When you’re a global leader in social media management, you’ve got to be able to prove that online networks have the power to fuel your brand’s growth. That’s why Hootsuite created a loyal team of passionate, active, and empowered advocates—known as the Hootsuite Ambassadors— that happily share their love of the platform with others. Watch Jeanette Gibson, Hootsuite’s Vice President of Customer Experience and Community, reveals how the brand drives social media advocacy in her Advocamp presentation.

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I’d like to talk about advocacy and how we build brand love. We have a product that we hope has really made people excited about sharing it with their friends. What I’m going to talk about today is how we at Hootsuite have empowered our community…and delivered a great customer experience. And then, tie it into those triggers, how to get customers to share your information, and recommend your product to their fans.

Hootsuite, for those that aren’t aware, has been around since 2008. We have 11 million users around the world in 175 countries. That is because the fans love Ow.ly and what we represent. I have a trigger for everyone. For those who want to share anything about this presentation with the hashtag #Advocamp, we have some awesome prizes to give out, including Ow.ly, which is our most coveted piece of swag. And there’s an easy trigger: a button to say “I’m very photogenic. Share photos of me with the hashtag #LifeOfOwly.” Life of Ow.ly even has a Facebook page people can follow. Ow.ly has been hiking up mountains, has been with new babies just in the hospital. All of our fans have been sharing Ow.ly, and we would love to be able to share our culture with you. That is part of how we build brand love. In fact, we have tattoos to give away as well.

I want to talk about how we do this, how this makes us tick, and how we are able to take a freemium product that is with consumers, as well as small business, all the way up to large enterprise.

I wanted to kick off with some statistics, because I think this does all start with the business impact. And we know that loyalty drives business. It costs 80% less to retain a customer than acquire a new one. And we know that if we can increase retention rates by just 5%, you get 95% profits over the lifetime. You’re looking at the lifetime value of your customer. And at Hootsuite, we understand that advocacy drives our loyalty, and loyalty is helping us retain our customer base. In a SaaS environment, we have to earn our customers every day. Every day, we have to be able to listen, respond, and adjust.

So what I’m going to talk about is how we listen, respond and adjust to our customers through our Brand Ambassador program. We have grown this program over the last four years. We now have 950 ambassadors around the world. Many of them are watching today. We’re Meerkating here to our ambassadors around the world who are tweeting and so excited. And if it weren’t for them, we would not be where we are today, because they’re the ones that are helping champion social media, the power of sharing a brand and their experience.

So let’s go ahead and take a look at the video.

What I’d like to share with you today is the secret sauce for how we developed this program because it is instrumental for us to be able to stay close to our customers. And it is a marathon. This is a long journey. The vision of the community team at Hootsuite is to build brand love. We want to be the most loved brand. That means we need to deepen relationships with our customers, be constantly listening and learning and adjusting.

I want to share with you the six steps for how we are able to build brand love. And it starts with data and analytics. Everyone is looking at how we can improve our programs by having the best data. I think you need to bookend your strategy with listening and analytics on the frontend to understand where your customers are, who they are, and what they’re saying about your brand. Then, listen as you adapt your program so that you can understand what’s working and what’s not. It’s critical to understand using science to bookend your advocacy program, then have all of those emotional triggers and experiences, and celebrating.

For us, it starts with Listening, then Attracting. I’ll share some of the best practices we use to attract people into our program. And then, Onboarding, which I think is one of the most critical points in being able to really make people feel welcome: you need to spend the right amount of time onboarding your users. Then, Engaging. It’s not just engaging, but it’s celebrating your users—like they’re a part of your family. And finally, Adapting. Let’s jump in to this.

1. Listening

We know that people are talking about our brand. All of you are listening. We’ve all been doing this for many years, understanding what people are saying about our brand. This is the opportunity to take it to the next level and offer that trigger to say ‘how can you show that you are listening and you’re going to take action?’

So we see someone who says, “Massive shout out to Hootsuite. Their support team is brilliant.” We look at this as an opportunity to then reply and say, “Glad things shifted for you so quickly.” This is our Hootsuite Help Team and we manage support via our Social Team. We have 11 million users and we have a fantastic Support Team. And they’re constantly looking at social media and routing to be able to respond. The Hootsuite Community Team will then respond and say, “Agree. The Hootsuite Help Team is wonderful. P.S. We’d love to invite you to our Ambassador family.” And then, we add the link where they can easily sign up.

Right away, we’re catching them. We know people are proactively talking about our brand. Then we take it to the next level and offer that easy trigger to say, “Here’s more information. We recognize you’re talking about us. We’d love to invite you to join our program.”

The next example is someone who might be making a comment like: “Want to make social media easier? Hootsuite helps me and could help you too.” This is how we are helping activate many of our users that are already talking about it. And then, we would reply, “We would like to invite you to be a part of our Ambassador program” and they respond saying, “I’d be delighted.” So again, we’ll tweet out more of these examples.

