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Leaders in Advocate Marketing: Q&A with Michael Brito

Michael Brito Group Director at WCG, a W2O Group company, Author of "Your Brand, The Next Media Company."

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, and how can they achieve that?

It's imperative to get buy-in from management to do anything from changing an existing data center, to email programs, to focusing on building brand advocates. Management not only controls the budget, but they also control the mindshare of other executives, and the company itself. Without executive buy-in, the likelihood of the program dying in three, six or twelve months is likely because these programs require dollars and investment.

When obtaining executive buy-in on advocacy programs, it's important to keep in mind that if you have an investment that's only meant to last a year, you're gambling because advocacy programs are meant to live forever. Advocacy can't be tackled in a short-term initiative, because you're talking about mobilizing and empowering people who already love your brand, and then amplifying their voices continuously over time.

When it comes to proving the value of advocacy, we all know that there's often a sense of abstract business value. This abstraction doesn't work for executives. Through word of mouth, advocates are indirectly selling products on your behalf without you asking them to do so, and lots of companies do this very well today. To convince executives, you need to do two things; 1) measure clicks, purchases and the share of voice around products and certain verticals, giving executives the assurance they need that programs like this can actually be tracked, and 2) show them that other companies are seeing success in their advocacy programs.

2. When developing an advocacy program, should companies opt for a pilot program or an annual budget?

It depends on the culture of the company. Either way is a good approach, but both have potential setbacks. With the pilot approach, if the results don't appeal to management, the program will quickly die. On the other hand, with an annual investment, you face the potential for greater failure if you don't see the results you were aiming towards at the end of the year.

The best end results come from an approach combining a pilot with an annual budget. Start small and establishing some success and best practices. After proving successful with the pilot and reaching a certain benchmark, make sure that you have commitment from management to move towards an annual budget. Having that commitment is important from a morale perspective, as it helps whoever owns the project feel confident in the work that they're doing. It is also important from an advocate perspective, because, as I mentioned before, building an advocacy program then killing it six months later is not a smart business practice.


3. What do you consider the main difference between advocacy and influence?

At W2O, we look at influence with a laser-focused lens using a model we call “1 9 90.”

Influencers: the one percent

For any topic, country, geography, or any specific cause, one percent of the people typically drive the conversation; those people are the influencers. This goes for data centers, social business, social media or travel, where one percent of the population is driving the conversation. These influencers are important, sometimes high maintenance and sometimes cost money, but they are the people that create the conversation other community members look for.

Advocates: the nine percent

Then, there is the nine percent -- your advocates. These are people talking about your brand, regardless of whether or not you engage with them or are even listening.

Consumers: the ninety percent

Finally, the 90 percent represent everybody else -- the consumers.

What's interesting about the nine percent is that they are getting information from the one percent. This means you have to figure out how to deliver some value to your one percent, because they're going to affect the nine percent, which in turn, affect the 90 percent. There is a trickle-down effect, and in some cases, there is crossover, such as when the nine percent are influencers on some topics, but not others. However, the main difference between the one and nine percent is that the one percent usually requires some type of incentive -- they may require you to pay them, to see your product, to see your plans or be the first ones you loop in on a story. The nine percent don't require the incentive. They love your product, and they feel an emotional or rational incentive, rather than one involving money, to talk about you.

Ultimately, if you can operationalize programs that empower your advocates to help tell the brand story, that's when you begin to reach a critical mass for influence. The advocates will then affect the 90 percent, who are the lurkers or consumers of content, which drives the bottom line.

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

Chili’s is doing advocacy really well. They have really operationalized their program and have a lot of engagement and sharing. Skype and other Microsoft products have also done well with advocacy through their MVP program.

5. In your blog post "Top 3 Considerations Before Launching a Brand Advocacy Program," you used an H&R Block Case study as an example of a well-executed strategy. Are there any other brands you've seen activate their advocates effectively?

SAP has a thriving community network that gives them an opportunity to talk to their technology partners and customers, adding value through these community discussions. SAP also allows their community to share their content about how to solve different technology problems, which is a key component of advocacy, since it provides value to people in the community beyond just hearing about SAP promotions.

6. Who are your sources of inspiration?

Jeremyah Owyang is a social visionary who paved the way before shifting his attention to new endeavors. Jay Baer is another visionary, constantly shaping the discussion around advocacy and social marketing.

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