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Influencers v. advocates: Re-examining your strategy

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McKinsey Quarterly once wrote that word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing, and in the past several years, this approach has forayed into mainstream marketing. Marketers understand that while cyclical campaigns, e-blasts and press announcements yield transactional relationships, word of mouth can be powerful and influential throughout the buyer's journey. Simply put, a word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted source can go a long way.

As consumers are constantly pummeled with branded messages, campaigns and phone calls, word of mouth quickly and effectively cuts through the noise to help buyers get to the meat of what they're looking for. That's why companies are willing to shell out dough to analysts to build relationships—in hopes that they'll recommend your brand over your competitors.

But the big question is, how do you get there? This blog will help you re-examine your approach to influencer programs, to help you move from influencer to advocate.

First, let's differentiate the two. An influencer is someone who is a trusted advisor in the industry, with an active and large following. Influencers also actively share their opinions, passions and expertise through their networks. An advocate, on another hand, is someone who goes out and proactively defends, promotes and participates in the public discussion for a particular brand, product, service or cause.

Identifying and prioritizing your influencers

Traditional influencers may include your typical journalists, analysts and customers. When you're building your hit list, there are several things that you need to consider.

  • What makes them an influencer?
  • Whom do they influence—is it the market in general or your customers and prospects?
  • How do they influence?
  • Are they influencing the right audience?

There are firms that help you do this and really identify whom you should be targeting versus your usual suspects. For example, if you're targeting decision-makers and executives, you may find that your biggest influencers may come from consulting firms versus analyst firms or industry bloggers. First and foremost, understand your audience— the ones who make the decisions—then align the influencers who are speaking to these people on a regular basis. Then start to prioritize those influencers based on who will help you make the most impact in the buying decision.

Building a programmatic approach

An influencer program should be programmatic—a multi-pronged approach. Run a perception survey of these top influencers to see how much they know about your brand, what they think of your brand against your competitors, and how they would rank the top players in the market. Further, ask them if they wish to engage with your brand and if they are open to receiving content from your company.

Now let's move onto the program part. There are several key things to remember:

  • Schedule a one-to-one "get to know us" call following the survey, followed by quarterly update calls.
  • During the call, learn about what inspires them, what they're looking for and the types of content that interests them.
  • Build a "nurture" type of program where you have a multi-touch program for these influencers where you're sharing valuable content .
  • Map out ways to partner with them on content creation, webinars, surveys, etc.

By constantly updating them and keeping them in the loop, you will have a better chance of success to move them from an influencer to an advocate.

Tapping your customers to drive advocacy

While it's important to have these influencers at the forefront of your program, don't forget the customers—your biggest assets and potential advocates. Remember, your customers run in the same circles and they may share the same networks such as LinkedIn groups or online forums. They're also represented at your user conferences where your prospects are. Tapping into your user groups, identify your top customers who are open to joining the influencer program. Learn about which forums they're active in and whether your prospects are there. This way, you can build them into the program and collaborate with them to drive advocacy.

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