Any brand desires authentic, organically driven advocacy. Word of mouth has always been the most effective form of advertising. With the advent of social media and the easier access to each consumer’s social graph that comes with it, brands are clamoring for fans on the big social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google +, and Tumblr.

Brand managers and community managers are always thinking about ways to turn those fans into outspoken advocates that will evangelize the company’s products. While it’s prerequisite to offer a great product or service before that level of brand advocacy can happen, many companies may be wondering how to legitimately affect the tipping point. In other words, what can be done to nudge a satisfied customer into a voracious brand ambassador?

Assuming you have a great product, and you’ve got an online community to support it, it’s possible to increase brand advocacy by fostering higher levels of participation on your site, otherwise known as clicking buttons and links. By getting a user to deepen their level of engagement on the site, their perceived value of the community (and the product or service) will rise. And as the perceived value rises, that will precipitate higher levels of brand advocacy.

You’ve heard the saying “If you build it they will come”. We’ve also heard that this is simply not true. The built site is simply the skeleton. It needs the living breathing flesh of real people engaging with one another to provide any real value. We as brand and community managers have been inculcated by the many stories of failed communities. So once the community platform is in place, we first focus on marketing – getting the right people on the bus.

Many begin by generating awareness of the community site, and then getting these new visitors to turn into new members. Goal achieved! The assumption is we’ve got them, hook, line, and sinker. But the reality is the hard work is just ahead. Consider these new members lost at sea. It’s absolutely critical to ensure those new users feel comfortable and safe with their new surrounding. This is your opportunity to gently usher them in. Educate them about the community and its tools. Show them the good content.

But, and here’s the key, make sure they know how to do the little things. I call these the gateway drugs of engagement: those little actions like rating a page, flagging a resource, following groups, or sharing articles with others. These little things don’t give you any new content, but they build user-confidence. And as that confidence builds, so do their actions. This eventually leads them into deeper, more engaging actions like contributing content, editing pages, and socializing the content across their external social graphs.

During my 2012 marketing plan efforts, my compadres and I developed this concise graphic that illustrates the relationship between types of site actions and brand advocacy.