A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Customer Advocacy Program

GRIN also recommends: Quick Guide to Earned Media Value 

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Building brand love means nurturing meaningful relationships with your customers. Leveraging your brand fans through a customer advocacy program is a great way to expand your reach and increase sales. As such, a customer advocate is any loyal customer who champions your brand among their personal and professional relationships, both on and offline. These advocates promote your brand out of genuine brand love rather than mere self-interest.

step by step guide to starting a customer advocacy program grin influencer marketing

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By implication, a customer advocacy program establishes and manages a team of customer advocates. 

“This marketing approach may take many forms, including product reviews, influencers, brand ambassadors, client case studies, referral programs, and more. If you know how to publicize authentic customer feedback with the customer’s implied or explicit permission, there’s almost no wrong way to go about customer advocacy marketing.” – GRIN, What is customer advocacy and why do you need it?

Getting your program off the ground begins by connecting with your most engaged customers. Doing so can provide enormous social proof for your brand and take your business to the next level. “When people trust someone’s endorsement of your brand, when they can sense the relationship is real, they believe it—and they’ll buy.” – GRIN, Authentic Influencer Marketing

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 advocates 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 establishing your advocacy program. 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 objectives that are more specific. Among the most common customer advocacy goals are:

What do your advocates get in return for their participation?

Based on the type of advocate that they are, a customer will prefer one perk over another. Hubspot does a great job of breaking down each advocate into one of four types:

  • Educator
  • Validator
  • Status seeker
  • Collaborator

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Image via Hubspot

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-customer 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.

Getting started with customer advocacy: A step-by-step guide

If you’re new to the idea of advocacy marketing, we’ve broken the process into actionable steps. As you nurture a community of customer advocates, you’ll have the insight you need to tweak your program for greater ROI over time.

Step 1: Establish your brand’s greater purpose.

“Whether you’re creating an influencer program, or a committee, or an online community forum… purpose is the bedrock of everything else.” – Carrie Melissa Jones, Author of Building Brand Communities

Before you take stock of who can be part of your advocate team, take a moment to reflect on your brand’s mission and vision. Your brand’s purpose will help you see your customer advocates not just as marketing assets, but as like-minded individuals who understand how your brand improves their overall quality of life

Step 2: Gather your customer advocates.

The next step is to focus on customers that love your business and aren’t afraid to talk about it. But it’s important to remember that not every delighted customer is equally forthcoming in their public praise.  If you’re unsure of where these customers are, you can “smoke them out” using a few effective tactics.

Create a campaign.

Many brands launch a campaign that is customer-focused. Common examples include contests or participatory events that incentivize user-generated content. This approach is also referred to as experiential marketing. In addition to watching your customer advocates stand out from the crowd, you will also endear customers to your brand.

“In 2021, there is a need to rebuild connection and emotional appeal to our brands, because I think we’ve largely lived in a very disconnected world because of COVID. Brands should be thinking about how to rebuild those emotional connections.” – GRIN Gets Real interview with Kate Bradley Chernis, Founder & CEO of Next Step

Create a loyalty program.

Loyalty programs use quantitative analytics to help you identify customers that keep coming back. You can approach these customers directly or offer loyalty bonuses for publicly promoting your brand. These loyalty programs can also include handsome rewards for referrals. Many brands use this technique to identify and leverage customer advocates at the same time.

Build a social community.

Customer engagement forges relationships. In addition to your partnerships with influencers and other social advocates, there are many ways to use your social media presences to increase engagement with your audience. Facebook Groups focused on your industry or a niche market can help you add value to your brand and join peer-to-peer conversations with your target audience.

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Compelling lifestyle content on visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok can also increase follower excitement. Engagements (likes, comments, shares, etc.) become tools to help you identify more customer advocates.

Send surveys.

Knowing how your customers feel about your brand can give you insight into whether or not you are placing hurdles in the way of customer advocacy.  For example, customer surveys can help you find weaknesses in your products or customer experience. Armed with this feedback, you can quickly improve your operations and make it easier for customer advocates to rise to the surface. You can also use surveys to prompt happy customers to promote you online. For example, many survey platforms allow you to encourage customers to share their positive comments publicly for all to see. These same platforms also encourage disgruntled customers to divert their comments into private conversations with agents that can help them resolve a dispute.

Step 3: Set your customers up to advocate successfully.

A common pitfall is to expect your customer advocates to take the initiative to promote your brand every time. Timid customers will hesitate to promote your brand publicly no matter how happy they are with your products. And 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. Customer advocacy can be fun for your customers, especially if you have a few processes in place. Here are some tips to help you create a sustainable process.

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. 

Use and offer hashtags.

Promote branded hashtags that draw attention to your business. Especially if your hashtag aligns with a particular lifestyle, solution, pain point, or inside joke, customers enjoy passing the hashtag along. Creating and monitoring hashtags is free and simple on all the leading social platforms.

Incentivize your customers with reward programs.

Customers can exchange rewards or points for product discounts or store credit. If a customer has already expressed adoration for who you are and what you do, offer rewards or points for voicing that opinion publicly. That said, you shouldn’t make the mistake of tempting customers to alter their opinions in the face of financial reward. But you can use certain non-financial rewards to encourage customers to spend more frequently, place a positive review on multiple platforms, take a picture of them using your product, and much more.

Track your customer advocacy content as valuable user-generated content.

User-generated content consists of all third-party posts that features or mentions your brand. Building a campaign around user-generated content will encourage happy customers to display your products and services in fun ways. When a customer advocates for your brand, giving them a public shoutout is a great way to promote the customer’s content while also making the customer feel appreciated.

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.

Step 4: Involve marketing, sales, and customer service.

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

Step 5: Build brand love.

Look for new ways to deliver joy and value to your audience. When you create content, focus on authenticity and transparency. Doing so will inspire your advocates to share your content organically with their audience. Showcase the brand-customer relationships that are working, and try to replicate those relationships among more members of your customer base.

Step 6: Remain customer-focused.

Relationships are earned. As you connect with your customers, take extra steps to strengthen the bond.  You can strengthen your customer relationships by acknowledging their feedback, adding value in unexpected ways, engaging them in meaningful conversations, sending them exclusive limited-time offers, resolving disputes quickly, and more. The brands with the most customer advocacy treat their audience with the utmost care.

Step 7: Create high-performing customer success programs.

Customer advocacy programs create a direct and powerful line of communication between your brand and the customer. Armed with this candor, you and your customer service teams can upgrade your products and customer care tools. Particularly among B2B and tech companies, customer advocacy informs the client onboarding process. Your customer advocacy programs will blossom if you invest in those operations that ensure increased customer success with your products and services.

Step 8: Track campaign and program performance.

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.

What are the key performance 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 your 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 in 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.

Treat your customer advocates as members of your brand community.

Over time, 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.

Conclusion: Successful advocacy relationships require long-term commitment 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. Stop wondering whether your brand is making an impact with customers online. Manage influential customer relationships in just a few clicks with GRIN today.

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