Over the last few months, the ComBlu team has been immersed in an intensive research process. Our goal was to assess the current state and maturation level of brand advocacy, identify emerging trends and themes and determine where advocates impact the buyer’s decision journey.

To sum up our methodology, we leveraged social monitoring tools such as Sysomos and Group High and poured over thousands of pieces of social content on advocates. To further validate our findings, we also analyzed and compared approximately thirty-five different studies (and any other piece of data that we could get our hands on).

Select findings

  • The state of advocacy marketing is hot and trending (which we all know), but VERY NASCENT in its current form.
  • Conversation is fundamental and tactical, and the full breadth and depth of advocates is only partially understood and discussed.
  • TGFF (Thank Goodness for Facebook). Facebook continues to be a primary platform for post-purchase engagement and brands are starting to get better at utilizing it. Brands have also come to the realization that not ALL “fans” are advocates, although they could become advocates with nurturing over time. However, this is an area with its own set of issues.
  • Advocates are not yet core to the overall social business strategy. Internal integration challenges still plague many organizations.

Let’s break down what we learned at a high level.

We are in the early understanding, experimentation and planning stage.

To determine the point of maturation, we took a new approach to the social listening we conducted. We created four specific “theme” containers based on the different stages of maturity below.

1. Advocate Definition

2. Advocate Engagement

3. Advocate Identification

4. Advocacy Marketing

Realization and definition stage

Understanding and establishing the advocate mission and roles

Determining the best methods, tools and tactics to identify and segment brand advocates based on mission

Connecting the dots and leveraging advocates as a channel and business asset across the organization; able to measure and demonstrate ROI

Next, we compared content and conversation volume to see what changed from July 2011-December 2011 and January 2012–June 2012 based on those themes. We saw a huge jump in volume, but not across the board.

*Numbers are representative and not reflective of the full sample size of conversations and content

Most of the social content falls into the definition container. Overlaying the data above with our qualitative analysis, the number and nature of the discussions suggest that brand advocate “maturity” is at the definition stage (with a small step toward engagement). The good news is that we are showing signs of progress.

It goes deeper than recommendations

“Likely to recommend” was the number one trait we found when defining an advocate. It is a very important factor but it is not the only one. Data suggests that tying an advocate to a sale is provable and repeatable. We can say without a doubt that long-term social engagement (and even short-term) leads to ROI. But there is more to it than that, which is why brands sit between figuring out what an advocate is and what they will/can do for them.

The problem with Facebook

What sets an advocate apart from the masses is he/his genuine and strong passion for you. Liking and loving a brand are two very different things and they do not produce the same results. This is the inherent problem with Facebook. I don’t need an infographic telling me that I have descending levels of deepening engagement within my fan base. I already know this. What I want is to find and engage that small six to eight percent buried under the multiple layers of the occasional and casual fan.

What’s the mission, please?

The foundation of any engagement plan should be based on the mission. We found little conversation and understanding about this, what it means and why it is important. Below is an illustration originally created by my ComBlu, colleague, Kathy Baughman. It shows how business objectives map to multiple engagement missions, associated activities and the roles that a brand advocate could play.

This model shows how much broader your advocate marketing strategy could be, as well as how advocates can and should be integrated across your organization. Brands need to take a center of excellence approach and figure out how to bring various business groups together.

What’s next?

These findings are only the tip of the iceberg. And, of course, in true ComBlu fashion, this project only piqued our interest and opened up a bunch of other questions we want the answers to. We are in the process of developing phase two of our state of brand advocates research project. We want to understand how:

  • Brands view and treat their advocates and what organizations are doing to leverage them as an asset in an integrated way
  • How/if they segment advocates by behaviors and motivations
  • Validate best practices in advocate engagement along with new thinking
  • Brands are tying advocate engagement to their content marketing strategies along the decision journey
  • Brands are measuring advocates and their impact

Read more: Gartner Report – What’s Next In Advocacy Marketing?