Advocates vs. Influencers and Steps to a Successful Brand Advocacy Program

Guest post by Eric Melin, Manager Marketing & Communications at Social: IRL sponsor, Spiral16. Originally posted in the Spiral16 blog as the second instalment of an event recap of Social: IRL’s recent workshop in St. Louis MO, with social business pioneer and Your Brand: The Next Media Company author, Michael Brito.

Michael Brito | @Britopian

Michael Brito | @Britopian

Tuesday I blogged about Michael Brito‘s advice concerning the need for businesses to become their own media companies. At the St. Louis Social:IRL workshop, he put forth a lot of great material that brands should be thinking about as they plan their social strategies.

Today’s blog concerns a topic that he spent a good amount of time on — one that has vexed social strategists and community managers for some time now.

His presentation was called Brand Advocacy: How Customers and Employees Can Shape Your Brand Story.

First he started off by defining the difference between a brand advocate and an influencer. An influencer has a high degree of reach. Maybe they have a large Twitter following or a popular Facebook page. An influencer’s relationship with a brand is incentive-based. To get an influencer on your side, posting about your initiatives and talking positively about your brand, they’ll often do things like fly the influencer to an exclusive event or offer them a prize if they post a certain amount of things.

The thing is: Conversation from an influencer stops when the incentive is over.

A brand advocate is someone that actually loves your brand wholeheartedly. They may not have a large reach, but they have a natural affinity for your company and emotional equity built up from years of satisfaction. (Think Apple or Starbucks — brands people are passionate about.) A brand advocate doesn’t need incentives. They deliver long-term business value because they talk about the brand in everyday conversation. If your business is smart, you are already listening online and can identify these advocates.

The thing is: They are so real and organic that they don’t know we’re even paying attention to them!

Because of social media and mobile interaction, conversations are influencing consumers at all stages of the purchase funnel — sometimes even influencing people NOT to buy. And many times, these people are employees of the company itself. Think about it, if your friend works for Sprint, you’re going to ask them a question about your service first, right? Here are some stats Michael referenced to prove his point:

  • 92% of consumers say that peer recommendations are the most reliable
  • 65% of business professionals are asking each other for advice in social media. (Knowing this stat, an advocacy program might be a good idea!)
  • 67% find employees of a company reliable when seeking info about brand/products

Use these insights and turn customers and employees into advocates, empowering them to share long-form stories that deepen brand affinity and influence others.

Advocates can:

  1. Drive awareness
  2. Change perceptions
  3. Educate customers and prospects
  4. Solve customer support issues
  5. Provide feedback and insight
  6. Influence peers to buy

Why try to actively turn customers and employees into advocates? What’s in it for the brand?

First off, you can gain third-party content, which — I can vouch for this being a content marketer myself — is always nice! Secondly, the amplification opportunities for the brand are enormous. Lastly, these advocates will develop into trusted sources for insights about the brand. They’ll tell you when you’re off course and when you’re kicking ass. And their opinion will matter. After all, they’re already in your court.

OK, well what’s in it for the advocates?

Advocates will get all kinds of rewards: Public recognition as a elite community member, access to exclusive content from the brand, a platform for sharing thoughts with a wider audience, and the opportunity to develop thought leadership. All these things will make them very happy.

Three Advocacy Programs to Think About Creating

  1. An employee activation and brand journalism program
  2. Customer advocacy or evangelism (make it campaign-driven or goal-driven)
  3. Brand storytelling – should be happening all the time, train employees to talk about brand externally, mobilize customers to do this
Five Steps to a Successful Advocacy Program
  1. Define the program
  2. Identify the right tools for advocate identification
  3. Activate them: Mobilize your advocates – enable brand sharing, empower them with quality content and rich activations
  4. Amplify advocacy in realtime: share advocate content
  5. Measure and optimize: top shared content, reach impressions, earned media value, sentiment/share of voice, community growth rate, number of trained employees

Social Media Crisis: Lessons from the Front Lines. Is Your Brand Prepared?

By Social: IRL principal, Ben Smith. Originally published as a personal post on Google+

Some important social media lessons for both businesses and individuals can be taken from a pretty incredible and somewhat scary series of events that took place on Facebook last week.

DislikeOne of my clients suddenly started receiving a string of angry comments on their Facebook Page over a comment an employee (we’ll call her Jane – not her real name) had posted on her own personal Facebook Profile. The company wasn’t referenced at all in the post, the post wasn’t relevant to them in any way, and the views were in no way held to be those of the company. The only connection was that the company had been tagged as Jane’s employer in the About section of her Facebook Profile.

