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

Help, Not Hype: Jay Baer Keynote at Expion’s Social Business Summit

Expion Summit 2013Expion’s third Social Business Summit took place last week in Raleigh NC, bringing together an impressive group of brands and agencies for a discussion focused around the challenges and opportunities in managing social media programs.

Opening day two of the Summit was Convince & Convert  founder and New York Times best selling author Jay Baer, who delivered a powerful message on the value of smart marketing based on “help not hype”  – the theme of his new book YOUtility.

We’re sharing below a Storify recap of attendee tweets, edited to highlight key audience perspectives and takeaways from Jay’s presentation. Many valuable insights are included.

For additional recaps of all key Summit sessions, you can visit Expion’s blog.

Social Media for Nonprofits: Highlight Video from Jefferson City, Next Stop St. Louis

Thanks to our friends at The Rocket Group for producing this highlight video from our recent nonprofits workshop in Jefferson City, MO.  Our next workshop is coming up in St. Louis MO, on January 22.  There are still a few seats available, and as always the event is offered free of charge for nonprofit attendees.  Including the St. Louis event, over 700 nonprofit attendees will have participated in the workshops. A special thank you to our speakers and sponsors who help make it possible to continue offering the workshops as a free service for the nonprofit community.

Next workshop: St Louis MO, January 22.  Learn More


SMCKC Hangout with Brian Solis

More than 150 people attended the Social Media Club of Kansas City’s January breakfast, featuring a special conversation with Altimeter Group analyst and Engage! and The End of Business as Usual author, Brian Solis. Hosted at Google Fiber Space in Kansas City, the conversation took place via a specially orchestrated Hangout, with Brian being interviewed by Social: IRL principal, Ben Smith.

The Hangout was recorded by Google and will be available soon on YouTube.  In the meantime, here’s a Storify recap of attendee tweets from the event, sharing many of Brian’s key insights.

We also offer our congratulations to Social Media Club of Kansas City who, at the start of the morning’s agenda, were announced as inaugural recipient of the new “Outstanding Chapter” award presented by the national Social Media Club in recognition of outstanding efforts in representing Social Media Club goals and values through promoting digital advocacy and serving the local community.

“From Social Brand to Social Business” – Pivot Sessions Now Available Online

Over two days in October, 500 of the top media minds in the business came together in New York City, for Pivot Conference 2012.  With the theme “From Social Brand to Social Business,” attendees explored the blueprint for a social construct to transform business, earn a significant competitive advantage, and improve customer relationships.

Curated by Brian Solis, the conference agenda featured thought leaders and innovators representing a diverse lineup of major brands, startups, agencies, media organizations, the entertainment industry, social technology companies, and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Attendees were privy to many valuable insights and perspectives,  leaving not just inspired but empowered to serve as catalysts for social business transformation.

These same insights are now available online after Pivot recently released videos of all conference sessions, a  few of which are highlighted below.

All sessions are available through the Video Library on the Pivot Conference website, and serve as a valuable resource for those seeking to define and implement new models for social business success.


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..

Taking It Offline – A Recap of Recent Social: IRL Events, Plus Two Events To Attend This Week

It’s been a busy few months for Social: IRL. In addition to our regular client work and speaking engagements, we’ve been privileged to host and attend some great events.

Thanks to the support of our sponsors and speakers, who enable us to offer the event at no charge to attendees, we were able to continue our social media for nonprofits workshop series with additional events in Springfield and Kansas City. Since we started this workshop series back in May, over 450 nonprofit attendees have participated.  We just announced the next workshop for Jefferson City MO, on December 4, and are working to announce a final 2012 event date in St. Louis MO.

Becky McCray speaking in Lawrence KS

We also enjoyed hosting our good friend Becky McCray here in Lawrence KS, for Small Business Survival and the State of Now.  We’re looking forward to seeing Becky again later this week at the State of Now conference in Hutchinson KS.  If you aren’t familiar with the State of Now, formerly known as the 140 Conference, you can learn more from our interview with Becky and conference organizer and co-host Jeff Pulver.

In addition to our own events, we participated in some pretty amazing events hosted by Social: IRL sponsors and friends, including the Expion Social Business Summit in Raleigh NC, the Spredfast Social Summit in Austin TX, and Brian Solis’ Pivot Conference in New York City. Thank you to the event hosts, speakers and sponsors for the many incredible insights and valuable learning experiences.

