It shouldn’t come as a surprise that social networks have become “pay to play” for brands. Social media managers have witnessed organic reach decline drastically for content of any kind. Brands that employ social media as a marketing tactic have had to pay to boost their posts so that these large followings they built actually see their messages. The trend has steadily increased, which means brands should expect to invest substantially in paying for access to their followers.

But there’s another way: Brand advocacy.

Brand advocacy has existed for centuries. It entails one person telling a connection of theirs about a great experience purchasing a good or service from an organization. In today’s landscape, brand advocacy is about tapping your most passionate customers to advocate on the brand’s behalf both on social media and in-person.

This isn’t about paying influencers in your industry, it’s about fostering relationships with individuals who are already talking about your product or service, and encouraging them to consistently share their experience.

What Is Brand Advocacy?

Brand advocacy is essentially word-of-mouth marketing. Word of mouth marketing is a key influencer in purchasing decision for 74% of consumers. With that great of a percentage, marketers must incorporate strategy around consistently being top of mind for their customer base.

Brand advocates are a different breed. They are organically excited about your product or service and passionate enough to allocate their time to help increase your awareness and affinity.

Want to pursue brand advocacy for your organization? Check out some insights on how we did it at Sprout Social with Sprout All Stars. We launched and currently manage the program through Bambu, along with Zapier and Slack.

Step 1: Identify Advocates & Set Goals

Having a certain type of customer or community member in mind is helpful before you start planning the program. Who are going to be your brand advocates? Think: most longevity, highest paying and most vocal with positive or negative comments. Really! They’re loud because they care.

Some of our All Stars have been paying customers since our platform first became available. Others are from our larger accounts and others we’ve been interacting with via social for years.

Next you’ll want to consider what you’re going to offer in return for their advocacy. Some perks may include:

  • Product or service discounts
  • Tickets to industry events
  • Travel or lodging for meetups or conferences
  • Content collaboration opportunities
  • Advanced insight for products or features
  • Access to other advocates in a private group
  • Better access to your team (or c-level executives from your organization)
  • Paid consulting opportunities–connect customers looking to hire resources to your brand advocates (this works best in the B2B space)
  • Custom badges
  • Swag

Goals are essential for any new initiative. Though they might be arbitrary, it’s helpful to put some stakes in the ground. Consider all the things you’d like advocates to do on the brand’s behalf and the ways those actions will impact the bottom line.

Try to find causations, as well as correlations for how this group will benefit the company in the short and long term. Be clear upfront about the ways you’ll ask advocates to engage. Some of those actions might include:

  • Share content
  • Attend brand-hosted events
  • Write reviews
  • Provide product or service feedback
  • Vote for award nominations
  • Test new features
  • Write blog content about product or service
  • Refer customers
  • Be a customer reference
  • Provide testimonial
  • Collaborate or contribute content
  • Host events
  • Share job postings

Step 2: Curate Content

One of the main benefits for Sprout from All Stars is content distribution. All Stars are respected social media marketers with established, savvy communities. Having this group share Sprout content has generated more than 50 million social impressions and more than 1,300 new visitors to our website in the first year.

To streamline curation, we use the Zapier integration in Bambu to source blog content from Sprout and Bambu, as well as the All Stars’ blogs. Zapier enables tools or apps to talk to each other seamlessly.

To set up the RSS to Bambu integration, log in to Zapier and click, “Make a Zap!” Scroll to the built-in apps section and select “RSS.” Select “New Item in Feed” as the trigger, then copy and paste any blog url with “rss” at the end as in the “Feed URL” field. Leave other fields as-is.

Set up RSS in Zapier_focused

Next, you’ll create the Action Step. Search for or select Bambu as the app. Select “Create Source” if you’d like to review the post before it goes live to your community or choose “Create Story” to have it go live without any additional editing or review.

Create Bambu Source in Zapier

The “Set up Bambu Source” allows you to automatically add the story details for each RSS as it gets pulled into Bambu. We automatically add the tag “All Stars Content” for any posts coming from their blogs. It might be helpful to auto segment to certain Teams at this step. We recommend taking the time to set this up properly, it’ll pay off in the long run.

Set up Bambu Source- Formatting

Zapier offers many other integrations. Here are just a few other ideas for sourcing content to share:

  • GotoWebinar: Pull in all your upcoming webinars
  • YouTube Channel: Pull in any new videos to your brand’s YouTube channel
  • Hashtag mention: Pull in mentions of a branded hashtag or one associated with a campaign
  • Instagram account: Pull in all posts from your brand’s account (you can also segment to only pull in posts with a specified geotag

Stay on Track & Well Documented

To keep track of all the content you’re curating in an Excel spreadsheet, you can setup a trigger of a Story going live to record the details. This is great feature for agencies to show their clients or can be just a helpful at-a-glance document showing everything you’ve curated.

Once you have sources set up, click one to edit the Story.

Source Editing in Bambu

Attach a utm string to the link to ensure you can track via Google Analytics. Then utilize Bambu’s Bit.ly shortener so links are shorter and clean when your advocates go to share.