The comment posted by Jane was provocative and directed at members of the armed forces. She later deleted it. Following is a summary of events that unfolded and five important lessons that apply to us both personally and professionally for the brands we represent.

First, although Jane deleted her post, someone had taken a screen shot of it and posted it in a military support group on Facebook. From there it spread virally at a rapid rate. A screen shot showing her full name, Facebook profile photo and the update itself were very quickly being shared by thousands of Facebook users. More evidence that “delete” doesn’t work and that once you post an update you can never effectively take it back or control who sees it beyond your intended audience.

Second, Jane was one of the many Facebook users who have no privacy controls in place. From seeing her name and profile photo, it had been easy find her personal profile. Her Facebook Timeline, photo albums, and personal information were all public. Her profile was quickly covered in thousands of angry, hateful, threatening, obscene comments – about her, her husband, and even about her young baby. From the information she was publicly sharing and the link back to her husband’s Facebook profile from her About information, it would have been very easy to track them down offline. With the nature of many of the comments made, that was a scary prospect. Again, her comments were offensive to many people, but the response was still shocking in both its speed and ferocity. Facebook gives us privacy controls. Use them. The public nature of Jane’s profile and the personal information shared goes beyond the thousands of angry comments to being a personal safety issue for her and her family. We can’t blame Facebook for giving access to our personal information if we fail to take advantage of the privacy tools they provide us with.

Third, the angry comments on the Facebook Page threatened to have a very real impact on their business. The comments came quickly, and in most instances the company was being held as having the same views as the individual or in some way having responsibility for her actions. Again, the comments Jane posted were on her personal profile, never mentioned the company, and were never implied as being on behalf of the company. Absolutely the only connection was her About information tagging the company as her employer. That alone was enough for the company to be held (in many instances) as responsible for her comments, even an assumption that they shared Jane’s views. What most of those people had failed to pay any attention to was that Jane listed the company as an employer with and end date in 2012. She hadn’t even worked for the company for close to a year. So understand this, when your employees affiliate themselves with your company they are absolutely your brand ambassadors – for good or bad – and will absolutely impact perceptions of your brand. Don’t ignore that fact. Do you have social media guidelines or policies in place? Do you educate employees on digital citizenship risks and responsibilities or online privacy? Of course it won’t magically stop incidents like this one from happening, but education, guidance and accountability are a great first step. An HR Director told me not too long ago that due to the risks that came with social media their company had avoided any social media presence – mitigate risk by shutting it out. My reply to her was simply that if they had any employees who were social media users, then their company had a social media presence. In this particular instance, Jane’s comments were from someone who didn’t even work for the company any more. People simply saw the name and established a connection. It was unfortunate that they came to such quick conclusions about the company from nothing more than that connection, also that they apparently failed to notice or just ignored the fact that the same information that said she worked for the company also said she had left their employment nearly a year earlier, but that’s another discussion entirely.

Fourth, I’ve had plenty of people say to me that having a Facebook Page or any other type of social media presence is a liability due to the risk of negative comments or brand attacks. I’m sure some of those people would use this example to reinforce that viewpoint – the brand came under heavy attack with highly negative and damaging comments posted very publicly on their Facebook Page, including calls to boycott their business. Yet the company was entirely innocent in the situation. If there hadn’t been a Facebook Page, then all those negative comments wouldn’t have been posted, right? Wrong! They would – just in places we wouldn’t have known about them so quickly (if at all) or been able to respond to. I say that having a brand-controlled space for those negative comments to be posted to is beneficial. It meant in this case that we could see the comments happening quickly and were able to respond to and be part of the conversation – not have it take place (and escalate) without us. We could ensure those already in the conversation were acknowledged and their concerns directly addressed, and that those coming to the Page to join the conversation were met with a statement from the company helping them make a more informed decision. As a result the issue was actually able to be resolved relatively quickly as far as the company involvement went. A lot of the anger was able to be diffused relatively easily given the overall scope of the situation, and a lot of damage was avoided. Without the ability to engage quickly and effectively at a central focal point, the attacks against the company could quickly have escalated out of control.

Fifth, be ready. What would you do in a similar situation? It can happen to any company, large or small. Speed of response was critical in this instance and with the right steps taken to respond in the right way and in a timely and proactive fashion, the attacks against the company were relatively short-lived. Many users continued to visit the company’s Page to post comments, but after the response plan was initiated a majority of the comments moved from negative to positive sentiment, even while the incident itself continued to escalate out of control. The statement posted by the company was not negative about Jane. It simply clarified that it was former employee and that her views did not represent the company views, and explained what the company views actually were. Did it stop every negative comment? No, but a majority of them. No spin or PR, just a simple statement of fact. Of course, a few people still were angry with the company, a few clearly didn’t read the statement. But a vast majority acknowledged it and either clicked the “Like” button and went on their way, or left a comment of support. What if it was your business? Do you have a plan – how and when you’ll engage, what you’ll say, who can approve statements being issued on behalf of the company and how quickly can that approval be secured? What if it’s after hours, as happened to be the case in this instance?

