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Leaders in Advocate Marketing: Q&A with Jason Falls

According to Nielsen, today’s consumers trust recommendations from other consumers more than any other form of advertising. However, less than 5 percent of a brand’s customer base is actually driving up to 50 percent of all purchase decisions, making these 5 percent absolutely crucial to brands.

To help brands understand the word of mouth landscape and how to drive the best results across social, email and all customer engagement channels, we sought out the best-of-the-best social marketers for an executive Q&A. These industry leaders will give their advice on the future of advocacy and influence, along with detailing how brands can activate their most effective advocates.

We are kicking off our series with Jason Falls, one of the leading thinkers in the digital marketing, social media, public relations and communications industries. He is also a noted public speaker and social media keynote speaker.

Jason Falls
Jason Falls, Founder, Social Media Explorer, VP of Digital Strategy, CafePress Inc.

1. We've seen some brands with extremely smart digital and social teams, but poor support at the senior executive level. How important do you think it is to get people at the top as excited about advocacy and community building as those in the trenches? Why?

Without executive support, you'll never get the resources or confidence you need to be successful in building anything long-term. The C-Suite needs to see the value of digital and social, and they need to see a return as well. That doesn't mean ROI exclusively. It means: what is the company getting for the investment? Is it money? Great. How much? Is it better customer service scores? Awesome! Is it more efficient brand awareness than buying TV ads? Super. You've got to put the output in business contexts so the C-Suite understands the business benefit. And "engaging our audience" isn't a business benefit. It's what you do on the path to producing that benefit.

2. What do you consider the main difference between advocacy and influence? How do brands today need to incorporate both approaches in their marketing?

Advocacy brings with it an air of shilling. Even if it's unpaid, if someone is an advocate of your brand, they will stop at little to sing your praises, and they're probably great at omitting the bad. They're biased. Influence, however, can be completely unbiased. The best kind is. For instance, I have no interest or stake in Uber, but I'm happy to recommend it as a service because it provides a superior experience to taking a cab or even a regular car service. But I, for one, don't like UberX -- the ride-sharing subset of Uber. I want a nice, car service type vehicle. So when someone hears me talk about Uber, they see that I am not biased, and am happy to be critical, too, but also highly recommend this company. I am not an advocate of Uber, per say, but I am a positive influencer among the audiences I reach.

For brands today, we all want advocacy armies. With them, our marketing is more efficient. But it's the bastion of influencers that has more efficient impact on getting the right message to the world beyond those that know and love you. Having both is important.

3. How is brand advocacy different on Facebook vs. Twitter? How so?

The differences are subtle. Twitter is more of a broadcast mechanism and the messages are more easily ignored. Facebook is a bit more impactful, though with a smaller audience. If someone takes the time to Share on Facebook, or offers an original post that advocates for a brand, it's a personal endorsement that has some degree of meaning. If someone retweets or says "I like this company" or something similar on Twitter, it's less effort and more of a passing thought. Facebook posts have a bit more meaning because they reach a more targeted group of your connections. Twitter makes it so easy for anyone to follow you in a very public and open way that the individual messages lose their effectiveness and meaning.

4. What are three actions brands should be taking to build advocacy?

1.       Make sure your product or service is share-worthy

2.       Produce content or social capital in some form to fuel your audience to share

3.       Make sharing your content/social capital intrinsically rewarding for the advocate. They need to feel like they did something good because they shared your material.

5. What social network do you think is the most effective at driving word of mouth? Why?

Email. If you get out of the light touch, passive interactions on social networks like Facebook and Twitter and actually take the time to write an email to someone about a company or product or service, you are giving the most powerful, personal endorsement a person can give digitally. It's akin to driving over to the person's house with the product in hand and saying, "This is so awesome, I had to come show it to you in person."

6. You've spoken at a long list of conferences and events. Is there one in particular that stands out in terms of its usefulness for digital and social marketers? What makes that conference/ event special?

Just about anything MarketingProfs does is spot-on for digital and social marketers. I was also quite impressed with two iStrategy events I did. They're larger scale, bigger brand events, but with lots of great learning. And when you dig down in to social specifically, I love Social Fresh.

For me the people and the networking are what make an event special. However, if the event has little learning to offer, it falls flat. There needs to be a number of speakers that push your thinking. Of course, that depends on your learning curve and expertise level, too. A seasoned social marketer might not find Social Fresh's content all that new. They should aim to speak at the event. But a new to intermediate experienced person in the social arena is going to eat that content up.

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