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Advocacy: Your brand's ultimate best friend

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Advocacy is a term we have been hearing more often in the recent years. It's not a new term but one that has been reinvigorated in the context of the online world. Social media is playing an increasing role in the purchase cycle, resulting in more focus on post-purchase engagement on the web.

The customer journey has evolved

The post-purchase phase is a key component in building brand loyalty and advocacy.

To illustrate this evolution, consider this scenario. One of your customers, let's call him Joe, just purchased your product and is now using online forums to share his experiences with your product. Here comes Brian, a senior IT manager who is looking to solve a problem your product can help with…and so can several other products. A Toolbox survey reveals that over 81% of IT professionals are motivated to participate in online communities to help their peers get answers. According to IDG's Tech Buyer/Influencer 2011 survey, 37% of tech buyers use social media to seek perspective to help make purchase decisions; 37% look to social media to get technology advice; and 23% engage in dialogue with experts on social media sites. And that's just B2B tech! In comparison, 90% of consumers trust peer reviews and only 14% trust advertisements.

With these statistics in mind, there is a good chance that Brian will stumble upon Joe's posts and may even contact Joe for more information. This is a significant shift from the traditional model of going to a company's website and calling the sales rep for more information. These days, by the time this happens, in many cases a substantial amount of online discovery has taken place. It's much easier than ever before for two strangers to exchange opinions online and influence one's buying process without even talking to you. And these opinions and exchanges leave permanent digital trails available to thousands, if not millions, of other opinion seekers. This is why advocacy is so important.

What is advocacy?

For the sake of simplicity, in this blog post I'm going to focus on customer advocacy and remove the idea of mobilizing your employees—subject matter experts in particular—as advocates. That's simply because the cycle of recruitment/activation/recognition will often play out differently in the case of employees due to legal considerations and other factors.

I feel that advocacy is becoming a buzzword and is often used to describe many things. To make sure this post is clear, I'm going to borrow some definitions from Ant's Eye View. The terms "influencer" and "advocate" are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. An influencer is someone who actively shares their opinions, passions and expertise through their (large) personal and professional networks.

An advocate is someone who proactively defends, promotes and participates in the public conversation for a particular brand, product, service or cause. In essence, they're your brand defenders.

Advocacy can have many benefits for a brand, including:

  • Providing more credibility to your brand due to third-party and "unmarketing"-driven support
  • Scaling your social media efforts as your advocates step in to help answer questions
  • Uncovering potential crises or negative issues early, which an advocate may alert you to or you may learn of by following your advocates' activities
  • Offering input into product direction, innovation, etc.

Seven myths of advocacy

If this sounds good to you and you are eager to put in place a formal advocacy program, here are seven myths to combat as you build your program:

  1. Everyone is an advocate
  2. Advocates will always be advocates
  3. Advocacy is a numbers game (quantity v. quality syndrome)
  4. Advocates will do what we tell them
  5. Advocacy is all about amplification of your messages (in reality, advocacy has many faces)
  6. Identifying and nurturing your advocates will be an easy ride
  7. Advocacy is cheap and immediate and doesn't require time or resources (human, financial)
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