Meanwhile the individual who posted the original comments lost her current job as a result, is dealing with literally thousands of very unpleasant comments on her personal Facebook Profile, and is being forever indexed by Google alongside the very negative comments she made – despite having deleted them – and will likely suffer long term consequences for her choice of words.

Some important lessons, and a very scary series of events in terms of the speed of escalation and ferocity of response. As I’ve said several times, the comments Jane posted were considered offensive and were going to generate an angry response, but I don’t think anyone would ever have imagined a situation quite like this. So pause and consider the question: is your brand prepared?

Smart Social: A Conversation with Expion’s Erica McClenny

Smart Social SmallErica McClenny is Senior VP of Client Services at social software company Expion, and is responsible for providing strategic support and guidance for the company’s major brand clients.

For this latest installment of our Smart Social interview series, we spoke with Erica about some of the key challenges, opportunities and trends she has seen emerge through working with this diverse group of brands. The conversation includes valuable insights for any company embarking on or continuing along the path to social maturity, and concludes with a powerful and practical definition and application of the “smart social” theme.

The interview was conducted via Google Hangout.

Part One: Erica discusses working with brands in a strategic business development role and some of the specific challenges and opportunities that have emerged during that process, from creating the right operational structure for social success, to not setting yourself up for perceived failure by trying to measure against a running stage when in reality you are only crawling.

Part Two: Erica discusses social media-driven and empowered employee advocacy as a means for providing a valuable and trusted extension of brand voice, while also allowing individual employees to serve in a valuable lead generation role.

Part Three: Erica discusses key emerging trends, including the consolidation of data and analysis of cross portfolio customer insights. Also the opportunity for brands to connect through social on a local level without overtasking local employees. She also includes a word of caution about keeping focus and avoiding the temptation or pressure of jumping on every new trend –  “doing an average job of being everywhere vs. doing a great job of being in the channels that most closely align with your goals and KPIs.”

Part Four: We conclude the conversation by focussing back on the “smart social” theme and Erica shares a powerful and practical definition of what smart social means to her.

Go “Behind the Brand” and Experience Game Night at Allen Fieldhouse with Social: IRL and KU Athletics

JayhawkJoin Social: IRL on Wednesday, January 30, as we go “Behind the Brand” with KU Athletics.

This special evening is free to attend (pre-registration is required) and features a program that includes:

  • Unique insights from KU Athletics on how they use digital, mobile and social media to connect with fans and share the game day experience.
  • A walking tour of the Wagnon Student Athlete Center.
  • Experience Allen Fieldhouse and see KU Women’s Basketball take on Iowa State.
  • Reconvene during half-time for additional refreshments and Q&A opportunity with KU Athletics.

Don’t miss this special opportunity to go “Behind the Brand” with KU Athletics, learn about their digital strategy, see behind the scenes at the Wagnon Student Athlete Center, and experience game night as the Lady Jayhawks take on Iowa State.

Come straight from work – complimentary refreshments will be provided by KU Athletics. Feel free to bring the family, just make sure to register each family member.

The event is free to attend but pre-registration is required. Seating is limited to the first 80 registrants.




Important Note:  Once registrations are full, you may use the Eventbrite link to add your name to the waitlist and be notified automatically if additional spaces become available.

Eventbrite - Go "Behind the Brand" and Experience Game Night at Allen Fieldhouse with KU Athletics




5:30pm    Registration and refreshments – The Naismith Room, above the Booth Hall of Athletics (annexed to Allen Fieldhouse).

6:00pm    Behind the Brand presentation with KU Athletics.

6:45pm    Walking tour of Kansas Athletics facilities.

7:00pm    Experience game night at Allen Fieldhouse – KU Women’s Basketball take on Iowa State.

8:00pm    Reconvene during halftime for additional refreshments and Q & A opportunity.

Parking for all women’s games is free in lots 90 and 72.

(Map link:

Please enter through the Booth Hall of Athletics on the east side of Allen Fieldhouse (Naismith Statue).

A representative of Kansas Athletics will be at the gate with your ticket.

Ideas, Strategies and Tactics for Smart Social Programs

Ideas, strategies and tactics for smart social programs shared by attendees at the inaugural Spredfast Social Summit, which took place last month in Spredfast’s home town of Austin, Texas.

