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The Three Essential Elements to Engage Your Brand’s Top Advocates

4 minute read

June 21, 2022

Your brand’s top advocates provide outsized value to your organization. They often refer new customers, remain loyal, and educate others about the best ways to use your products and services. 

The value of brand advocates is clear. What’s less clear is how to consistently engage your advocates over time and how to grow the number of advocates among your customers. 

Contrary to popular belief, it is not enough to use advocacy software to give people prizes in exchange for work done. This merely creates a transactional relationship between advocates and your brand that is both unsustainable and ineffective. 

Rather than going down this transactional path, there are three essential elements to consider as you design community advocacy programs. 

 

Building Capacity 

Supporting top customers while they build capacity as advocates is a critical and often overlooked element. In a recent client project, we discovered that a large portion of our client’s advocate base did not know how to share their stories. They wanted to share them, but they felt they didn’t have the tools and training. We are not born knowing how to advocate effectively. If you bring on a lot of advocates but none understand how to best utilize the tools given to them, they are likely to do nothing.

This is why education is a critical component of any advocacy program—this also goes for any influencer, VIP, or MVP program. Education can look like many things: speaker training, workshops or webinars on great storytelling, social media training, mentorship, or pairing up veteran advocates with newcomers. 

Once advocates have the capacity to do the work, you can set them on their path with confidence. Until then, they are likely to either do nothing or, in some cases, “go rogue” and surprise you—and not in a good way. 

Amazon AWS’s community builders program is a solid example when it comes to supporting the growth of advocates. VIP members get access to “learning from AWS subject matter experts on a variety of non-technical topics, including content creation and support for submitting CFPs and securing speaking engagements”. 

Please know that advocates are likely to burn out if they are continually being asked to represent the brand. Therefore, it is important to spread out your asks among your advocate base. But you can only do this if more of your advocates are prepared to answer the call. 

 

Designing for Turnover 

Expecting every one of your advocates to be successful is a recipe for disappointment. It’s important to understand that some people sign up for advocacy programs to achieve legitimacy (especially application-only programs) or simply out of curiosity (especially for programs that have no barrier to entry). Even if you’ve done an impeccable job of vetting potential advocates, some are bound to discover that it is not the right role for them. 

This becomes a major problem if your advocacy program is based around locations (e.g., region-based chapters with presidents) or specific organizations (such as the advocate for your software inside of a school or company). Why? Because if there is an existing advocate in that location or organization who is not setting a good example or who is occupying a leadership position but not taking action, it will mean that others cannot step in to take their place. This will inhibit growth and even discourage others from participating. 

This is why programs like Amazon’s AWS Heroes and Salesforce MVPs have set timeframes. If they love their time as an advocate, they can apply again. If not, there are no hard feelings. 

Before launching your advocacy strategy, take into account how you will either install term limits or communicate and enforce criteria for continued involvement. Prepare for turnover ahead of time. It is inevitable. 

 

Meaningful Recognition 

Most advocacy programs contain some element of recognition. In fact, becoming an advocate is often seen as recognition in itself. However, it is critical to design meaningful recognition into your program beyond the initial acceptance. 

Meaningful recognition is any kind of acknowledgment of good work that aligns with how a community member wants to be seen. For example, it could be recognition of the progress they have been intentionally working toward or the impact you know they want to have. 

After interviewing hundreds of community leaders across cultures, my team has discovered that most community leaders will say that they do not need recognition. In fact, they are often embarrassed to even answer the question, “What more could we do to recognize your efforts?” They will often reply, “I don’t do this for the recognition.” 

While recognition should not be advocates’ primary motivation for participation, it is a critical component of any community program; it is the manifestation of “seeing and hearing” people who lead. Being seen and being heard are fundamental human needs. 

So ask yourself: how can I acknowledge my advocates’ progress and impact at regular intervals? How can I do so in a way that resonates with the progress they want to make or the impact they want to have? Bake the answers to these questions into the design of the program. 

By taking these three elements into consideration, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. You will also see happier advocates who are less likely to burn out and much more likely to create the win-win dynamic that you want to see.

 

Learn more about community and advocacy, and benchmark your program in our free eBook: The Advocacy Maturity Model. Download it here!

Email_Customer Advocacy Maturity Model

 

Community Marketing

Carrie Melissa Jones

Written by Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones is a community leader, entrepreneur, and community management consultant who has been involved with online community leadership since the early 2000s. As the founder of Gather Community Consulting, she consults with brands to build and optimize communities around the world.

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