While we may refer to them as brand advocates, those people who support a brand especially when it’s facing some kind of crisis, are really just passionate fans.

Fans who are willing and able to dedicate their own time to support a brand online, or in person.

Advocates are 83% more likely than others to share information about products with their network. 

But how does a brand get regular fans of its work to shift from a passive consumer of information, goods and services, into an active member of the brand community. Someone who takes the passion they have for the brand and tells other people about it?

How can it call on these people when it needs them the most? Is there a way to do this while adhering to advertising regulations?

Creating brand advocates

You can’t buy advocates. Well, you can but it’s the equivalent of being a politician who rents a crowd of people for a rally, the support is superficial and will last only as long as the payments do. 

The best brand advocates are created organically and nurtured over a significant period of time. It takes time to build a real relationship with someone and for them to develop trust in the brand.

Businesses need to release high quality, reliable products that people find useful, or provide a speedy and efficient service. They need to cherish loyal customers, and reward people who contribute high quality content to the community. 

Brands can also try to establish relationships with those who are influential with their target audience, although this is trickier to pull off.

The brand needs to know if its making a marketing deal to promote its brand (in which case the influencer’s loyalty may not be significant) or is it getting in touch with a well-known super-fan and giving them content and support as they continue to promote the brand to their own followers (such as YouTube gamers).

Either way, communication is vital.

Brands need to provide early access, exclusive content and behind-the-scenes experiences to their advocates and influencers, but also realise that the brand cannot pressure the person to post a specific opinion (at least not without facing the consequences).

What can advocates do?

Brand advocates generate and share content about the brand and may come out in support of the brand when it’s criticised or in the middle of a social media crisis.

But only if it makes sense for them to, if their own audience is up in arms about important issues, they risk their own reputation by defending the brand too vigorously.

Advocates share their passion about the brand with their own followers, and these people share the content themselves, bringing in their friends and followers and potentially increasing the fan and customer base of the brand.

This is much more powerful than straightforward marketing and advertising because it’s consumer driven. 

Brands have successfully used advocates to change perceptions in the past. Dettol saw sales of its spray increase by 86% in China in 2011, by convincing 4,000 mothers that the product could be used as a surface cleaner, rather than just used on floors.

However the effect of brand advocacy is often subtle and more long-term.

Regulations

Advertising authorities in the UK and US have strict rules when it comes to working with influencers and advocates. The US Federal Trade Commission outlines the need for transparency in its endorsement guidelines:

If there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed.

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority's Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing code covers a brand’s relationship with blogger advocates...

Not only must the blogger tell his or her audience when a post is sponsored or paid for by a brand, but the brand must realise that such content falls under advertising regulations.

Bloggers stop being a regular customer, posting their opinion online, if the brand has paid for their work (even if the brand sent a free item for reviewing purposes, it still needs to be disclosed.)

Allow advocates to be genuine

Advocates wield a great deal of power so it is crucial for brands to treat them as part of the inner circle when it comes to launching a new product or handling a crisis, but don’t cut them off if they share an opinion that doesn’t 100% support the brand.

Brand advocacy can be a great way for a brand to build a long-lasting relationship with its audience.

By ensuring the passionate fans are genuine, whether it is celebrating successes or giving constructive criticism, they can influence others, support sales and the longevity of a brand without looking like they have been ‘bought’.  

You can learn even more about engaging customers on social at our two day Festival of Marketing event in November. Book your ticket today and head to the Social stage to learn how to manage brand perception and reach new audiences.

Tamara Littleton

Published 11 September, 2015 by Tamara Littleton

Tamara is CEO and founder of social media agency The Social Element and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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