Personal connectivity through social sites and mobile devices has exploded on a scale that was simply unfathomable less than 10 years ago.
Now, the ability to connect with one another in an instant as part of a massive global community supersedes geographic boundaries. However, in order to thrive in this new environment, companies must harness the inherent power of social connections to drive sales.
Businesses of every size have always had some sort of “brand advocates,” a collection of customers, employees, partners and others that know about or are interested in the brand. Within any such group, there are multiple levels of brand knowledge or engagement, from repeat buyers and brand advocates to prospects who have just discovered the brand. The key for any company is to find ways to encourage everyone in this group—regardless of their level of intimacy with the brand—to tell others about the brand, thereby building a rich marketing channel.
With the advent of social sharing, there has been a fundamental shift in the way people make buying decisions. Consumers have become more distrustful of traditional advertising and, instead, rely heavily on the recommendations of friends or other consumers. For example, Amazon.com shoppers often thoroughly read buyer reviews before making a purchase and frequently ignore product offerings that hold consistently low ratings.
In fact, nearly all purchase decisions today are influenced in some way by a brand advocate, which is why it’s critically important that brands identify and cultivate social relationships with current and prospective buyers. Savvy brands must take proactive steps to not only encourage more activity from brand advocates, but also to track and manage that activity for optimal results. This group of advocates should be treated like a tangible corporate asset, one that must be handled with care and nurtured to encourage organic growth. And, brands must provide appropriate tools that make it easy for advocates to share products and services through social and mobile means.
Moving forward, customer acquisition success will rely heavily on how a brand is able to manage its advocates; it won’t come from heaping money on traditional advertising. These social channels also need to be properly “mobilized” by encouraging mobile-based sharing and promotions.
Once these brand advocates are lined up and given the right tools, companies must spur them to action. Here are three simply ways to help mobilize brand evangelists:
- Classic refer-a-friend promotions in which an advocate actively suggests the brand to others in his or her social circle. In some cases, the brand may offer a financial or material reward, which may be tied to a specific call to action, such as generating a signup or direct purchase.
- Encourage brand advocates to create content, such as a review or testimonial. Those who do this can become powerful allies in wooing the majority of prospective online purchasers searching for reviews before making a decision. The way brands talk to their advocates can influence the tone of their reviews, which has an immediate impact on sales.
- Motivate brand influencers to share your message with their own social network. If you are having mixed results using traditional targeted advertising, consider rewarding your advocates for doing the work for you by sending out promotions to extremely targeted consumers.
How do brands encourage these actions among their customers who advocate? Their products or services must be first-rate, but they also need to make social outreach simple and relevant. Even the most devoted brand advocates will be hesitant to recommend products if the sharing process is difficult or takes too much time. In the mobile age, all consumers expect to have results quickly, and the process of sharing is no different.
What types of tools should brands introduce to encourage social-based advocacy? Rewards, contests and other incentives are suitable activities because they are transparent, an effective way to demonstrate that the brand values its customer base, and, they’re trackable, which ultimately aids in gauging results. To support these efforts, companies should also ensure that customer service/support is able to handle queries sent through social or text channels, which shows advocates the brand is catering to their personal needs.
Moving forward, the most successful brands will embrace social brand advocacy as a distinct marketing channel that will drive a greater percentage of revenue down the road.