A Guide to Creating, Launching, and Managing a Customer Advocacy Program

GRIN also recommends: Quick Guide to Earned Media Value 

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Happy customers make the best brand advocates, but often need the right outlet to share their brand experience. 

Many brands recognize that word-of-mouth from accolades from customers can help brands rise to the top. That’s why more and more brands are taking steps to establish a customer advocacy program. Here’s how it works.

What is a customer advocacy program?

A customer advocacy program intentionally converts loyal customers into vocal brand promoters

The key to a successful customer advocacy program is maintaining relationships with those customers that have the social influence and genuine brand love to promote your brand effectively among their consumer peers. Customer advocates should be well-spoken and socially engaged with your brand and with other consumers. 

Benefits of a Customer Advocacy Program

Branded messaging and traditional marketing is understandably biased, which is why both approaches are less effective than they’ve been in the past. 

“Customer advocacy focuses less on what the brand has to say and more on what customers have to say about their brand experience.” – GRIN, Quick Guide to Customer Advocacy Marketing

consumers trust friends more than brands - grin influencer marketing

Image via TINT

Consumer word-of-mouth remains one of the most trusted sources for product recommendations. When a trusted friend or family member relates a positive experience with your brand, studies have shown that you are more inclined to trust that brand.

But brand credibility is just one benefit to a robust customer advocacy program. Other benefits include:

What is the difference between an ambassador, advocate, and influencer?

Done well, an influencer or ambassador program can offer all the benefits of a customer advocacy program. But these three roles – though often overlapping – are not one and the same.

Ambassador

Brand ambassadors are sometimes influencers, but they don’t always maintain as large an audience as influencers. These ambassadors are active on social media and maintain some level of influence and authority among social media groups.

Ambassadors typically work exclusively with certain brands that they love and fit a very specific lifestyle niche.

Advocate

Advocates can be ambassadors or influencers, but most of them are customers that are genuinely loyal to a particular brand. These everyday customers are great at helping friends and family find reliable products and services both on and offline. 

Influencer

Influencers usually maintain a minimum of 1,000 social media followers and prioritize compelling content over brand exclusivity. There are different types of influencers based primarily on the number of active followers.

Nano and Micro influencers curate online communities of less than 100,000 followers and are more likely to also act as brand ambassadors.

Macro and Mega (celebrity) influencers enjoy a minimum of 100,000 followers and may engage several million followers across multiple social channels. These influencers are marketing professionals who rarely promote brands without upfront cash payments. 

Which individual is best for your customer advocacy program?

Each of these groups – ambassador, advocate, and influencer – may make great candidates for your customer advocacy program. The critical thing you need to know is whether or not an individual genuinely loves your product or service.

If a consumer with social influence does not genuinely care about your brand, then your relationship will be primarily transactional. And that kind of advocacy relationship will produce mediocre results.

Next, you’ll need to figure out what it is that would motivate a happy customer to promote your brand. It is not enough to ask customers for favors – your advocacy program needs to be mutually beneficial.

Forrester Research examined successful customer advocacy programs and identified the four main types of advocates:

  • Educators want to be key opinion leaders (KOL) and reliable information sources for their audience.
  • Validators possess great emotional intelligence and are happy to publicly endorse your product, but they prefer private thanks and appreciation over publicity.
  • Status Seekers are ambitious, and if they are not already influencers, they often aspire to be.
  • Collaborators like to explore and tinker with ideas. They are creative and innovators at heart.

customer advocacy - grin influencer marketing

Image via Hubspot

Happy customers within each of these categories can make a great customer advocate. But it’s up to you to understand what type of advocate each of your customers are and how you can channel their motivations to build a mutually beneficial relationship.

Pre Launch: How to Create Your Customer Advocacy Strategy

The better that you organize your customer advocacy campaigns, the more likely you will achieve success. An ad-hoc approach to customer advocacy will produce poor results and leave your customers confused about what it is you expect them to do.

What do you hope to accomplish?

As with any marketing approach, it’s critical that you define your goals. Building a community of customer advocates can help you scale your business at a fast pace, but you should itemize each objective prior to launching your advocacy campaigns.

If you’re like most brands, you want your advocacy program to lower your acquisition costs and increase your sales. But you can also be more strategic with those goals and break them down into other goals that are more specific.

Among the most common customer advocacy goals are:

How do you ask someone to join your customer advocacy program?

When recruiting brand advocates, you need a value proposition that will incentivize customers to join.

“The way you think about why a customer would participate in an advocacy program should align with the way you think about why a prospect would buy your product/service… Customers should feel they are getting much more out of the advocacy program than they are putting in.” – Hubspot

Be careful about treating your program as “calling in favors.” Your customers have already bought from you, so they don’t really owe you anything. 

Instead, consider what type of customer advocate they are (educator, validator, status seeker, or collaborator) and offer that customer something in return for their help.

If there are influential customers already promoting your brand on social media, start there. Send them a quick message thanking them for the shout-out. Then you can follow up with an offer.

What do your advocates get in return for their participation?

Based on the type of advocate that they are, advocate prospects would prefer different kinds of perks.

For example, many advocates love getting new products for free (validators and collaborators) while others prefer publicity (educators and status seekers). Some common ways to incentivize customer advocates are: 

  • Free products/services
  • Public recognition
  • Private recognition
  • Exclusive access to products, services, or information
  • Travel and/or event perks
  • Collaborations on future products

Who will manage your advocacy relationships?

It isn’t enough to collect a list of happy customers, give them free products, and ask for word-of-mouth advertising. You will achieve much more success if you nurture your advocate relationships for the long-term.

