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Many marketing teams have been tasked with the hazy goal of “creating online buzz” for their brand. Whether it’s through social networks or other types of online communities, one thing is certain: engaging fans online is harder than ever. Resources are tight, audiences are scattered, strategies are unclear, and measuring results is an unrefined art at best.

JeanetteGibsonAt Hootsuite, a global leader in social media management, sparking online conversations and building brand love go hand in hand. “We’re a community-centric business,” says Jeanette Gibson, former Vice President, Customer Experience and Community at Hootsuite. Garnering an international following of 11 million users hasn’t happened just because of their powerful platform; peer-to-peer connections have played a huge role in fueling their growth.

By launching a customer advocacy program, called the Hootsuite Ambassadors (#HootAmb), Jeanette says the brand has been able to tie online interactions to regional expansions. “We’ve taken our fans, and turned them into advocates to build and sustain our community,” says Jeanette.

Jeanette’s ability to create communities of customer advocates is the reason we asked her to speak at Advocamp 2015, the first-ever event focused on harnessing the power of your brand’s top fans to reach business goals. (Click here to watch Jeanette’s Advocamp AmpTalk presentation).

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Here, Jeanette shares her commandments for managing an online ambassador program that can help scale your social outreach efforts.

1. Be relevant

Creating content that gives back to your customers and addresses their major pain points is the best way to generate more engagement. “Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and be empathetic,” says Jeanette. She recommends creating content based on what’s going on in your industry—and not just within your company’s own four walls.

Hootsuite’s content strategy is globally scaled and locally relevant. “We think about how to remix content for every channel and region,” says Jeanette. You may think this requires an international content team, but Hootsuite has found that its local ambassadors are often the first to help translate products and content. “If brands can find ways to let customers build a part of their company, they’re more invested, and will stick around,” says Jeanette.

2. Be nimble

Listening to feedback from your fans and keeping your program agile is the best way to keep advocates engaged. Jeanette says Hootsuite has localized its dashboard in 16 different languages based on customer feedback. Their flexibility has paid off big time for them when they want to promote new initiatives among their advocates’ networks.

Showing your customers appreciation and recognition for their is an integral part of the exchange. Giving them social shout-outs or featuring them in blog posts will help them expand their professional network—which is a win for the advocate and your brand.

A thank you card or small gift doesn’t hurt either.

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3. Be focused

You don’t need to have a presence on every social channel. Be active in the spaces where your advocates live and breathe, says Jeanette. This will give them more opportunities to interact with your brand on their own terms and speak on your behalf—especially if your resources are spread thin. “Your customers will make your brand their own,” says Jeanette.

Brands shouldn’t discount small, but highly relevant, communities. Jeanette says that niche online groups will continue to grow. If brands are able to tap into the power of their top users, they will have advocates everywhere important conversations about their industry are taking place.

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4. Be storytellers

Employees can also act as online advocates—if you know how to engage them. Every time Hootsuite has a new customer or ambassador, they share the story internally on Yammer. “Storytelling is a critical part of engaging employees,” says Jeanette. “You can use data to support your stories, but using emotion to talk about the customer experience helps build passion organically.” The result is employees who are happier, and better able to serve your customers.

Having employees listening to online conversations is also useful when you don’t have the resources for a dedicated social team. If you give them guidelines and strategies for approaching the social media world with confidence, Jeanette says you will find more success than if you focus on what not to say or do or try to restrict interactions or use. “We use Hootlet to encourage employees to share our stories.”

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5. Be scientific

Hootsuite measures their program’s success by looking at engagement activities that correlate to specific business goals—such as blog posts created about the brand, or sign ups in a new region.

They also focus on offline meetups of Hootsuite Ambassadors, which have been a successful way to open up new markets. “We want to reach new cities each quarter,” says Jeanette. “We still think engagement is important, but we’re interested in the specific actions that are helping to drive new business.”

Increasing customer advocacy doesn’t mean the role of the community manager is diminished. If anything, it’s growing as more brands see the importance of motivating customers, partners and employees to organically to speak on their behalf online. “You have to work hard to sustain those relationships,” she says.

To join in the Advocamp 2015 conversation, check out our VIP Community.

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