I understand why “influencer outreach” is popular. The opportunity to hitch your brand’s wagon to the plow of a new media celebrity (or demi-celebrity) and have them propagate your message seems like a no-brainer. But, we too often mistake audience for influence, and in the bright light of day these programs can be great at generating impressions, but the results at the downstream behavior level are frequently <cough> “hard to determine.” I’m on record in support of influencer outreach, but only after your brand has first activated its advocates within the base of loyal customers.
Seems logical enough, right? Every brand has fans that would happily serve as volunteer marketers. If they didn’t exist, neither would the brand. Your challenge as a marketer is to find, engage, and activate those super fans. Do that first, THEN roll out an influencer program, using the activities of your super fans as something for the influencers to chatter about more broadly.
How do you find, engage, and activate brand advocates in social media? It’s not quite as easy as it sounds, and if it were, EVERY company would be doing it. Fortunately, the marketplace has spotted the trend, and companies are emerging to assist brand managers, social media managers, CMOs, and community managers in the identification and arousal of the segment of your customers that are disproportionately enthusiastic about your product or service.
There are more, but the two companies in this category that I prefer and recommend are SocialToaster, and Zuberance. Both will help your company mobilize advocates, but they do so in very different ways.
SocialToaster – Self-Serve Social Advocacy
SocialToaster enables your brand’s super fans to self-identify. It’s like a post-modern fan club. Existing customers visiting your company’s website, Facebook page, or even physical location (using QR code or mobile-friendly URL access) can become an official social advocate via a simple sign-up form.
They then connect and authenticate their Twitter, Facebook, and/or Linkedin accounts. Points are awarded for sign-up, and for connection of accounts.
Then, on a regular basis (SocialToaster CEO Brian Razzaque says 2 to 3 times per week is ideal), brands use their SocialToaster interface to push proposed status updates to super fans, via email.
Fans receive the branded emails, and with a single click can redistribute the message from the brand across their personal Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin networks. It’s literally a one-click process for fans, who accrue points for sharing brands messages, and for “ripple in the pond” clicks and shares they generate amongst their connections.
Extensive gamification and real-time leaderboards are included in the software, with prizes on a daily, weekly, monthly basis organized and distributed by participating brands. SocialToaster has several clients in the professional sports world, as the ease-of-use and “scoring” elements of the system resonate with those fans particularly well. (See this example of the Baltimore Ravens Social Toaster leaderboard on Facebook)
On the back end, brands have access to an extensive dashboard that shows activity by fan (to identify the most super of the super fans); activity by content (which tweets, etc. are generating the most traction); and activity by network (Twitter vs. Facebook vs. Linkedin). Fans have their own analytics portal that enables them to see all of their actions and point accruals.
Note that the email received by fans requires them to click one button to redistribute the brand message AS IS. Razzaque says SocialToaster experimented with allowing fans to tweak and customize wording of the social status updates, but response rates plummeted. Today, the share rate is an astonishing 40-60%, meaning that for every 100 super fans participating in your SocialToaster program, 40 to 60 of them will rebroadcast your message.
Because it is built in modules, SocialToaster software can be set up in as little as two hours. Pricing starts at $379 per month for up to 500 active social advocates, and scales up from there.
I love it for its simplicity, ease-of-implementation, and affordability. It’s especially good in situations where you’re trying to harness the power of advocates more so than customers, per se. Sports, travel, higher ed, economic development, music, authors, are all categories where I can see SocialToaster making an impact.
Zuberance – Full-Service Social Advocacy
Zuberance takes a full-service approach to advocate recruitment and management. According to Rob Fuggetta, CEO of Zuberance (and author of the excellent book “Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force“), about half of the company’s customers are in B2B industries.
Unlike SocialToaster, advocates are identified by Zuberance, they don’t self-select. This is done via the use of a Net Promoter Score question at checkout, via emails to known customers, and through other mechanisms. (For more on Net Promoter Score and its recent foray into social, see the transcript of my Social Pros podcast with Richard Owen of SATMetrix) If the customer answers 9 or 10 on the question of “how likely are you to recommend this company?” they are recruited into the advocacy program by Zuberance personnel, who offer full-service management of all of their programs via a professional services package included in the price.
Zuberance does not provide incentives or points to hand-raising advocates, believing that their enthusiasm should stand on its own and not be juiced with external reward psychologies. The “ask” of the advocates in a Zuberance program is more specific, too, with the first step often being to encourage fans to write a product review. This review is created within a Zuberance tool, and is then syndicated (with permission of the fan) to Amazon, Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, TripAdvisor, etc. This is a very smart approach, and creates amazing participation rates of as much as 15%. That’s a lot of reviews for companies like restaurant.com that have 250,000 Zuberance advocates in their program. Zuberance consistently “nudges” advocates where necessary to publish more widely, share on Twitter and Facebook, and other brand-building behaviors.
Time passes. The touches from the brand are much less frequent than in a SocialToaster scenario. Approximately 90 days after the initial product review, Zuberance asks the advocate to write a testimonial, and gives them coupons they can give to their friends and colleagues, facilitating a viral commerce outcome. Those offers show a conversion rate of as much as 30%, providing a total program ROI of as much as 2400%.
Those testimonials can also be automatically published to the brand’s Facebook page and website, creating a steadily fresh stream of advocacy content. See the live reviews Facebook app for Parallels software, powered by Zuberance.
Brands have access to extensive back-end reporting, including participation and redemption rates by fan; by day; by platform; by product (for multi-product brands); and other variables.
Zuberance is a fully hosted platform, with no IT integration necessary. Zuberance handles all management and set-up, with participation from the brand. New programs launch within 2-4 weeks, and run a minimum of 6 months, at a starting price of +/- $10,000 per month. Certainly more than SocialToaster, but when you consider that the brand has very little labor costs with Zuberance, plus the defined, commerce-oriented aspects of the solution, the value proposition can be extremely solid.
I love Zuberance as an effective, turnkey solution for larger brands, especially those in retail and manufacturing, and less “sexy” companies whose fans may not want to shout their advocacy from the social media rooftops twice per week, but would be happy to recruit colleagues to the cause via email, online reviews, and honest testimonials.
Specialization of Social Software is Now the Norm
This is a very interesting time in the marketing software business, in social media and beyond. Just as with social media management software (read my break-down of that market here), the purveyors are becoming more specialized, as particular use cases are getting better defined. Think about what you’re truly trying to accomplish with your social advocate program, and then pick the right tool for the job.
Which of these solutions makes the most sense for your business?
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