In this first video, you’ll hear valuable insights from event attendees including Natanya Anderson and Michael Bepko of Whole Foods, Lauran Driver of Twitter, Kristen Piquette of Discover Financial Services, and Sean Valderas of Nokia.  Ideas discussed include content strategy and publishing to delight social customers, and using social media and SMMS for community management, to provide social care to online customers, and to help brands build loyal online communities.

In this second video, Spredfast asked attendees to take a look ahead at where social business might be in five years. You’ll hear from social strategists like Tom Carusona of Aramark, Rebecca Lieb of Altimeter Group, Jodi Gersh of Gannett, Michael Brito of Edelman Digital, Chuck Hemann of WCG, and Rohit Bharghava of Ogilvy. Some of their predictions include content becoming a bigger part of brand’s social strategies, integration of social at every business and media touchpoint, hyperlocal social business efforts and the use of data to help uncover trends and better target activity..

#Expion12 Video Highlights: Racing Ahead with Social

To wrap up our series of interviews from Expion’s recent Social Business Summit, we asked a few of the summit’s attendees “how can businesses race ahead with social going in to 2013?”

In this short video we hear from 360i’s Matt Wurst , Garmin’s Jake Jacobson, and H&R Block’s Scott Gulbransen.

See our earlier posts for interviews with Matt Ridings, Amber Naslund, Jeremiah Owyang, and Jason Falls.

Contact Expion at if you would like to receive details about their next Social Business Summit, taking place in 2013.

#Expion12 Video Highlights: Jason Falls

Next in our series of interviews from Expion’s recent Social Business Summit, we chat with Social Media Explorer’s Jason Falls.

Jason raised some eyebrows when he opened the Summit by telling attendees that “Social Business” was “a BS term.” In this short video, Jason explains why.

In this second video, Jason talks about “the ultimate goal” in social business, and the “first domino” effect of great content.

We’ll be posting one final video soon, featuring H&R Block’s Scott Gulbransen, 360i’s Matt Wurst, and Garmin’s Jake Jacobson.

See our earlier posts for interviews with Matt Ridings, Amber Naslund, and Jeremiah Owyang.

Contact Expion at if you would like to receive details about their next Social Business Summit, taking place in 2013.

#Expion12 Video Highlights: Jeremiah Owyang

Next in our series of interviews from Expion’s recent Social Business Summit, Erica McClenny talks to the event’s keynote speaker, Altimeter Group’s Jeremiah Owyang.

In this short video interview, Jeremiah shares insights on social business success and offers advice for those seeking c-suite buy-in.

We’ll be posting additional videos soon, featuring Social Media Exploer’s Jason Falls, H&R Block’s Scott Gulbransen, 360i’s Matt Wurst, and Garmin’s Jake Jacobson.

See our earlier post for a two-part interview with Amber Naslund and Matt Ridings.


#Expion12 Video Highlights: Amber Naslund and Matt Ridings

Social: IRL recently participated in the inaugural Social Business Summit hosted by our friends at Expion. During the course of the event we had the opportunity to chat with a number of speakers and attendees and will be sharing a series of short video interviews.

We start with Amber Naslund and Matt Ridings, who took time out after their keynote presentation to share some additional social business insights.

In this first video, Matt and Amber discuss the importance of creating the right foundation and framework for social business.

In this second video, Matt and Amber discuss the role of the social media “Center of Excellence,” which they also describe as the “center of gravity,” at the heart of the hub and spoke model for social business.

We’ll be posting more videos soon, including interviews with Jeremiah Owyang and Jason Falls, and insights from H&R Block’s Scott Gulbransen, 360i’s Matt Wurst, and Garmin’s Jake Jacobson.

You can contact Expion at if you would like to receive details about their next Social Business Summit, taking place in 2013.

Solving the Challenge: Effective Governance in a Distributed Engagement Environment

Guest post by Peter Heffring, CEO of social software company Expion, a Social: IRL sponsor providing scalable enterprise-grade software to listen, content plan, publish, moderate, analyze, govern and share content on Facebook and other social channels. The post originally appeared in MediaPostBlogs.

The most pressing concern from marketers who manage social media for global brands is no longer about presence or participation – it’s now a mature focus on governance and collaboration. The proliferation of social media engagement through Facebook, Twitter and other widely adopted platforms presents a new frontier for global brands as well as a new set of multi-location challenges that involve cultural and communication differences in every country, city and corner of the planet.

Marketers face many obstacles when it comes to distributed engagement, from how to control what is being said and shared by page administrators across various brands, locations and countries to who is managing the process and ensuring the sharing of best practices across the globe.

