How to turn your customers into digital brand advocates
Word of mouth still counts in the digital age - and with voices spreading further than ever before, it can make a huge difference.
9 September 2016
There's no such thing as free advertising. Twitter, for example, is free to use to promote your services, but it still takes time (and time, of course, is money) to build a following, craft your tweets, and engage with your customers to keep them coming back and to get them talking about you.
Engagement in particular is an essential part of just about every aspect of digital marketing; it's not enough to just provide a service and let the people come to you. You have to actively reach out to present your service, convince potential customers that it solves their problems and fulfils their needs, and go the extra mile to ensure they felt valued during their interaction with you so they'll come back for more.
Encouraging them to then tell others about how great you are is even trickier, particularly in the B2B sector. You might think it'd be quite easy, with people tweeting about what they do every second of the day, and company profiles with social media plans to fill, but both people and companies alike generally tweet about themselves, and only tweet about businesses when an association with a brand helps them curate their identity in some way.
Think about it. People will gladly tweet about, say, their fresh New Balance shoes, or a cause they want to be seen to care about, or a piece of content they think will be useful to others, making them look nice and helpful – they're less likely to tweet about how much they love their accountant, or the chap who replaced their boiler, or the company who they booked a holiday through. They might tweet about money, or being warm, or being excited about taking a break – but that all important brand mention can often go missing. The same is true for the B2B sector – the everyday services rarely get a look in compared to flashier brand partnerships or references to big industry thought leaders.
And, to be fair, why should they mention you? You've provided a service, they've provided you with money, and as far as everyone's concerned, you're all square. If you're going to delight your customers to the point that they become brand advocates, and they're rushing out to tell everyone about you, you'll need to do a little something extra.
If you're doing enough top quality inbound marketing activity on your own, you shouldn't need anyone else's voices adding to the noise, right? Well, not quite – people are more likely to trust the opinions of other people, which is why reviews from advocates on Trustpilot or Tripadvisor carry so much weight.
Shares, reblogs and retweets of your content is a good thing, but it's not necessarily what we'd define as brand advocacy. True brand advocates create their own original content around your brand whether it's a simple personalised tweet, a review on a listing site, a long and gushing blog post, or even a conversation in the street (although the latter is a bit harder to measure in your monthly reporting).
Research into advocacy programs from dunnhumby, the world's leading customer science specialists, found that companies see an average sales lift of 6.7% for each advocacy program they run, while an advocacy study by Deloitte found that one in three people come to a brand through a recommendation, and that customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate. So the benefits are pretty obvious.
Giving your customers something to shout about
But how do you do it? Brand advocacy programs are not to be entered into lightly – people are getting increasingly wise to fake brand interactions and wackaging, so doing a lazy job of it could actually harm your brand. You'll need to take time to build up relationships and create advocates.
Engage with people
This is the easy part – when people follow you on Twitter, follow them back. Throw out likes, retweets and shares to your followers whether they're posting about your brand or not – it all comes down to maintaining a familiar and approachable presence in their social media apps.
If people do mention you in a positive light, thank them – say hello, tag them on your page, send them freebies, discount codes or rewards – give them some personal treatment.
Engage with the right people
As we mentioned above, there's a difference between those who just follow, those who give you the occasional like or retweet, and those who actively talk about you. Don't neglect the more passive users, as it may not take much to encourage them to engage with you a little bit more, but ensure you focus the bulk of your attention on those who are already more open to advocating for your brand.
Once you've identified the right people to engage with, do your research – explore the other company social media accounts they follow to see how they do things, look at the thing they're tweeting about to tailor content more towards their interests. Care about the things they care about, and you're on your way to encouraging them to care about you too.
Lifestyle and identity curation
Back to the New Balance point from before – people's reasons for sharing are often somewhat selfishly motivated, with the things we share helping us curate our identity online. In the B2B sector, this is doubly true – companies are incredibly aware of how they're perceived online. Simply put, people share things that make them look or feel good.
People don't share your content with others to help you – they share things with others because they like to show off about the stuff they care about and to feel valuable, like they're enriching the lives of others with the things they chose to share.
This is a big part of why companies engage in sponsorship and endorsement deals with music and sporting events or celebrities – but it's still possible to appeal to a lifestyle without a multi-million pound deal, simply by sharing content and joining the conversation around certain events, whether this is through simple social media micro-content or larger rich media creative pieces.
Turning it around
One risk of people talking about your business online is that people do so love to complain, and you may well find negative comments popping up among all of your positive mentions. But don't fret! This can be an opportunity to create brand advocates by showing any unhappy customers some TLC.
Research has found that if you contact customers who have left you a negative review through social media to help resolve their problem or address their complaint, 34% will delete their negative review, 33% will be so impressed that they'll replace it with a positive review, and 18% will go on to be loyal customers in the future.
Employees as advocates
Advocacy starts at home – if you can't get your employees on board, then what hope do you have for your customers?
We're not saying you should mandate all of your staff to tweet about you once a week or something, because that would be strangely authoritarian. But if you treat your staff well, it'll have all sorts of benefits beyond just having a happy, productive workforce.
In the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, the latest version of an annual study that investigates trust in business, government, NGOs and the media, it was found that treating employees well was the second biggest factor in people trusting business leaders, behind taking "responsible actions to address an issue or crisis" – again highlighting the importance of reaching out to customers who've had a negative experience!
So if you're seen to treat your employees well, customers will trust you more – people like to know that their products and services are provided by people who are well cared for. And if you treat your employees well, they'll be more likely to sing your praises on their social media channels. This could be something as simple and Instagram ready as free pizza and beer on a Friday afternoon, to more formal workplace benefits.
Brand advocates vs brand ambassadors
There are other ways to get people talking about you, and one is to work with brand ambassadors. An advocate is someone who loves your product or service enough to spread the word after paying for it, while an ambassador is someone who talks about your product or service because you've asked them to by sweetening the deal with some free samples.
Bloggers are fantastic brand ambassadors for businesses of all sizes – they have built-in readerships on their blogs, and often have sizeable social followings too. When you give a blogger a sample of something, whether it's a free meal in your restaurant, or a free tester of your cosmetics – whatever you have to offer – and they write a post about it, then that's called sponsored content.
The upside is that bloggers are often seen as trusted tastemakers by their readers, and a good review can go a long way to promoting you to a new audience – with the added bonus of some inbound linking. The downside is that it's less organic than encouraging brand advocates, and people may take sponsored recommendations with a pinch of salt, so to speak.
If you're interested in working with bloggers as brand ambassadors, you could look at some directories like Bloglovin to see if you can find any that are a good fit for you. There are plenty of industry blogs out there perfect for B2B businesses to work with too.
If you'd like more advice on the best ways to engage with your customers, whether through social media or through larger digital marketing campaigns, get in touch with us and we'll be happy to see how we can help!