Clients rely on agencies for their expertise. It’s important to be a guiding light for the brands you work with in developing big initiatives, like the launch of an advocacy program. Having a tight circle of advocates is crucial in fortifying your client’s reputation and extending their reach to new and receptive audiences.

I’ve learned a lot about the do’s and don’t’s in leading brand advocacy and community initiatives here at Sprout Social, so I’m happy to walk you through some of the first steps and a few common hurdles involved in building a sustainable advocacy program from the ground up.

We initially started our All Stars program because I’d identified a handful of Sprout users who had established communities and were looked to for their social media expertise. So I wanted to create a program where we formalized our relationships with these customers, equipping them to be the best Sprout advocates they could be.

To give you a clear idea of what needs to be done in order to successfully launch a program like this, I’ve broken down my experience into a checklist:

Brand Advocacy Checklist

  • Foster an advocacy culture
  • Identify your advocates
  • Invite them to join
  • Provide value and make them feel important
  • Communicate consistently
  • Measure success

1. Foster Customer Advocacy Culture First

The foundation to brand advocacy is ensuring the brand itself is valuing its customers. So before shaping your strategy, you need a strong foundation of customer advocacy.

You’re already listening to customers and internalizing feedback, but ensuring this type of proactive culture is established makes advancing to brand advocacy possible.

2. Identifying Advocates

It’s time to learn more about your customers. The customers you’re looking for have a certain longevity on social, are active and spend more on or with your brand than your average consumer.

Companies should work with their customer success and social marketing teams to kick off the process of identifying potential advocates. Twitter and Instagram are the most viable social options since these platforms are the most searchable.

You can put Sprout’s Twitter Report to good use here, easily highlighting users that frequently interact with the brand by sharing content or through relevant conversations.

3. Inviting Advocates Into the Community

Make it a big deal. Make it official. Have a dedicated landing page, badges and internal communication around your program so advocates feel important and valued.

Give your advocates a platform to define their personal brand so they feel valued in their collaboration with you.

4. Provide More Value Than You Ask for in Return

If you don’t know what your customers will find valuable, ask!

It’s commonly thought that word of mouth recommendations happen organically, but what I’ve learned is it often doesn’t happen unless you ask. Sometimes a simple request is all it takes to remind your most engaged customers that you value their advocacy and the power of their recommendations.

Some intrinsically valuable perks you can offer your advocates:

  • Better access to your brand or team
  • Access to other advocates
  • Advanced product insight
  • Social media recognition
  • Speaking opportunities
  • Content collaboration
  • Prioritized customer service support
  • Tickets to industry events
  • Custom swag

On the flip side, be upfront about expectations and ask for things they’d be glad to do in return, increasing the ask as time goes on from more consumption-centric asks to more contributive asks. How you collaborate with them helps them see the value in being a brand advocate.

You can ask your advocates to:

  • Share content
  • Promote the brand through their social channels
  • Attend brand-hosted events
  • Nominate or vote for the brand for industry awards
  • Test new features
  • Refer customers
  • Host meetups
  • Share job postings

Keep the communication consistent and keep it exciting with new initiatives and creative opportunities to collaborate.

5. Communicate Consistently

Keep in mind that your advocates probably have full-time jobs and this program is a small part of their day to day. Take the care to establish a cadence in communicating with them.

We use our own advocacy platform, Bambu, to curate content for advocates to share and to keep them looped in on program communications.

Lastly, have patience. It takes time to incorporate advocacy as an organic, recurring behavior.

6. Show Value by Proving ROI

Advocacy programs can prove more value in the long term. Many of the upfront benefits aren’t as apparent, but here are three key things you can incorporate and focus on from the get-go that lend directly to evaluating ROI:

Referrals: New customers who have discovered your brand through one of your advocates.

References: Tapping advocates to help your sales team close deals more quickly and at a higher monthly recurring revenue.

Reviews: According to Retailing Today, 81% of shoppers research online before buying. Reviews solidify proof of value amongst customers.

It’s crucial when evaluating ROI to assess which metrics are most valuable to track. Setting up the right reports from the start is the key to measurable, quantitative data to inform your program’s growth.

The Don’ts of Launching a Brand Advocacy Program

The culture of brand advocacy is a celebratory one—your most excited customers rallying around your brand and your brand rallying around its most excited customers—but the business of organizing this program certainly comes with its own set of things to avoid.

Don’t incentivize solely with money: this incentivizes the wrong mindset and doesn’t lend to a long term relationship that’s valuable to both parties.

Don’t ask advocates to do things that you would pay employees to do: there are legal repercussions to this.

Don’t set up a program that’s one-sided: it’s key to make sure that what you’ve set up is a mutual exchange. Whatever you’re doing for them you’d gladly do, vice versa.

There’s a lot you learn in taking on a program launch like this. It takes time to gain traction and recognition among a community, but the benefits far outweigh the effort.

At Sprout, we’re fortunate to have amazing subscribers who we can partner and collaborate with to help move the industry forward by providing value and insight on real challenges social marketing professionals face.

Are you a Sprout Social customer and brand champion? Are you looking for opportunities to connect with your industry peers and continue learning new and best practices in social media marketing? We’d love you to join our All Stars brand advocacy community. Click here to submit your info to join!