Recruiting brand advocates—consumers who are fans of a company's product or service and are willing to promote or defend it—is not a problem for Deena Zenyk, program manager of customer advocacy programs at Smart Technologies, a Canada-based maker of interactive whiteboards and educational software. The real challenge is quantifying the results of their actions, Zenyk explains.
"Our advocates are classroom teachers who really like our products, and the bane of my role as a marketer has been tracking our advocates' activities and connecting that to a return on their investment, or advocacy," Zenyk says. "Brand advocates are talking to people all the time, and their activities are so varied that it's nearly impossible to keep your finger on the pulse."
Zenyk says she found the answer to her problem in Influitive's AdvocateHub. Designed for business-to-business organizations, AdvocateHub enables users to create "challenges" or activities for customers to fulfill in exchange for badges and points that they can redeem for various rewards. AdvocateHub also provides companies with a reports dashboard that helps users organize groups, track top advocates, and perform other actions.
Smart Technologies has nearly 1,000 brand advocates in North America alone. To test the platform, Zenyk started with a simple activity: asking advocates to tweet about a new campaign initiative. The test was a success. Fans who had "never used Twitter turned into Twitter machines," Zenyk says. Within the first 30 days of launching AdvocateHub, advocates had performed 14,000 advocacy-related activities. The platform also netted nearly 40 sales prospects for Smart Technologies in one month.
In terms of rewards, advocates can redeem their points for training and professional development courses, Smart software, and branded items like a laptop bag or a shirt.
As advocates become accustomed to the platform, the challenges have become increasingly sophisticated. At the time this article was written, Smart Technologies had recently introduced a challenge that involved asking advocates to create themed classroom content using the company's products and uploading it to a page on the company's site so that it can be shared with other teachers.
Asking customers to complete activities through the AdvocateHub was not difficult, notes Zenyk, since they were already promoting the company's products. "It wasn't a real stretch for our customers to use this platform, but streamlining the internal processes has made my job a lot easier," she says. "Through this platform, I can track and measure what our brand advocates are doing and report back to our organization."
Persuading consumers to endorse your brand through word-of-mouth marketing has long been the Holy Grail for marketers. The stakes for effectively leveraging consumer advocates and influencers have risen, however. As more people share information through social networks, various types of users have emerged, such as social media influencers, industry experts, and consumers who base their purchase decisions on online recommendations, posts, and "likes."
In a 2011 Nielsen report, which surveyed more than 28,000 consumers in 56 countries, 92 percent of the respondents said they trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and relatives, above other types of advertising—an 18 percent increase from 2007. Online consumer reviews from strangers were the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging, with 70 percent of respondents indicating they trust messages on this platform.
Considering that consumers are just as willing to criticize a brand as praise it, the challenge—and opportunity—for marketers lies in helping brand advocates and influencers (people with a large social following who are not necessarily proponents of a brand) spread positive messages about a company.