Social strategy: Web integration to leverage brand advocacy

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People generally “friend” a brand on Facebook to give feedback, praise or to complain. But by far the greatest reason is to receive special offers and promotions—almost two-thirds of those friending a brand are looking for promotions and special offers. Perhaps this is a symptom of harder economic times, but it still represents a massive opportunity for businesses.

For the first time, brands can identify, engage and recognize their advocates. Your fans have sought you out and are proactively opting in. They want engagement and specifically are looking for special treatment. What a gift horse.

There is lots of evidence demonstrating that 2010 will be the year of social media marketing. But while social marketing budgets may be on the increase and social media tools are getting integrated into mainstream online marketing, most marketers are floundering without a social media strategy.

The majority of marketers simply use social media for broadcast messaging. But broadcast communications, and even defensive customer service, are just stop gaps, primarily because online marketers are still figuring out how to engage.

It's not immediately obvious how to engage with individual fans, but the starting point can be found in tighter integration between websites and brand pages on social media sites.

Where to look for guidance on engaging with brand advocates? One place is the well-proven field of loyalty marketing. Take airline loyalty programs for example. Every time you fly, your transactions are automatically added up until you earn different levels of privilege. These levels of privilege reward and recognize the airlines' best customers, leading to long-term, mutually beneficial customer relationships.

You may not yet think about your social media presence as a loyalty program, but in essence this is exactly what it is—combined with the ability for “members” to interact with each other.

Thinking of your social fans as potentially loyal brand advocates opens up a whole array of interesting possibilities, which can include:

  • The ability to recognize different customer values, such as membership tiers, leading to differing levels of service;
  • The chance to encourage advocacy activities, such as member recruitment programs;
  • The ability to reward advocates;
  • Being able to nurture engagement, advocacy and purchases via direct communications.
What's missing, of course, is a real integration between the Web channel and social media. Most websites proudly sport “follow us” options but lack both an integrated strategy and the physical integration with social media.

Facebook, MySpace and Twitter all have APIs that allow e-commerce sites to integrate social media customers into their e-commerce experience. What this means in practice is that you can begin to link fan membership with behavioral data, such as frequency, recency of visit and purchases. For e-commerce sites, customers can log on to a site using their social network credentials and, in the near future, check out with any other form of registration required. This can make the purchase process dramatically easier.

Clearly this is a big vision and will not happen overnight. But the starting point comes back to those APIs. Enabling your customers to at least log in to your website using their existing social media accounts, and to sign up for special offers, is at least a step on the road.

Charles Nicholls is founder and chief strategy officer of website conversion company SeeWhy Inc. ( He can be reached at [email protected]

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