Advocate marketing is the practice of encouraging customers to promote your brand among prospects. Advocates can write positive reviews or answer product questions on forums and recommend you to connections on social media. Prospects appreciate first hand accounts and social recommendations.
Recently, companies have been testing advocate marketing software that helps companies manage its advocates. Instead of being opportunistic or spontaneous, the software directs advocates to perform specific tasks. For doing so they can be rewarded with recognition or with more material rewards.
I see a risk in brands getting too aggressive and trying to manufacture advocates, crossing a line where customers are essentially being paid to recommend products without disclosure. In the past, we’ve seen many examples of consumer backlash against undercover marketing tactics that were deceitful. The FTC has issued guidelines around disclosures and the EU has even passed a law: The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.
True customer advocates do so because they are grateful, because there is a self-interest in having others use your product or because recognition as an expert creates career opportunities.
Marketers should look to their community to improve the customer experience through better customer service, technical support and sharing of best practices. Happy customers are customers that realize the value promised by marketing from using your products. Happy customers will remain loyal and are more likely to become advocates. Corrupting advocates only feeds the mistrust many consumers already have towards marketing.
The web has dramatically shifted the balance of power from brand to consumer. It would be a shame if we had to view every review and every recommendation from a peer with suspicion. Use your community to improve the customer experience, identify advocates and publicly recognize their contributions in your community.