Natural thought leaders are perhaps the most powerful force shaping opinion within any community. They inform and inspire others because these unofficial emissaries are respected and trusted by their peers. How does a company identify such supporters? As Deirdre Walsh, Senior Social Media Manager at Jive Software, points out, “It is the job of the community manager to identify effective volunteer advocates. Without these foot soldiers, the community will not take flight.”
I’ve found that finding those with the innate abilities to become brand advocates is not enough. As Internal Community Managers, it is important that we empower them with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be successful influencers. Although there are no hard and fast rules for helping sculpt an effective advocate, I’ve found that these steps are effective at helping the natural advocates reach their fullest potential:
- Educate them on the mission. Make sure that advocates know the why and how. Why are we implementing a social intranet? Advocates need to know the specifics of why and what is being improved. How is this social intranet going to help the company improve collaboration and efficiency? Advocates also need to understand how the social intranet is improving the way work gets done. This level of understanding i s important not only for their understanding of the changes but because they need to be able to explain why it is important to their peers.
- Provide them early access. It is essential that we provide our advocates early access (or at a minimum, advance notice) to new product features and other relevant news. Encourage advocates to be early adopters so they can be the first to post in groups, create groups, use new features, you name it. By posting content first within the community, they earn the respect of their peers. It also lays the groundwork for productive and active conversations within groups.
- Prepare answers to the tough questions. There will inevitably be some naysayers and our advocates are our first line of defense. Preparing our advocates with answers to potential concerns or questions that arise can be done verbally or in written form. I recommend you write out the potential concerns and answers in the form of a cheat sheet. Be sure to ask for and include input from advocates. A great place to store this document is in an advocates group. Don’t have an advocates group? Create one (that’s the next step).
- Connect them. This is best done in the community. Create a secret or private space just for advocates. This is helpful for several reasons: (1) it is an opportunity to show our advocates how the groups can be used; (2) it makes our advocates feel special; and (3) it provides a safe space to brainstorm ways to encourage other employees to participate.
- Brainstorm together. Work with advocates to determine specific ways that their department can use the technology. As Internal Community Managers, we are not part of every department in the company. So, it can be difficult to understand the needs of the various departments. Working with advocates from the different areas will provide a deeper level of insight and make developing success stories that much easier.
- Communicate early and often. Advocates only stay advocates if they are effective. Thus, it is critical to have regular conversations with our advocates, providing them a place to voice concerns and helping them overcome the obstacles they encounter.
- Recognize their effort. As adoption numbers begin to rise, we cannot forget to acknowledge the work of our advocates. We are in the unique position to recognize the achievements of our advocates within the community. Be quick to share credit for community achievements.
These steps are not just applicable to company-wide initiatives. These tactics can be used on a smaller scale as well – like Jive for Teams. As we work to build our community (of any size), keep in mind that it is just that – a community.
To the community managers, what other strategies have you found effective for empowering your natural advocates?