All About Brand Advocates and Social Marketing
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(This post was originally published on WOMMA’s “All Things WOM” blog.)

A key takeaway from this year’s WOMM-U is that brand advocacy is hot! Not only was it a topic of many of the panel discussions, but also a recent IBM study stated that advocacy is the #1 priority for CMO’s worldwide. Let’s take a look at a key principle of brand advocacy: Don’t incentivize Advocates.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s inauthentic. Paying for recommendations (whether it’s cash, discounts, or rewards) is basically telling your customers, “Look, since our product isn’t worth talking about genuinely, how about I give you some rewards points for an endorsement and we’ll call it even?” Don’t enlist your Advocates as mercenaries. You’re compromising your credibility and reputation.
  2. It’s unnecessary. The top reasons that Advocates recommend is to help others (Comscore, Yahoo!, Dec. 2006) and because they’ve had great experiences with a product or company (Zuberance, 2012). In fact, only 1% of Advocates recommend after being incentivized with rewards or discounts. The key to energizing Advocates to create recommendations is to simply make it easy for them. No incentives necessary.
  3. It turns your customers into spammers. We all have that one friend who constantly shares Living Social deals, for example, on Facebook and Twitter. Why? Because if they get three friends to buy the deal, they get their deal for free. The frequent spam causes us to tune them out, possibly defriend or unfollow them, and definitely devalue the sincerity of their recommendation.
  4. It creates unwanted expectations from your customers. If you continue to offer rewards or money to customers for their referrals, you’re conditioning them to always expect something in return. The minute you stop compensating them, is the minute they stop showing the “love.” 
  5. It’s LAME. Before investing in paid recommendations, focus on improving your company and products so it’s worthy of true praise. Do you think Apple has ever paid their customers for a recommendation? No way! Their products are brilliant, and therefore they’ve created millions of genuine Advocates.

Now, that being said, recognizing and thanking your Advocates is an advocacy best practice. However, it should never be a quid pro quo i.e. IF you write a positive review, THEN I’ll give you a pony. Ponies should only be given as a thank you when there was no expectation of receiving something in return for positive reviews.

Here are some ways to recognize and thank your Advocates:

  • Invite them to exclusive events
  • Engage with them on social channels (sometimes a simple “Thank you” is all Advocates want!)
  • Ask to them to join a focus group
  • Highlight their recommendations on owned media channels
  • Give them sneak previews of a new product or feature

Take the high road and keep your advocacy strategy authentic. TRUE Brand Advocates are more trusted, more influential, and more effective in driving real business results.

-Cara Fuggetta, Marketing Manager, Zuberance

I tweet, therefore I am.
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