Working from home is luxurious. Who could say no to a 20 foot commute, the ability to instantly switch from one meeting to the next (no desperate sprints between conference rooms) and typing in comfort while your dog snores at your feet?
I could. I could say no right now, and for one reason: lack of connection. I miss out on the buzz of conversation, the ability to look up from my desk and ask the person next to me what they think, and those moments when someone passes me in the hall and happens to be talking about the very thing I’d like to learn.
Isolation is a problem, and I bring it up not because I’m asking for a longer commute, but because it relates to marketing—specifically, advocate marketing. Imagine you’re an advocate, someone who feels passionate about a company, product or cause. You want to make a difference, you want to connect, but you have no access to any other people who feel the same way you do.
Sure, you can read educational content, share your enthusiasm on social media and even play fun activities and receive perks. But those can only go so far. You need connections with other advocates to keep your energy up and your passion strong. You need to talk with people who live the same experiences you do. Otherwise, your advocacy will fade and you’ll find something else to believe in.
When I began my journey as an advocate marketer in 2008, I accidentally discovered the importance of turning advocates into a connected team and how beneficial those connections would be not only for my advocates, but for my company as well.
In this post, I’ll share my story and explain how you can spark a movement behind your brand by facilitating advocate connections.
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Early in my advocate marketing career, I had gathered 40+ passionate users to form an exclusive group of photo book creators. (Photo books, the flagship product of the company, allowed photographers to easily create beautiful books of their work.) I provided them a community for conversation and support, emailed them on a regular basis about their accomplishments and the latest company news, and offered them assignments that stretched their skills, grew their confidence, and made them feel like they were making a difference.
And they were! Their community threads grew more active and they started connecting with each other on Facebook. Soon this group of photo enthusiasts became a tight team with the important mission of helping their entire community, as well as prospective buyers, understand the value of photo books and the rewarding experience of making them. They were committed to a bigger cause.
What happened next took me completely by surprise. About a year into the program, I started seeing this team of photo enthusiasts talk about a hot air balloon festival. I thought nothing of it. Then I started seeing Facebook messages about plane flights and hotels and trains, but I still didn’t understand.
The ball finally dropped when they sent me photo books they had made from photographs taken at the balloon festival. The pages were filled with spectacular shots of air balloons (these were photographers after all!), but what really got me were the group photos. About 15 to 20 of the advocates had traveled on their own dime to join together at the festival. They wore team t-shirts and company t-shirts because they believed in the company and its products. They showed off their photo books to everyone they met and shared their calling cards (another a company product) in case people had questions about photo book making.
Their efforts exposed a large number of balloon festival attendees to photo book making. Since the product was a new concept for many people, driving awareness was key to its success. The beauty of this event was that it wasn’t a company pitch, but a team of real customers who genuinely wanted to talk about a product they cared about—which is the most authentic and powerful way to attract new buyers.
This never would have happened if these advocates weren’t introduced to each other. Connecting with their fellow enthusiasts over a common cause turned these individual photo book makers into a powerful team of friends, and these friendships meant much more to them than perks and prizes. Their bond was what mattered, and their bond was what drove powerful impact both for themselves and the company.
So you may be thinking “How can I replicate that kind of passion? Where’s MY magic balloon festival?”
While a literal replication isn’t realistic or even necessarily desirable, you can absolutely apply a set of strategies and actions to turn your advocates into a cohesive team that makes a powerful impact. Here are five ways you can achieve these connections.
1. Paint them ‘The Big Picture’
I love a good story, especially ones that promote teaming up for a good cause. I want the big picture, and I want it to be meaningful.
The same goes for advocacy. If you ask an advocate to perform an action just because, that probably won’t get you far. But if you give them a reason and a benefit—education, personal growth, career growth, VIP status, a fun experience—that’s going to pull them in. Even better, if you introduce the big picture—why it’s important and how their teamwork will make a meaningful difference—you’re going to see some fireworks.
You don’t need to gather around a campfire and sing folk songs either. Just tell the story. In every communication you share with your advocates, talk about the big picture and how advocates are making a difference. Be specific. What does their success look like? How did they help and who did they help? How close are they to reaching their goal? Weave those messages into the fabric of the conversation. Keep advocates striving for the big goal—a goal they achieve together and that creates positive change.