As motivated marketers, we constantly strive for perfection. In a distributed engagement environment, our collective efforts toward a P.E.R.F.E.C.T. solution would significantly improve the chances of overcoming today’s social governance challenges.


A global brand that is serious about governance must start with a comprehensive social media policy that encompasses all the rules and guidelines on how to appropriately communicate as a representative of the brand. A policy is intended to be a map that shows the boundaries of communications, but also the various opportunities that social media empowers the brand with — customer interaction, direct-response, product feedback and more.

(No) Exceptions

Good governance gives different levels of publishing and administrative authority to different individuals within a social media or marketing team. All members of the team should understand their roles — and a social software solution can ensure they are properly managed with a clear management and approvals structure. If the social software can’t handle the governance requirements of a global brand, then exceptions are created and the system won’t work. The platform must be able to handle the various controls and rules for the brand; otherwise, there will be a gap in communications and the worst exception can generate a crisis.


The ability to have a real-time conversation with customers or people or see a real-time pulse of what’s happening are frequently mentioned when asking someone about the power of social media. The need for real-time governance is essential in this dynamic world of now. Real-time translation and sharing capabilities for top-performing tweets and posts across a brand’s social network will ensure best practices and maximum efficiency on a global level. Social software continues to evolve to empower marketers further with a system that distributes information, changes and alerts in real-time.


Governance must be flexible and adapt to the various job roles and responsibilities for each region, team and page. Brands today need a social software solution that can be configured based on the social media needs of their unique brand, giving them the flexibility they need to communicate — within the agreed-upon guidelines that ensure a consistent brand voice, and sharing of best practices.


Social media is more than a conversation. The interaction between a brand and a customer or fan builds a relationship and produces an experience — whether positive, negative or indifferent. Governance should integrate the ethos of a customer-centric company, always considerate of the customer experience and ensuring that the entire path of customer interaction exceeds expectation.


A centralized approach through a brand hub (and approval chain) ensures a consistent brand voice and generates the needed oversight for relevant stakeholders regardless of region. Marketers should look for a social media management platform that offers a highly efficient mechanism for centralizing social media communications and facilitating governance and collaboration for a global brand.


Marketers should receive training up front that is ongoing, as social media engagement evolves and tools and features in social media management emerge to serve the public. Training on these tools is essential, but training and guidance on how to engage people and build relationships is critical.

Governance of this distributed engagement paradigm is — and should be — a cornerstone for any marketer looking to promote or protect a brand with multiple locations, pages or products. Global brands that tackle the CORE social media challenges through the above value-set are well-positioned to meet the needs of distributed engagement – and well on their way toward a dynamic world of perfect governance.


Social Customer Service – The Next Competitive Battleground

Today’s connected and empowered consumer expects more from from companies. Customer service is no longer just about how fast a business responds to a customer, but how well.

  • 17% of customers will leave a business after  a single customer service blunder. 40% will leave after a second mistake, and 27% after a third issue. That’s some 85% of business that stands to be lost due to customer service issues.
  • 59% of customers will switch brands to get better customer service.
  • 73% of customers have spent more with a brand with a history of good customer service.

The connected consumer is a social consumer. Both good and bad experiences are shared across online networks. Customers are reaching out to businesses via social media as an increasingly preferred customer service channel.

To effectively compete, businesses need to realign their technologies and their cultures around the customer. Companies that fail to do so will not only shed marketshare, but place the survival of their business at risk.

These, and other valuable insights on the changing face of customer service, are included in this infographic recently released by Bluewolf.


Source: Bluewolf. View in full size on Bluewolf’s website.

As a social brand, we compete for the moment. As a social business, we compete for the future

To quote from a recent Brian Solis post, The Path from a Social Brand to a Social Business:

“While creating a social brand is a necessary endeavor, building a social business is an investment.”

“What’s the difference? A social brand is just that, a business that is remodeling or retrofitting its existing marketing practices to new media. A social business is something altogether different as it embraces introspection and extrospection to reevaluate internal and external processes, systems, and opportunities to transform into a living, breathing entity that adapts to market conditions and opportunities.”

To path to becoming a social business is a journey we must embrace to effectively compete for the future.

Read Brian’s original post in full here.

“The Path from a Social Brand to a Social Business,” will also be the theme for the 2012 Pivot Conference hosted by Brian Solis. We’ll be attending and would encourage you to join us. More details and a 20% registration discount here.

You can also join Brian Solis in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 6, as part of Social: IRL’s own Beyond the Keynote series.  A limited number of $50 registrations are available, and students and educators can attend for free. Learn more and register here.