And then, anything about opportunity, like if people are just saying, “Hootsuite is my secret tool.” A lot of our users are small business owners. They have their own digital agency, they’re strategists, they’re really working hard to service their clients if they’re an agency. So they have to use something like Hootsuite to be able to manage multiple clients. We’ll respond and say, “Awesome to hear. Again, here’s some information about how to take that next step.” We’re catching them while they’re there.

2. Attract

I think this is one of the most important things to consider: “What’s in it for me?” It’s about what you are doing for your users. This is the opportunity to say, “What benefits can I give that are exclusive and different and going to provide value?” And for us as a social media company, we know that providing career skills and helping our audience gain more digital skills will help them in the long run.

We offer exclusive access to our education products, specifically for people that want to join our program. We give them 90 days of free Hootsuite University. Then they can extend it for another six months once they’re in the program. That’s $21 per month currently. Newhouse is an advanced certification program that we have that’s $2,000 per person for large enterprise. We give them discounts to that. And we also use gamification. We’re big fans of gamification, on how people can earn points and rewards.

We know that in our research, offering education is a way to help your audience grow and learn in their personal careers. It’s helping us drive engagement. In fact, we saw a 40% increase in engagement by offering this type of education program.

3. Onboarding

We’ve learned as we’ve grown the program over time how to build community from Day 1. One of the things we know is that a gamification program is great. We love Influitive for that reason. People are joining, they can log in and we have the personal “Stephanie, get onboarded” message, and here’s how they can get onboard and be part of the program.

But what we’ve learned really works is making sure people feel a part of the community with other customers. So, for example, we have 100 ambassadors in Spain. They love Hootsuite, they love hosting events. And what we’ve found is when a new ambassador would join in Spain, they didn’t know where the other ambassadors were. They felt rather alone. We realized if we just welcome them and say, “Here are the other ambassadors in your local area that are in Barcelona, that are in Madrid,” all of a sudden, they had new connections.

This was a critical moment for us to be able to surround our ambassadors through our #hootamb and help them get connected with other people in their local markets. This is helping them advance their business. And then, there’s this gentleman using Google+. We have many ways that we connect with our audiences on Twitter, on gamification platforms using Google+ to have a private community. We want to help them share information amongst themselves. So James here is just sharing how he uses Hootsuite and what he loves.

There are a lot of tools out there, and we recognize that our ambassadors use many of these tools. Social media is changing every day. So we want to help them educate each other, and part of that is offering many different communication vehicles to make sure that our audiences know that we’re there to support them on their journey.

4. Engage

I think this is one of the most important things: how to keep that engagement going. For us, these are the four areas of engagement that we found successful in our program.

Amplification. A great way to make sure your ambassadors amplify your news as a company is to ensure they’re sharing it. Whether it’s a new product update or a release, we got 200% more engagement from this. That’s 200% more views to our reviews, and 200% more shares, because our ambassadors were sharing our news.

Insights. Insights are something that we have found to be critical for ambassadors. If they’re in a local market, we do surveys and ask, “What is your favorite app? What tool do you use?” If they’re in Brazil, they will respond and say, “We use Orchid” or “We use VK” and all the different type of social networks around the world. We’re helping gather insights. Then we’ll share that with our Product Team and possibly post a blog and include them. There are a lot of ways that our ambassadors are sharing insights, and we’re closing a loop.

Support. I think support is one of the most interesting cases that we have seen. We have this 65% self-solve rate in our community because our ambassadors have been jumping in to help. My Head of Support and I were chatting about how can we gain more self-service within our support community. As you know, trying to manage support over social media is a challenge. So we wanted to be able to send people into our community support forum.

So I posted a 60-day challenge to our ambassadors to see who could answer the most support questions within 60 days. Right away, we saw our self-solve rate within two months go from 30% to 65%. That eliminated the need for us to hire two customer advocates. We’re seeing real business results through activating our users to help each other. That helps them increase their technical skills as well.

Events. I want to cover events because this is a critical part of our culture of taking online interactions offline as well. That’s why we’re here today. We love connecting with our peers and sharing insights. We do something called “HootUps,” which are meet-ups, Hootsuite style, where we encourage professionals to come together and share social media best practices. It might be meeting up at a pub, in a formal event, or it might be one of our ambassadors working at a company where they can leverage space there.

We set up a formal program where our ambassadors could get reimbursed up to $300 to host a hoot up. It might be just for snacks or drinks, or swag, like HootKits and Ow.lys. But it gives them more visibility in their local market.

We want to trust our users enough for them to host events. And we make sure we package it to give them PowerPoint templates, resources and swag. And of course, have them turn in attendee information so that they can earn points, and then earn more rewards.

We found that 72% of people attending these HootUps are not Hootsuite users. They are people that are just interested in learning more about social media. We can directly look at 13% of those attendees and convert them to customers. So we’re seeing direct ability for us to impact our business by empowering our customers to be heroes in their local market.

5. Celebrate

This is how we Celebrate when they do HootUps. And I want to give you some examples of these HootUps because it really blows my mind how creative and engaging and passionate our ambassadors are.


If you look on the left here,  you can see people taking pictures with their HootKits. Once you sign on to become an ambassador, you have to earn a few points, fill out your information, then we send you a HootKit. It’s got a business card, ways for you to put your badge on LinkedIn, all ways to share stickers and hoot kits at events.