By taking these relationships seriously, you can keep your advocacy content authentic rather than transactional. The best customer advocacy programs maintain deep brand-advocate connections. 

What you want is for your customer advocates to feel the brand love and to allow that love to be expressed authentically in their social media activity. The moment that consumers sense that an advocate is manufacturing excitement, you lose credibility.

How will you track performance?

Social media is the best place to monitor your customer advocacy performance. You will need a process for keeping track of what your advocates are doing and how effective their efforts are.

For just starting out, you can create a spreadsheet with each advocate’s name, their social handles, links to promotional content, and key engagement metrics (such as likes, comments, and shares). If any of your advocates are also brand ambassadors, influencers, or affiliates, you may also want to track custom links, tags, coupon code redemptions, etc.

Tracking performance helps you identify your program’s ROI. If you don’t track, there’s no proof that your program is or is not working.

Launch: When to Start Your Customer Advocacy Program

While it’s true that you shouldn’t micromanage your advocates, giving them direction allows them to channel their excitement in effective ways. Because these are mutually-beneficial relationships, you should provide everything that your advocates will need to become successful.

Establish some ground rules.

Authenticity is not an excuse to allow customers to tarnish your brand’s reputation or act against your values. As such, give your advocates some insight into your mission and brand voice.

Additionally, you can set some basic parameters to keep your advocates informed on best practices, as well as some basic dos and don’ts. Creating a campaign brief that outlines what you expect from your advocates, as well as listing relevant tags, hashtags, and guidelines is a great way to put your ground rules in writing and to keep your campaigns organized. 

Involve marketing, sales, and customer service.

Many seasoned customer advocacy programs use teams consisting of marketing, sales, and customer service representatives. Including these individuals will give you a better perspective on your customers and equip your team to standardize your relationship management process.

Collaborate with your advocates.

It’s essential that your advocates feel like team members rather than subordinates. You are asking them to leverage their reputation to promote your brand, and as such, they will have many great ideas for generating authentic engagement and brand awareness.

Keep your advocates informed.

Seasonal promotions, events, and product launches are just a few of the things that your customer advocates would love to know about on a regular basis. The more that you keep your advocates in the loop, the better they will be able to promote your brand online.

Post Launch: How to Measure the Success of Your Customer Advocacy Program

As you track key metrics and nurture advocacy relationships, your campaigns will improve over time. At the conclusion of each campaign, it’s always a good idea to take stock of the results.

Key Metrics in a Customer Advocacy Program

For most customer advocacy campaigns, meaningful engagement is one of the best ways to track campaign success. Engagement metrics demonstrate how often customer followers took notice and reacted to branded content.

The most common engagement metrics to track in social media are:

  • Views/reach/impressions
  • Post reactions (likes, hearts, etc.)
  • Comments
  • Post shares
  • Shared tags and hashtags

If your advocates care about their online relationships, they should take the time to respond to follower questions and comments. 

For you high-performing advocates, you may have supplied them with conversion tools, such as affiliate links and discount codes. The custom links and codes can help you attribute conversions to the right advocate.

For new customer advocacy programs, many of these performance metrics are simple to track manually on a spreadsheet. However, it is difficult to scale a customer advocacy program when it grows into a community of ten or more advocates. At that point, you should consider investing in an automation platform that will help you track your program.

Creating a Community of Customer Advocates

With enough practice, you’ll learn which kind of customers are the best fit for your advocacy program. Additionally, you can dabble with influencers and ambassadors to extend your reach and generate more conversions. 

Your ultimate goal should be to maintain meaningful relationships with a community of customer advocates. Ideally, your community should incorporate customers with large and small social media followings. The greater your advocate variety, the easier it will be to integrate your program with your entire marketing funnel.

Common Customer Advocacy Program Mistakes to Avoid

Appealing to Customer Generosity

When a customer loves your brand, that affinity can sour quickly if you continue to appeal to customer generosity. Even when inviting them to join your advocacy program, there needs to be something in it for them.

By getting to know your advocates, you’ll find the right perks to incentivize participation, such as free product, publicity, or product collaborations.

Discouraging Feedback

Customer advocacy programs are customer-centric. If you begin to make your program about the brand, you will quickly lose customer interest. As such, it’s critical that you invite customer feedback, positive and negative, so that your advocates feel heard and invested in your products and services.

Paying Customers to Advocate for Your Brand

It is almost never a good idea to exchange customer promotions for cash. Once your customer advocacy program becomes transactional, it is very difficult for advocates to promote brands authentically.

Instead, focus on perks that your customers will love, such as free product, exclusive content, sneak peaks, or personalized “thank you” gifts.

Failing to Personalize

To be customer-centric means to personalize your products and services. Customer advocates are often great test subjects for increased personalization and new products. For those advocates that are collaborators, you may even be able to create specialized, co-branded products.

Lack of Program Organization

Serious customer advocacy programs require careful planning and organization. Without it, your advocate relationships will stale, and you won’t be able to count on your customers to produce meaningful content on your behalf.

Failing to Establish Processes to Scale the Program

To scale your program and increase ROI, you’ll need to standardize your advocate relationship management process. This means assigning team members to those relationships and engaging your advocates consistently. By creating processes and refining them over time, you’ll have clarity on which kind of customers make great advocates and what techniques will generate the best results on social media.

Conclusion: Successful advocacy relationships require serious effort and the right management tools.

Half-hearted customer advocacy programs die. By contrast, customer advocacy relationship management can enhance your brand awareness and significantly cut acquisition costs.

While using manual tools is a great way to start, you will eventually need a platform to help you streamline your program. Automation can help you achieve more with less, further lowering your costs and increasing ROI.

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