What are Social Brand Advocates and Why Does My Franchise Need Them?

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If you’re a franchise owner, you’ve got a marketing challenge – being part of a bigger brand and staying connected with their message, but showing yourself as a local business leader, connection to the community and most importantly, connecting to more of your customers to help them bring in more new customers.

If you’ve heard a lot of buzz about Social Brand Advocates lately, you maybe have wondered what is the big deal? It’s pretty straightforward – having a quality advocate program can help you amplify the great customer experience you’re providing from your customers and getting it shared to the people in their social media circles that trust them and will act (consider, buy) on the experience they see others having.

While this isn’t a complete marketing strategy, it is rapidly becoming a core component of any successful strategy. Otherwise, it is simply too difficult to reach people without wasting money on ineffective, untrusted paid advertising. Big brands have already jumped on this trend, but an advocate is no longer a luxury for big brands, but something that any business using social media marketing will need to succeed.

Why? Well, frankly…consumers don’t trust you. It’s not you, but a byproduct of the huge volume of noise that is the social/mobile/digital world. When it comes to ads on the web or mobile people only trust ads around 33% of the time. They act on those ads a fraction of 1%…and the overwhelming majority, especially on mobile, is by accident. People only trust emails they opted in for 50% of the time…whereas people trust a person who they view as a genuine advocate 92% of the time, and an advocate influences a buying decision 77% of the time. (For the record, almost all these numbers are from various Nielsen studies, values fluctuate…but needless to say, advocates are trusted resources.)

The other important reason is that good advocates that are nurtured and developed can provide a bigger, broader set of eyes on your content that you’re trying oh-so-hard to drive reach for, especially if you get these advocates involved. Advocates provide a trusted opinion that can get genuine engagement because they’re seen as helping people and the content they share generates significant organic and viral reach with a higher potential for business results than even advertising can provide at less expense. (Caveat…content still has to be good, and advocates can make it better.)

Sounds great, let’s get me some advocates. While it sounds simple, it isn’t. And unlike social media advertising, you can’t just flip a switch and make impressions fall from the digital heavens (that you’re paying more for every day). Building advocates takes understanding somebody’s passion for your brand. While “influencers” may have an audience that can create impressions, that audience may or may not be paying attention or trust them. In addition, influencers may or may not care about your brand, and usually require getting paid  (think celebrities, YouTube stars, etc.).

OK, it will take some work. What exactly is that work? It is a process. It does take some time…hence the reason you hear phrases like “fostering” or “developing” advocates. There isn’t a switch to turn on or off. It takes a number of steps, starting with identifying your most engaged and influential fans, seeing their history of interactions with your brand and gauging their sentiment and passion for your brand. From there, it takes engaging and inviting them to be a part of something special, something exclusive and then starting a relationship.

While advocates have a deeper relationship with your brand, many ‘advocate’ solutions consist of inviting the influential to share content or finding a way to push direct sales; but advocacy, in our opinion, requires a 2-way street. Build content that involves them, drive the conversation, not just offers. An advocate is more than willing to sing your virtues, but surprise and delight them, get them actually involved and you’ll see results.

Sounds like work, but sounds exciting. Where do I start? The first step is to understand your social media audience and identify your most engaged and influential followers to begin the journey towards advocacy. If you want to learn more about it from an outside perspective, a guy named Spike Jones has written the book on it. Seriously, wrote the book.

Developing advocates isn’t easy, but the rewards in all aspects of your business are there if done right. The social media environment provides a tremendous opportunity to make that connection and make good things happen. Go.

Jeff Ernst, CEO and President at Smync, has built, grown and managed sales and marketing organizations in businesses of all sizes with over 20 years of marketing and management experience. A lifelong entrepreneur, Jeff has worked over 10 years in tech including B2B startups in webcasting and web conferencing.

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