And these are professionals as well as consumers. We have B2B and B2C because people want to come together and learn social media. This is Adele from Australia. A shout out to our Aussie owls there. She’s holding up Hootsuite and they’re doing best practice sessions all over Australia on how they can advance their skills in social media.

On the bottom left, this is a real owl. Three of our ambassadors in Barcelona host a monthly series, and they brought a real owl to a HootUp. I can’t think of a better way to show passionate users how much they are embracing our culture and understanding the benefits that we are offering them by sharing their content. People are posting time saving tips for bloggers. We will then amplify that on our social channels. We’re definitely focusing on the what’s in it for them; whether they’re baking cupcakes or enjoying get-togethers.

And then, this example here is our Ambassador yearbook. This is a way that we celebrated our audience. At the end of last year, we came together as a team and said, “Gosh, how can we share all the great things that our ambassadors did last year?” 2014 was a year of enormous growth. We went from at the beginning of 2014 with barely 100 ambassadors to almost 1,000. And that’s because we had such a focus on making HootUps easier, helping them onboard easier, making sure we had many channels for communication.

So we put together a yearbook where we posted on Google Slides to our ambassadors. We put together four slides and said, “We would love for you to share your experiences with us. Post whatever screenshots you have of events, share how you use Hootsuite, what you love about social media, how that helps you do your business.” Over the weekend, we had 52 slides that had been created. Within two weeks, we had 150 slides. For Christmas last year, we posted our Ambassador yearbook. You can check it out on SlideShare. We had about 5,000 shares of that. It’s celebrating our audience, giving them visibility and listing them as professionals in this industry.

6. Adapt

I talked about how you need science in the beginning to look at listening to data to truly understand your customers and what makes them tick. And then, bringing it through as you adapt. This is one of the most important things we did in seeing what worked and what didn’t.

The first way we did this is looking at content, sharing it with our ambassadors and seeing that, for example, in Germany, security content was shared more. In Brazil, content about how to use visuals was shared most. Or in Singapore, we found that our ambassadors really wanted TikTok followers. People didn’t understand how to use social for business. So they wanted more deeper educational seminars. We partnered up with our coaches in Singapore to host more seminars.

This is a constant learning process. To understand, you have to look at your local region. And for that, we tapped into any of the 700 employees we have around the world, where there’s a customer advocate, or someone in marketing or sales. We help recruit ambassadors around the world and they become our country representative. And they share with us insights about what works and what doesn’t.

And being transparent and asking for feedback. One of the most important things we’ve done is say, “Hey, we’re not seeing a lot of engagement from people that joined a year or two years ago. What can we do?” And that’s where we learned that not everybody is comfortable hosting an event. Some people maybe just want to post a blog or just want to follow us on Twitter or look at content we have on Instagram.

So we had to make a series of activities; almost like offering an arcade of activities where people can tick off things and really have a variety. And that’s what’s really helped us in terms of building challenges; really focusing on a variety of activities that your users can do. Some people love taking Ow.ly with them wherever they go and take pictures. That’s great! And we’ve actually created books for Ow.ly. It’s creating brand love. And that matters to our business because when we’re talking to large enterprise customers, they want to surround themselves with Ow.ly and with our culture to help their employees understand the value of social.

In closing, I’d like to share a couple of takeaways. The first is around creating relevant experiences. Again, whether you’re in B2B or B2C, your audiences have certain behaviors that you can track online. Where they are hanging out, what blogs they’re following, where they’re commenting. Make sure that you’re being relevant.

Before I was at Hootsuite, I worked at the networking company Cisco Systems. And the IT managers at Cisco love Star Wars. So we took advantage of that and incorporated Star Wars and Star Trek in anything we did. May 4th was Star Wars Day. “May the 4th be with you.” We took Cisco routers and wrapped them up to look like R2-D2. It doesn’t have to be a consumer brand with Ow.ly. It’s any brand to look at what your audience does, what they read, what type of TV shows they watch. All this information can be accessed when people are sharing online.

Make content sharing simple and easy. When we sent out an Ow.ly, we make sure that we make it easy to share. There’s a lot of rewards programs that I’m a part of. I recently redeemed my points and got a prize with Aveda. I was so excited to get all these new shampoo because I had all these points. When I opened up the box, I was ready to take that picture and share. But there was no Twitter handle, there was no hashtag, there was nothing about ‘please share your experience.’ And so, I didn’t share anything. I didn’t know if they wanted me to share.

Don’t forget the opportunity. If you’re mailing something to a customer, make it easy for them to capture that picture, share their experience, become a part of the community.

And then, I want to close on the point around challenging. Really understand that your users are very advanced and find different ways for them to gain skills, whether it’s through education programs, or connecting with other peers in their local markets. That’s been one of the most rewarding things for us. We not only have a direct engagement with our customers, but our customers are connecting with each other. And we’re seeing true business value; they’re now answering support inquiries at a faster rate than our employees can.

I would like to say that the new five Cs of Community around Content and Connectivity should include Challenge. I think challenging and gamification should be part of every program.

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