NEW YORK (CRM Evolution 2012)—Every company wants a loyal customer base, but only a few businesses are implementing effective strategies and pragmatic tactics to build their base of dedicated followers, according to Christopher Carfi, vice president of social business strategy at brand consulting firm Ant's Eye View. "Social engagement is a journey," Carfi noted Wednesday at CRM Evolution. "If companies are going to engage their customers, they need to connect with their influencers and advocates."
Carfi shared several best practice tips companies can use to improve their engagement efforts with customers. The first step is to understand the difference between an influencer and an advocate. Although these terms are often considered interchangeable, they describe two different types of customers.
"Influencers are amplifiers when you get down to it," Carfi explained. "They will make your message go further, faster, and louder, but it could be a positive, negative, or neutral sentiment."
Advocates, on the other hand, "are defenders of a brand. They're out there advocating on behalf of your brand…the way you interact with them should be different from the way you interact with influencers."
Encouraging advocates to interact with other customers helps companies scale interactions between their brand and the public, saving time and money, Carfi noted. Advocates can be divided into three groups: the 911 communities (those who help solve other customers' problems), the 411 communities (those who help others learn more about the product), and the 511 communities (creative types that show off the innovative ways they've used your product).
It is also important to reward advocates for their efforts. Carfi referred to Gamification Co. CEO Gabe Zichermann's argument that customers are most interested in four types of rewards: access, status, power, and stuff.
When rewarding customers, the smarter move is to thank customers for their past acts of loyalty, rather than promising to reward them in exchange for future actions, Carfi added. Telling customers they will be rewarded for supporting your brand "blurs the lines between customer and employees," he said. "You don't want to have to ask yourself if that reward is taxable."
Although some companies, such as Zappos and Apple, have developed strong brand followings, no company has yet developed a consistent socially engaged customer base, according to Carfi. "Some have come close," Carfi said. "But we're still waiting for a company to hit all the cylinders."