement with photos and videos
  • FAQ support in your service channels
  • Defence of your brand in the event of a crisis

Advocacy drivers

It's important to distinguish between different advocacy drivers. Take a look at your brand. What could be the most effective drivers of advocacy?

Some advocates focus on customer service and benefits. Others find product features or pricing more important. You might find that business ethics score highly too.

Tools of the trade

I recently came across Expion's Social Advocator plugin. This is a very neat tool for activating your brand advocates. It works as a browser plug-in. Your advocates (and employees) can use it to access and share pre-approved content in their social networks.

Also, I use a very clever analytical technology created by Synapsify. This allows me to identify prevalent themes in social media comments - something that goes beyond positive or negative sentiment and is more than a net promoter score.

I want to find an array of sentiments that reveal the most popular, passionate or evangelical threads of conversation. This way I can plot a story arc through posts. Seeking out commenters with the most gravitas, credibility or pointedness brings true influence to the fore, then I can identify what people really care about.

Synapsify Top Gear data
Synapsify Top Gear data

Top brand themes

For example, take a look at the top 10 themes that featured on the Top Gear Facebook page from one week in August:

  1. Requests to review specific cars
  2. Price
  3. Business ethics/practices
  4. Design and appearance of a car - exterior
  5. Engine tech related to speed
  6. Brand model/review
  7. Street racing
  8. Design and appearance of a car - interior
  9. Race car vs Production car
  10. Manufacturing materials and applications

Target your brand advocates to seek out their interests and aspirations. Tap in to specialisms (engineering, design, food technology) in your audience if you're looking for B2B advocates. Use this to shape your campaigns and content to greater effect. And keep on building on that advocacy.

Third party platforms and communities

Social media customers are becoming more involved in the product development process. For example check out third party services like Social Media Link. They have a platform called smiley360.com where members can try new products from leading brands for free.

Smiley360 is a community of social consumers. People who enjoy sharing their thoughts about products and brands. Each member is in a race to be the first to review exclusive products. Or to discover new brands, experiences and offers.

No article on product testing and advocacy would be complete without Mumsnet.  Check them out for a great example of online surveys and product tests. It's what online communities were invented for.

In summary

There are a wealth of tools, platforms and communities to attract, harness and encourage brand advocates. Dive in and build your brand today.

In my next blog post in this series I'll be looking at how to manage customer service on social media. I'll focus on average response times and the different types of response you can expect across various industry sectors. Don't miss it!