Brand enthusiasts are a powerful marketing resource—but you need the right systems and processes in place to truly harness brand advocacy.
Just how effective can advocates be in driving sales? Referrals from existing customers are beauty brand L’Oreal’s No.1 purchase driver, analyst firm Forrester says (Executive Q&A: Make The Most Of Your Loyal Advocates, June 2017).
Enthusiast customers add value in multiple ways. They’re more loyal and churn at lower rates than non-enthusiast customers. They typically spend more—up to 5 times as much, by some estimates—and buy higher-value items. CVS generates 75% of its margins from just 30% of its customers.
And when brand enthusiasts provide word-of-mouth recommendations to others, their impact can really scale. WOM is the primary factor behind 20% to 50% of all purchasing decisions, McKinsey research shows.
So how exactly can you identify and leverage your brand advocates for higher loyalty, better marketing, and more sales? We recommend the following four steps:
1. Look for key behaviors
Within inSided communities, so-called “super users” are those who are most likely to be brand advocates. Super users are ordinary customers who go above and beyond as community contributors—providing advice, writing how-tos, and adding to conversations.
Identifying super users on your community is a great way to build a network of brand enthusiasts. The challenge is to dive into your community data and actually determine who qualifies.
Certain behaviors are characteristic of super users. Tone of voice is one key identifier: A person who appears willing to help others out is a likely candidate.
Having a constructive attitude is important, as well. Criticism is fine—it’s part of honest interaction—but the criticism should be useful and grounded in real experience.
Most important of all is activity level. Those on your community who are most active are likeliest to be super users (and brand enthusiasts). Scrutinize your community analytics to see who is participating in, or starting, the most discussions. These people are going to be integral to the success of your community, and highly valuable for brand advocacy.
2. Engage in authentic conversations
What’s great about cultivating a super user program is that they’re so eager to help a community become successful that they’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting. At T-Mobile in the Netherlands, just 25 customer experts answer over half the questions that community members post.
Getting to that point requires not just surfacing your super users but encouraging their participation through active engagement. Especially when a community is young, moderators and community managers have a critical role to play in laying the groundwork for productive conversations.
That means both starting new topics and ensuring that existing conversations don’t “flame out”. In general, it’s best to let community members answer each other’s questions—but it’s also smart to have an “SLA” under which all questions receive an answer within a predetermined time frame. inSided customer Simyo, for example, ensures that community questions are answered within 48 hours.
At the same time, it’s essential to refrain from being too heavy-handed in the running of a community. Do have clear rules and guidelines to maintain civility—but don’t reflexively delete posts that are critical or highlight a negative brand experience.
After all, authentic peer-to-peer interaction is why communities work for both support and brand advocacy (what we call conversational service and conversational commerce). Striving to preserve authenticity ensures that your customers trust the community as a venue for real advice, both before and after making a purchase.
3. Incentivize participation with awards and recognition
Beyond seeding conversations and following up when appropriate, community managers should consider how they can drive engagement on a continued basis. A gamification system is the perfect solution.
Gamification, by awarding ranks and badges for certain behaviors, encourages deeper participation in a community. It’s also largely automated, with little ongoing effort required of community admins.
Adding gamification to your community greatly enhances brand advocacy. For example, you can incite more conversations about your brand by awarding badges to users who create a new topic. Another good step: trigger a reward for posting the correct answer to another user’s question. This boosts knowledge sharing, while also giving community members more confidence in the quality of the advice they receive.
4. Maintain engagement with special programs
At T-Mobile NL, community super users talk to each other regularly on Facebook, in WhatsApp groups, and on their own dedicated community forum. T-Mobile, for its part, invites them to its headquarters every quarter to connect with their super users in person.
Why does the company go to such great lengths to engage and retain its super users? The answer is that T-Mobile’s customer experts answer the majority of community questions and generate 20% of the community’s overall content. They are also valuable brand ambassadors whose enthusiasm helps attract new customers.
T-Mobile is an outlier in terms of building and maintaining a network of advocates. Still, the company’s efforts illustrate best practices for generating more advocacy and higher engagement. And like T-Mobile, you can harness a community to identify, recruit, and engage brand advocates for better marketing.