When you’re recognizing your customer advocates for the great work they do, it’s important to come up with the right kind of rewards and recognition. Advocates support brands because they genuinely believe in the product or service being offered—not because they could get a gift card.

They tout their gratitude without agenda or motive, so when it comes to the rule of reciprocity, it’s important to do the same.

In other words, it’s crucial for brands to make the distinction between recognition and reward. Rather than offering impersonal prizes, it’s time to start giving advocates what they really want—attention they wouldn’t get otherwise.

It’s business and personal

The ol’ adage “it’s not personal, it’s just business” doesn’t apply in today’s socially connected world. Business has become social.

As such, the currency du jour is social capital. Rather than focus on prizes, advocate marketers need to focus on recognition—incentives, perks and programs that actually help advocates build connections, enhance their reputation and hone their skills. In the process, your business will improve their customer lifetime value.

Here are some broad categories of recognition that you can use in your advocate marketing program.

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How to recognize your brand advocates

1. Give them access

Advocates should be made to feel like a part of the family, and family usually gets first dibs on information (which they then leak to everyone else).

Give them a sneak peek at your latest product or service by sending samples, exclusive offers, or even by letting them participate in roadmap discussions with your executives. If you’re holding an event, make sure they’re the first to know and complement the invite with reserved seating, specialized services or invitations to exclusive reception and dinners.

2. Give them a voice

Frequently poll your advocates to ask for their insights. Asking for their honest opinion, and then actually acting on it, will demonstrate to advocates how much you value their expertise. There’s also no better source for discovering the most relevant ways to improve your offerings.

Your advocates believe in your vision and consider your products critical to their professional success. They want to be ‘inside the tent.’ By having an executive spend just 15 minutes on the phone with them every few months, you not only fulfill that need, but also ensure their advocacy for years to come.

3. Give them a spotlight

Many advocates are driven by recognition. Remember, the act of advocacy isn’t purely altruistic. By promoting your brand, your customers and fans are also promoting their knowledge and expertise.

So, call them out publicly. Engage them on social channels (sometimes just a “thank you” is enough), or recommend them on LinkedIn. Highlight their passion and ingenuity on your blog by featuring them in case studies or by offering them guest blogging opportunities—or take it to the next level by putting them on stage at events.

4. Give them authentic, personalized treatment

This is possibly the most important aspect of advocate marketing. You must truly get to know your advocates to show them that you value them as individuals—not just because you want to “get more out of them.”

Send personalized thank-you messages and relevant gifts to customer advocates whenever possible. Take the time to discover unique things about them, and then surprise them with meaningful rewards. This includes remembering important dates like marriages, birthdays and anniversaries and congratulating them with hand-written notes.

Another great way to do this is making introductions and connecting them with the people they want to meet. Go out of your way to help them build their personal brand and their network, and they’ll go out of their way to help you.

Yes, all of this takes time and effort—but the return is incomparable and critical to improving customer lifetime value.

This blog was originally published on April 3, 2013.

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