So what is customer advocacy anyway? Well for starters, they don't have to be your customers—they can be any part of your entire constituency. Employees, business partners, friends—you name it. But here's the point. You need them more than ever. Right now, if you are planning social initiatives, your biggest challenge is going to be manpower. Someone has to do the listening, the outreach, the customer service, the participation, the engagement with others in the ecosystem. Some parts can be automated (such as an algorithm in a listening tool technology), but many other parts require actual people. So at some point you'll have to scale, and you're going to need a passionate, engaged group of people to advocate on your behalf. So how do you do it? Here are a few high level pointers.
- Improve your product, service or offering
Start there. You have to have something of value to offer. If your product, service or offering needs improvement, actively get out into your ecosystem and engage them in the process. Part of this is crowdsourcing, part of it is co-creation but the end result is that your constituents will become active participants in the process. You don't have to do everything they say, but you might be surprised at the insights and data you'll get in return.
Acts of service are a great way to create advocates. It takes time, but over time the people you are serving will talk about your acts to others, get their attention and they will benefit from this. Over more time loyalty will develop and over more time they will eventually become your advocate acting as your eyes and ears and providing value back. Think of ways your organization can provide a service.
- Make it about the category
One of the biggest mistakes that companies make when trying to convert consumers to advocates is to make it about their products or marketing to them in some way. Advocacy often times happens around a topic that people care about. Aligning yourself with the appropriate topic is a great way to tap into that momentum. But it has to be relevant and real—so be picky about what catagory you choose to align with and participate around.
- Make it really easy
Your employees will dread using a collaboration system that's unusable, and out of frustration they will not become advocates of that system (and less likely to advocate for your company). Likewise a customer is less likely to advocate on your behalf if you make customer support, registration, or interacting with your organization difficult. Make all your touchpoints as simple as possible. And this is probably one of the most difficult things you'll ever have to do.
I'm doing a good deal of thinking about what it takes to make a customer, an employee, or anyone within a relevant ecosystem an advocate. And we are incorporating these principles into our client deliverables. I'm convinced this will be a necessary step in scaling and taking advantage of the foundation social technologies is laying out for us. Having advocates which help us listen, aid in customer support and make our products and services better can have huge benefits in business, because the simple fact is you're just not going to be able to do it alone.
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