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Leaders in Advocate Marketing: Q&A with Hessie Jones

Over the past four weeks, we have sought out the best-of-the-best social media marketers for an executive Q&A. These industry leaders are giving their advice on the future of advocacy and influence, along with detailing how brands can activate their most effective advocates.

This week, we sat down with Hessie Jones, CEO of ArCompany. Hessie currently helps companies realize the value of social intelligence and its effects on the inevitable next level: the operationalization of social. She is also a cellist, a seasoned digital strategist, a marketer, a writer, a speaker, a podcaster, a social media addict, a wife and a mom.

hessie-jonesHessie Jones, CEO, ArCompany

1. If advocacy means genuinely believing in and supporting a brand (via social sharing, WOM, etc.), what brands would you consider yourself an advocate of? Why do you advocate for these brands?

I'm not a true advocate of brands, per se. There are so few who do it well consistently. A few who've done some amazing things include @ToscaReno and @EatCleanDiet. Tosca and her team built an organic community from scratch, nurtured it along the way (on both Facebook and Twitter) and never purchased ads to buy ‘Likes’ or followers. Considering that she's amassed over 80k genuine followers collectively on Twitter and over 450K on Facebook is testimony to how you can build community the right way. While Tosca is a client, I've gotten a first-hand look at the incredible engagement of her community, including when she's speaking, when she's taking a selfie, or when she's celebrating personal milestones. I've met her in person and she's truly the down-to-earth, caring individual she portrays on TV. My team has developed strategies that keep Tosca engaged with her fans, and she not only hops on board; she's excited and delighted to participate in the brainstorm. I recently wrote a post about how the community stayed with her even when she went dark on social, helping her bounce back.

For brands that have the dollars to do larger scale spectacular things, I would also say that Red Bull has marked the standard as one brand that has evolved from a product company into a true media company. It leads with content and embraces its brand values in all its awesome executions, both online and offline. Red Bull has created markets and advocates for its brand by virtue of its content. This is truly one company that knows how to bring its product to the customer.

2. In addition to social marketing, how can brands develop an integrated strategy that includes advocate activation?

The best way to activate advocates is always through personal outreach. If you can send personal emails that identify and celebrate each individual and his or her unique dedication or contribution to moving the brand footprint, that's always the best approach. What's even better is to send a personal gesture/gift to reward them for advocacy – as long as you have access to their mailing address.

Quarterly focus groups where brands can meet advocates in person can also be scheduled to allow customers to be exposed to "test" products. These customers can then evaluate current services and provide out-of-the-box suggestions for marketing the product to the company’s marketing/PR team, building customer advocacy and providing valuable feedback for the brand.

As part of an integrated strategy, brands should also seek to improve aspects of their business around the product or service. They should always leverage advocates to voice "candid" opinions in these areas. This ends up being less of a marketing campaign, and more about how customers can give the necessary information to be better as a company.

Lastly, I’ve seen brands develop a forum on their website and ask specific questions to their customers. To do this from scratch means initially seeding questions and driving advocates to the forum, and then continually pushing and incentivizing activity until momentum naturally develops. This requires a lot of work, but "owning" the community on the website will yield much higher returns organically with traffic and increased conversion probabilities.

3. We believe that Facebook is the best social network on which to find and nurture a brand's advocates. Do you agree with that? Why or why not?

I used to believe that. As a marketer, I loved Facebook Pages to be able to interact, crowdsource and develop custom campaigns for my most loyal fans. These days, Facebook’s pay-to-play methods make it increasingly difficult for marketers to truly get in front of their fans. It also makes it much more expensive. I do agree, however, that there are pages that get amazing visibility because of their content and because their fans are truly engaged: The Onion, I F**king Love Science, Coca Cola and KLM are companies that stand out for me as amazing brands on Facebook.

4. Have you seen any brands that truly have visionary senior executives when it comes to brand advocacy and social adoption? What makes them visionary?

The best visionary I’ve seen is Richard Branson with Virgin. He’s one to challenge the status quo. Coming out with a risqué brand called “Virgin,” especially in a time that did not quite embrace this method of boldness, was daring. Branson is in tune with the market and creates brand extensions where none naturally exist. Using the Virgin label as an extension to cell phones and radio stations can leave people initially scratching their head, but Branson makes it work, and market acceptance and customer advocacy is consistently a result. If it doesn’t work, he doesn’t hesitate to change things. Richard is an individual that, in my opinion, is a global change maker and leader. One of the most successful and profitable billionaires, he truly leads an organization where employees are his priority. I love this quote that embodies his view of company success through employee and customer advocacy: “(Richard’s) business maxim is staff first, customers second and shareholders third. His company is described as a friendly, nonhierarchical organization where people enjoy themselves.”

5. On LinkedIn, you cite the quote “A social business is one that becomes engaged, transparent and nimble” by John Mell of IBM. What large companies have you seen do a great job of this? How did they do a great job?

Again, Virgin Mobile fits this mold perfectly. Richard Branson doesn’t necessarily believe in a hierarchical structure. He encourages employees to come to him directly with ideas and issues, but he also instills a culture more attuned to change. Employees are encouraged to think outside the box and he nurtures the “maverick” quality that allows anyone to push the envelope.

The Virgin team understands the value of content: When Virgin Mobile launched their “Live” social newsroom, it became the go-to hub to consume new apps, music, web memes and content. This was shared across social platforms (FB, Twitter, Instagram) and BuzzFeed. Virgin Galactic is absolutely insane and brilliant; imagine having the chance to go into space for a mere $250K.

Virgin is also one of the most transparent brands. They are honest about their trials and tribulations and actively share these with their customers. Since Virgin prioritizes its employees first, you can guarantee that your experience with any Virgin Mobile product/service will be superb. 

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