Advocacy happens when customers or employees talk favorably about a brand or defend it without being asked to do so. They just love the brand, what it stands for and how it makes them feel.
All consumers are influential. Their words and opinions are trusted. They aid and influence their peers down the purchase funnel through organic conversations they are having both online and offline. In many cases, they also influence others not to buy depending upon their personal experiences with the brand – not the type of advocacy that’s good for your brand.
Operationalizing a brand advocacy program isn’t easy. The following are 3 steps to help get you started:
(1) Content Strategy Alignment
Before you decide what you want your advocates to say, you must know exactly what the story is that you want to tell. A good content strategy should help you establish “what you want to say”, “how you want to say it” and “where you want to say it.” A solid editorial framework will determine the content narrative, tone of voice, content and platform priorities and the content supply chain (workflows that facilitate content ideation, creation, submission, approval and distribution.) This will be critical to ensure that your advocates are helping you tell your brand story.
(2) Smart Technology Deployment
You can’t manage an advocate program using email or a private Facebook Group. Well, you can but you won’t be able to scale it or measure it effectively. Expion’s Social Advocator product can mobilize employees and customers to feed you content engine and they make it very convenient for them to do so. This value added feature can give you the opportunity to build on your employee and customer advocacy programs and enable them to share branded content online and within their own social networks very easily. As depicted below, Social Advocator is a browser plugin compatible with Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer. Advocates, whether employees or customers are notified when there is new content that they can share; and they can simply click on browser icon to view the content.
You will notice that the plugin is visual, almost Pinterest-like, so that advocates can easily scroll through the content and share what they are most interested in sharing. Currently, Social Advocator can publish to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
On the back end, marketing, communication teams, brand teams or just about anyone else that you give access to in your company can add content for each of the above social networks and store it into this content library. Content can be scheduled or updated in real-time with push notifications; and each time you add new content, a notification will appear in the browser plugin icon and advocates can share that content if they wish.
Strategic Content Activations
As much as your program must include curating and distributing content from your advocates to help tell your brand story, you must also have a content plan for engaging directly with them. Unfortunately, many teams that manage these programs often over look a content plan and then struggle to keep the conversations alive and fresh with advocates; more so with customers than employees. Your content should be planned weekly, monthly and even quarterly; and take into consideration several factors like the following:
- Upcoming events or industry tradeshows
- Upcoming product launches or new releases of an existing product
- Fun things like contests, polls and research questions
- Asking for user generated content (uploading and sharing photos on Facebook/Twitter)
Smart and innovative companies are taking it one step further and co-creating new products and services with the community. One example is GiffGaff, a mobile virtual network operator based in the UK that built their entire business with their community members. Using the Lithium platform, a community software application, they reward active community members for running various portions of the business including answering questions in the community, attracting new members, or using content to help promote the company.
The future of digital marketing is brand storytelling. And storytelling happens at every customer touch point within the digital ecosystem – paid, earned and owned media. Whether employee (brand journalism) or customer advocacy, brands will have to enable storytelling through smart technology solutions and empower advocates with quality content and rich activations.
H&R Block Case Study
With a seasonal business like tax preparation, H&R Block is extending their reach as far as possible into social media to connect with consumers year round. Empowering local offices to connect with consumers on social networks aids in capturing repeat business, but connecting Tax Pros with consumers on social networks could be game changing.
H&R Block operates 10,000 retail tax offices in the United States, 1,700 retail offices abroad, and employs over 90,000 Tax Professionals worldwide. The majority of the revenue generated by these offices happens in a four month window each year.
Many of H&R Block’s Tax Pros are seasonal employees who do not have an H&R Block email address to stay in communication with the corporate team during the off-season. Because of the short season, year-round marketing and communication with these seasonal employees can often be challenging. H&R Block’s vision was to mobilize thousands of their Tax Pros and company associates to engage directly with consumers on local social networks year round to extend the reach of the brand.
Empowering employees to speak on behalf of the brand was also problematic but an important goal for H&R Block’s Corporate Social Media team. Because H&R Block is in the regulated tax preparation business, it needs to audit all of its social media content and store all conversations with consumers. Empowering local retail offices and Tax Pros to connect with clients on social networks requires governance and moderation of each and every conversation.
H&R Block is leveraging Expion’s Social Media Management Software to implement a local social media strategy that includes local and regional-level Facebook pages. This strategy empowers H&R Block to reach consumers year round. With over 500 offices now active as of 2013, and expansion in the future, the business aspect of local social was moving ahead but the “people power” of the Tax Pros was still untapped.
Because the majority of H&R Block’s Tax Pros are seasonal employees, H&R Block needs software that can easily be configured to match the organizational structure of the regional retail offices. Expion’s Social Media Management Software is the answer. With Expion’s flexible access roles, year-round associates can take over and manage the social accounts of offices that close during the off-season. This preserves the relationship and connection to local fans at every location year-round.
[pullquote align="right"]“Authentic personal stories are far more credible than stories provided by the brand. This technology allows all H&R Block tax pros and associates to be storytellers. – Scott Gulbransen[/pullquote]
Expion’s software also allows for mass distribution of approved content from H&R Block’s Corporate Social Media team to the local retail offices. Through Expion’s social media Content Library, the H&R Block corporate team is able to share tax tips with retail offices that are restricted from editing. It also allows them to publish their robust year-round tax and personal finance content to foster relevant conversations in and out of tax season. This governance feature allows the brand to stay compliant and protects the company from any missteps on quoting new tax laws or changes for the upcoming tax season. Content can be shared directly to a regional office and published instantly. All of the content distributed to local pages is analyzed to track the best performing posts. This time-saving, automatic curation of the best performing content provides Tax Pros with the most engaging posts right at their finger tips.
As H&R Block initiated their first local social pilot phase with Expion, it realized that the offices are a good connection to clients, but the Tax Pros, who are the faces of the brand, are even better. By using Expion’s Content Library, posts can be shared externally into Expion’s Social Advocator Module, a browser plugin that any Tax Pro can install and download using their username and password. This easy solution allows content to be delivered to Tax Pros in a gallery for easy click and post out to their personal social networks. “Our tax pros use their personal social networks to remind clients and prospects that they’re taking appointments. They are already seen as trusted resources to their friends and family. By our corporate team offering tips, it takes the “marketing” out of the equation…it’s relationship-based value add” says Scott Gulbransen, Director of Social Business Strategy for H&R Block.
Brand Advocacy Program