Most people are familiar with influencer marketing—the concept of using popular social media influencers to help promote your business. Working with influencers can sometimes be beyond a small business’s budget. That’s where brand advocates come in.
What are brand advocates?
Brand advocates differ from influencers in several important ways. The influencer’s goal in promoting your product or service is to make money for themselves or grow their follower/fan base. The relationship is transactional: If you stop paying them, they stop promoting you—it’s that simple.
Brand advocates, however, aren’t in it for the money. They’re regular customers who want to tell others about your business because:
They think your business is awesome.
They want to help their friends find great stuff.
They like to share their opinions.
They enjoy being known as the person who always has a recommendation for the best restaurant, best landscaper, or best hairdresser in town.
Most brand advocates are already customers of your business, but you can also recruit potential brand advocates in other ways (more on that below).
What brand advocates can do for your business
Customers know that big-name celebrities and social media influencers are paid to promote the products or services they share on social media. As a result, they may be skeptical about how great the product or service really is.
If customers see a friend posting about a product or service, however, they are more likely to pay attention and find the promotion credible. In fact, it won’t even seem like a “promotion” but rather just a genuine appreciation of the product. This authenticity gives customer brand advocates a value that money can’t buy.
Where to find brand advocates
There are several ways to find potential brand advocates:
Sales records: Your salespeople or sales records (particularly for a B2B or service business) can tell you which customers buy from you most often, who the most loyal customers are, and who spends the most.
Social media: Pay attention to your social media accounts and the customers who engage with you there. Use social listening tools to search for posts outside your accounts that mention your business, products, or services. Don’t forget about local social media sites, such as Nextdoor. You’ll often find people on these sites asking for recommendations to local businesses or services. Search for mentions of your business and you might be surprised who is recommending you.
Online reviews: Look at your online reviews to see who’s giving you great reviews. (Even customers who give negative reviews can become brand advocates if you reach out and solve their problem, turning them into satisfied customers.)
Email marketing: Monitor the analytics of your email marketing campaigns to see which customers always open their emails or always click through their emails, and what they do afterwards.
Searching online: You can find potential brand advocates who may not be customers yet by searching for people who frequently post on topics related to your business. For instance, if your business sells housewares, look for people who post a lot about cooking or entertaining at home. (For this type of brand advocate, make sure they fit your target customer profile.)
Employees: Your employees can also be brand advocates, but it’s important to make sure this comes across as authentic. If your employees genuinely use and love your products—for instance, if you own a hair salon and your stylists love trying out new hair colors—encouraging employees to post and share about your business can be effective. But, if it sounds like your employees are being forced to promote your business, it will backfire.
Once you’ve found some potential brand advocates, reach out to them to make a connection. Engage with them on social media. Comment on or reply to their posts or tweets that are relevant to your business. Send an email or direct message thanking them for their positive thoughts about your business and see if they’d like to further engage.
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How to make a brand advocates part of your marketing
Your connection with brand advocates must be a two-way street, not just about promoting your business. Start by building a relationship that makes them feel special. Treat your brand advocates as an inner circle that you can turn to for feedback and input on your business.
If you’re considering launching a new product or service, have your brand advocates participate in a focus group about it.
Enroll them in your business’s loyalty program and give them loyalty rewards in return for their promotional efforts.
Give them gifts, discounts, or other incentives for promoting your business.
Here are some other powerful tools for brand advocate marketing:
Sampling: Send them free samples to try. Depending on the person, they might want to share a short review or just post a video or photo of them using or opening the product. If you have a service business, offer them a free service like a free makeup lesson at your salon or free power wash of their house. You can choose your most popular products or services, new products or services that you’re introducing, or products and services that you’ve put on sale.
Sharing: Encourage brand advocates to share your content on social media and make it easy for them to do so. (If you sell to other businesses, reciprocating by sharing their content can help build the relationship.)
Discounts: Give brand advocates a discount code they can use and share on social media or by email.
Content: Encourage brand advocates to create content around your product or service. This doesn’t have to be complicated—just including a photo or quick video will make their posts more appealing.
Identification: Remind your brand advocates to include the appropriate hashtags, brand names, and other identifiers with their posts about your business.
Using brand advocates can be a great way to build your audience and promote your products with authenticity. Plus, you’ll develop closer relationships with your best customers—and that can’t help but improve your business.
RELATED: 3 Ways to Use Micro-Influencers to Grow Your Business
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