This week we’ll be attending two local events  and would strongly encourage you to join us. In both instances the event organizers have given us discount codes to share, making registration a truly affordable and valuable investment.

The State of Now, Hutchinson KS, November 8: Expect to hear from dozens of great speakers from across the U.S. sharing stories of the personal and professional impact of social media and how the “state of now” is disrupting business, education, agriculture, media, celebrity, music, politics, public safety, and our culture. Presentations are all 10 or 15 minutes long, and PowerPoint is not allowed. Much like a Twitter message, speakers have to get to the point. It’s less of a “how-to” conference,  more of an idea conference.  Use promotion code friendofST12 and registration is just $40. Visit the event website to learn more and register.

Compute Midwest, Kansas City MO, November 9:  Learn about what’s next in technology – straight from eight tech leaders from companies like Google, Box, Github, Joyent, Dwolla, AgLocal and more. Hear the inspiring stories of these innovators who are building companies that change our life, our work & our business. Gain insight into their vision for the future, learn where technology is going and discover how Kansas City can capitalize on Google Fiber. Discount code SOCIALIRL for limited time 30% off regular conference ticket price. Discounted tickets are also available for startups, entrepreneurs, nonprofits & students.  Visit the event website to learn more and to register.

We spend a great deal of time online – learning, doing business, creating valuable networks and connections, and enhancing existing relationships.  But the value of these offline networking and learning opportunities can not be emphasized enough.  It’s part of our own business philosophy and even, of course, the IRL (In Real Life) in our business name.

#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: 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.

Social Media for Non-Profits

Last week, Social: IRL hosted our second non-profits workshop at the Kansas Humane Society in Wichita, KS.

The event saw 65 non-profit attendees from across Kansas and Missouri come together for a day of shared learning focused on the potential of social media as a powerful integrated marketing, communications, and relationships platform, and a tool to drive positive action from supporters.

Social: IRL would like to thank our sponsors who made it possible for non-profit organizations to participate in the workshop free of charge. Thank you Cox Communications of Kansas, Delta Dental of Kansas, Colab Digital, UMB,  Shay Chic Events and Design, Northstar Comfort Servicers, and The Arnold Group.

We would also like to thank the speakers who helped create a valuable learning experience for our attendees, and left them both inspired and empowered. To quote attendee Marcia Mater with Oral Health Kansas, “Thank you for an exceptional learning experience.  My academic and professional experience is in communications… public awareness, organizational design and education.  I came into the seminar knowing the elements and concepts of social media.  What the speakers helped me realize is the interaction of the various elements to create a new approach to designing a communication system.

The day’s agenda featured Eric Melin with Sprial16, Ben Smith with Social: IRL, Maria Loving with Via Christi Health, Katie Grover with Fidelity Bank, Jessica Best with emfluence, JD Patton with Armstrong Chamberlin, and Jennifer Campbell with Kansas Humane Society.

Finally, a very special thank you to our hosts, the Kansas Humane Society, who graciously provided their facility for two non-profit workshops and more than 150 non-profit attendees.  We are inspired by the hard work and dedication consistently displayed by the staff and volunteers at the Kansas Humane Society and thank them for the service they provide to the Wichita community.

Our next non-profits workshop will take place in Springfield, Missouri, on August 23and will again be free for non-profit attendees.

“Behind the Brand” with KU Athletics

Last night, Social: IRL joined KU Athletics at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, for our latest “Behind the Brand” event.

Attendees learned how KU Athletics use the web, mobile, and social media to engage with fans. We heard about both challenges faced and opportunities discovered, and learned some of “what’s next” as KU continue to evolve their online and mobile strategies.  We also addressed issues such as pros and cons of student athletes being engaged in social media, the reality of Tweets becoming news stories, and social media implications of NCAA regulations. Attendees then enjoyed a special behind the scenes tour of Allen Fieldhouse and the Wagon Student Athlete Center, not just seeing parts of the complex many attendees had never had access to before, but discovering fun and interesting facts about the Jayhawks along the way.

Thank you KU Athletics, web designer Kevin McCarty, and interactive media manager Annie Werner for making the event possible and for being such gracious hosts. Special thanks to Kevin McCarty for the great presentation and for leading the tour – your passion for communicating the history and tradition of KU Athletics was abundantly clear.

Here’s a Storify recap of the event, made up of attendee tweets and photos.  Click to view.