2. Bring your advocates together online
It goes without saying that the only way to connect your advocates is to introduce them to each other. Find out where they’re talking, and bring them together. If most of your advocates are active on a social media channel like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, create a group or list just for them. If they’re on your own community, give them a space to play.
After your initial introductions, make sure you keep the energy and conversation going. If you’re lucky, conversations will take off on their own, but you can’t count on that magic happening instantaneously. You, as the advocate marketer, need to participate in the conversations, too. Start discussion threads asking for input. Tweet using an advocate-specific hashtag so your advocates will pick up on it and see each others’ related tweets. Post topics and ask questions in your Facebook or LinkedIn group. Your goal is to get them talking, so choose compelling topics that are relevant to what they care about.
The benefits are three-fold. In addition to creating a cohesive team, you’ll be getting to know your advocates and collecting useful information like product feedback, industry insights, customer best practices and needs at the same time.
You also have the opportunity to provide educational product updates, industry tips and career insights that advocates can learn from and share to the wider community, giving your company and products more visibility.
3. Provide recognition and feedback
Nothing energizes us like recognition. A “well done” from our boss, colleague or leadership team gets us fired up and ready to achieve more, and if the recognition is shared across our department or company, the results are even more galvanizing. Even those of us who blush at being the centre of attention feel good when we’re appreciated.
The same principle applies to advocacy. Your advocates are contributing their time to learn, teach and share about your product, company or cause. Even if they don’t know it, they crave feedback.
Let your advocates know they’re part of a team who is achieving big things. Celebrate them to each other, the public and internally. Start an advocate of the month tradition and showcase one of your advocates for their contributions. Give your advocates goals they can strive for to become advocates of the month. Share team causes or goals of the month and celebrate the team for achieving them. Introduce your newest members of the advocacy team to the rest of your advocates and encourage veterans to give newbies a hearty welcome.
An important point to keep in mind: be careful what you celebrate. Would your advocates be proud of helping you achieve your revenue goals? Probably not. They don’t want to be your free marketing or sales team. Would they appreciate being celebrated for their community contributions where they help fellow product users achieve their goals? Some would find that gratifying from a personal and career perspective. Step into the shoes of your advocates and understand what recognition they value.
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In one of my previous advocacy marketing articles, I stress the importance of introducing advocates to people they want to meet. Scheduling regular video conference calls with experts is a powerful way to keep advocates engaged. I encourage you to use the same technique when turning your advocates into a team. Invite them to regular video conference calls where they can talk to each other.
Not every advocate will crave face-to-face time, but you’d be surprised how many will jump on board. Once you hold the first few calls, showcase how beneficial they are to the entire group. You’ll soon find yourself with a regular team of talkers who enjoy strong connections with each other and the company.
When planning these calls, create agendas that are beneficial to both you and your advocates. Start by asking what topics they would like to discuss, like product or industry best practices, upcoming events, the latest product announcement, career topics, or experiences they want to share.
An added benefit is the real-time feedback you’ll gain about your program. During these calls, take the opportunity to ask what’s working for them in the advocacy program, what they’d like to see more of and what needs improving. Live conversations will allow you to unearth information and pick up on subtleties you’d never discover from a written survey.
5. Bring your advocates together offline
In another advocacy marketing article, I talk about the importance of real-life events. Not only are they crucial for bringing advocates closer to your company, they’re the ideal vehicle for team building. It’s like summer camp for professionals.
You may only have one shot at this per year (events are expensive!) so make it count. Create an exclusive space or occasion just for your advocates where they can hang out. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just comfortable, with good food and beverages if possible.
In one of my previous gigs as an advocate marketer, my colleague invited advocates for pizza and beer at a local restaurant near the event convention center. The advocates loved it because the event was off the beaten path and non-corporate, like a secret party only the privileged few could access. Budget friendly for the company and fun for the advocates.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I invited our advocates to star in a photoshoot near our office. The advocates loved it because they got to schmooze with each other and share their photo books while getting ready for exclusive interviews and a glamorous video shoot. The company benefited from authentic content starring real customers, and bringing advocates closer to each other and the brand.
So are you with me, advocacy team builder? Turn your most passionate customers and fans into a powerhouse team, by providing them with big picture inspiration and ongoing connection. Your company will see the impact.