It is a new age for the consumer. With the ability to post online via social networks, review sites, or blogs, consumers are taking over control of brand reputations. But, there is a way to regain control of your marketing capabilities and get ahead of this; identifying and developing a customer advocacy strategy.
A passionate customer-turned-brand advocate could become your number one marketing asset. There are the people who will happily recommend your company to friends and colleagues and do much of the marketing legwork for you, you just need to find them.
3 Steps to Build a Community of Brand Advocates
For software companies, brand advocacy is super important. Unlike their B2C cousins, B2B customers rarely make snap purchase decisions or act on impulse. They’re looking for mission-critical solutions that their own businesses will come to rely on every day.
That’s why trust is everything. There’s minimal room for error, and if your reputation is anything but perfect, you’ll have difficulty building credibility with your prospects. To achieve an outstanding reputation, you need a community of brand advocates – or more accurately in the case of technology or software – developer advocates and technology evangelists.
These advocates are typically highly satisfied customers that will promote your brand without any incentive to do so.
An advocate acts as a brand multiplier, boosting customer lifetime value as they refer an average of four customers each.
#1 – Define Your Goals and Target Customer
Online communities serve a variety of purposes, including self-serve customer and technical support, a space for testing and feedback, or even as a digital water cooler where your customers get together to discuss their common interest.
The best B2B communities provide all of these features. They go far beyond the limited functionality of a peer-to-peer knowledge base to become thriving virtual hangouts that help foster lasting relationships between your brand and its customers.
These days, relationships are everything for the B2B technology sector – particularly given its recent shift towards subscription models. From a customer’s perspective, it’s no longer about making a purchase and being done with it; it’s about being a part of something. That’s why you must stop thinking of your company as a vendor, and think of it instead as a technology partner – one which builds loyalty with trust and ongoing support.
The goal of any successful community strategy is to build stronger relationships with your customers. You’ll want to break down this broader goal to ensure that your efforts align with your corporate objectives. This will help you find the optimal approach for engaging your advocates instead of wandering blindly into the process.
For example, if your primary corporate objective is to increase your customer base, then your primary advocacy goal maybe to improve the quality of referrals.
Or, your current business goal may be to improve your product, in which case you’ll want to empower your customers by giving them the opportunity to provide feedback and perhaps even gain exclusive access to products that are under development.
There are many types of brand advocate you could be looking for - make sure you clearly define yours before you go any further.
#2 Get to Know Your Customer
With a thorough understanding of your goals and the purpose of your community, you’ll have what it takes to maintain focus. As a tech company provider, chances are your target audience consists of influential business decision makers. They’re busy professionals who like to keep organized and maintain a rigid focus on the task at hand.
They’ll look to your community for solutions to their problems and advice from other customers (and your employees) on how to get more out of their purchases. In fact, 72% of customers prefer to use self-service support than working directly with the support team.
The above represents something of a baseline; a general rule to use as a foundation for building the right community structure and using a tone that’s suitable for your target audience. An owned community is one of the most effective ways to get to know your customers better. Provided you’re closely and consistently involved in community-building efforts, it will continuously improve – and that means your brand advocates can grow exponentially in number.
#3 Establish the House Rules and Policies
Laying down a few house rules is essential in any community, particularly when trust and professionalism are so important. This is certainly the case with B2B technology groups.
It’s often assumed that trolls and other online troublemakers belong to the realm of video gaming and consumer-oriented markets, but that’s not the case. There’s also the problem of spam, which tirelessly permeates every online community. You need to have tools and policies in place from the outset to ensure your forums don’t end up attracting the wrong types. An abandoned community, where the rules are no longer enforced, will fast become a liability that will detract significantly from your reputation.
Successful B2B tech communities are places of constructive and professional conversation. For example, instead of spending their working hours trying to solve trivial IT problems that are not part of their job descriptions, employees may turn to your community forum for an immediate solution. If, however, they’re faced with page after page of junk posts and unrelated content, they’ll quickly turn elsewhere. In an industry where your clients are counting on you for prompt and effective support, there’s simply no space for junk content or bad behavior.
If you’re looking for ways to combat spam in your forum, check out these spam-busters!
Aside from the obvious rules that govern any healthy online community, you’ll also want to make it clear that people should keep the forums focused and relevant. Your goal is to encourage members to post constructive and relevant content in the right threads and forums. Gating your community, or at least parts of it, helps create a sense of exclusivity while encouraging higher quality and more relevant content.
For example, you may have private forums for users of a specific product or service tier. Most online communities also have a more general forum – a virtual ‘water cooler’ – where members chat about other subjects that aren’t immediately related to their work or the products and services they use. Unsurprisingly, these forums tend to be the ones that attract less desirable behavior.
For the most part, establishing house rules and policies is a matter of common sense. The bigger challenge is articulating your guidelines in a suitable manner that everyone will understand and feel obliged to follow. Remember, you’re dealing with an audience that consists of professionals, not children. As such, you want to avoid coming across as patronizing. Add a human element as much as possible and use the opportunity to introduce your community managers, moderators and coordinators.
And remember, although you’re targeting a professional audience, that doesn’t mean you need to descend into legal jargon presented in a vast wall of text. Keep the human connection strong.
Don’t forget that your house rules and guidelines exist not just to tell people what to do, but to explain the purpose of your community and provide useful guidelines on how to participate.
Remember, advocacy isn’t just between you and your customers. It’s an opportunity for your customers to get to know one another and share challenges, insights and solutions in pursuit of a common goal.
You’ll multiply your advocate marketing results through an online community. In time, the strength of these relationships will itself become a reason for customers to remain loyal to your brand – and advocate for it.