Provide your advocates copy for their social post that’s comprehensive and includes all related hashtags and handles. For any content written by an All Star, we always suggest #SproutAllStar in the social post copy. Offering several options is a great way to ensure their posts don’t look like spam. Alternately, you could leave it to advocates to write their own copy to ensure every post is unique.

Tweet a Story in Bambu

If you want to highlight a link for informational purposes, as opposed to social promotion, you can disable sharing. We do this for upcoming events Sprout is attending, sponsoring or hosting.

Event - Informational Story with sharing disabled

Step 3: Invite & Onboard

When you invite advocates to your brand’s program, be sure to make it exciting. We created a video to ensure we caught their attention.

Once they commit, invite them to Bambu. You can invite multiple users at a time, assign a role and delegate to a Team. Regional or city-focused team assignments work well since your brand advocates are likely scattered across the country or world. You could also segment by language or industry. The Team assignment is only viewable to Admins.

Invite users to Bambu

To streamline onboarding larger cohorts, use the Internal Story option to create guides for getting started. For All Stars, in addition to a 30-minute onboarding phone call, we provide a comprehensive resource formatted as an Internal Story. It details mutual expectations and links to custom badges showing their affiliation.

All Stars Reference Story in Bambu

We also feature an Internal Story “checklist” for newbies that gives them four action items to complete within their first few weeks in the program.

New All Stars Checklist Story in Bambu

Step 4: Set Expectations for Communication

One of the aspects that has made All Stars successful is consistent and clear communication. The expectations are set before they commit via a screen phone call with our team. We invite the advocate into Bambu and verbally and visually review expectations so everything is crystal clear upfront.

We maintain consistency with communication by offering several different Slack channels focusing on topics like Sprout feedback, Success with Sprout and Collaboration opportunities. Slack is also key for Sprout’s success an as organization so adopting this tool was a simple addition.

Consider which tools are already a natural part of your workflow before launching something new. Slack has been a valuable component for quick one-off requests and questions. It also provides unprecedented access to our team for extra support. Since advocates help our organization greatly with their influence and consistent promotion, providing that same level of help in return makes perfect sense.

Step 5: Encourage Consistent Engagement

Since readers can’t see an exact number regarding how many times they shared content within Bambu, we use Slack to post a leaderboard. Not only does the leaderboard encourage participation, but the weekly email digest goes a long way in reminding busy advocates that there are updates to learn about.

Broadcasting Stories is another great way to ensure advocates see timely news.

Broadcast a Story in Bambu

Alternatively, curating a Newsletter in Bambu is a great way to highlight multiple timely Stories.

Curate a Newsletter in Bambu

Find other ways to offer value or spur discussion too. Bringing the advocate community together to chat about challenges they’re facing or new initiatives they’re starting can be incredibly helpful.

If you do find that some of your advocates aren’t very active, give them a little nudge. Remember there is always going to be a difference in participation levels. Some people may find value in participating in one aspect and not another. Consider their bandwidth and always give leeway to those supporting your brand in this fashion.

We make sure to incorporate direct, specific asks to individuals, as well as general callouts for fostering engagement.

Brand advocates are a precious commodity. Treat these relationships like gold, because they are!

Step 6: Keep Track of Program’s Overall Metrics & Individual Participation

As with most initiatives, we use many different metrics to measure success. We pull insight on a monthly basis from the following tools:

Bambu

  • Individual and collective number of shares, impressions
  • Anecdotal observation of best day for sharing, topics and specific posts that have received the most shares

Sprout Social

  • Twitter Listening Report: As part of the marketing communication for the program, we’ve promoted #SproutAllStar. We use this report in Sprout to gauge the hashtag’s popularity each month.
twitter listening report

Google Analytics (with some additional data from Salesforce)

  • Traffic
  • Bounce rate
  • Average session duration
  • Average pages per session
  • Trials and conversions

With so many aspects of an advocate program, keeping track of who is going above and beyond, who is less active and everyone in between can be incredibly challenging. The more aspects you incorporate, the tougher it will be, but the more brand awareness you’ll generate.

We use a spreadsheet to track these collaborations or brand advocacy achievements the advocates complete. For this program of less than 50 people, this isn’t super difficult to do. However, for larger advocate program, this might be incredibly cumbersome and just not feasible. It might be worth figuring out some sort of tracking system though, as acknowledging progress and the dedication of their time and effort goes a long way.

For All Stars, we’ve assigned points to brand advocacy achievements and rewarded those who are heavily investing time to support our brand. Three dedicated All Stars have received Swell water bottles as a thank you.

Step 7: Merchandise Your Success

Brand advocacy programs are still an untapped opportunity for many organizations. Do the work to educate internal stakeholders of the value of advocates and find opportunities to increase MRR or ARR and decrease churn.

One effective way that has helped greatly with awareness is our dedicated Sprout All Stars webpage.

All Stars Webpage

All Stars took some time to gain traction and recognition among Sprout and then our community. We’re fortunate to have amazing customers who love our product so much that they allocate their time and energy to helping with brand awareness and beyond.

I truly believe brand advocacy is the next era of marketing. We’ve seen social networks become pay to play for brands, but content from individuals isn’t impacted at all. Finding those individuals who love your brand and offering a value in exchange for the exposure on their networks is all it takes. Find your brand advocates and get to work!