A few years ago, engagement was the holy grail of marketing. Brands delivered interactive campaigns designed to stimulate action and interaction: Take a poll, share or upload a photo, join a “community,” create a video, and so on. Unfortunately, the outcome was a lack of true engagement; brands for the most part pushed “stuff” using a variety of social and digital channels. The latest shiny tools and apps were embedded in the campaigns and for a while people did react, but few actually engaged in a meaningful way.
Today, engagement has evolved to “brand advocacy,” the art of more continuous engagement through relationship building. Boston Consulting Group describes advocacy marketing as generating knowledge and positive opinion about your brand and products by engaging individuals and small groups in meaningful, direct, two-way communication. The intimate understanding of individual consumers or customers creates both affinity and advocacy; people recommend, share, provide feedback, defend and tell you when you need to do better. Marketers have known this for a while, but few have adopted a systematic or standardized approach.
In order to excel at advocacy, brands need to understand and define their target, and find the six to eight percent who are truly passionate and want to interact, share who they are, and ultimately endorse your brand and products. This is much harder than pushing “engagement” or seeding products and hoping for return on engagement. For years, brands have collected information and data about their customers, but for the most part have failed to truly use it to develop meaningful relationships.
Both the art and science of advocate identification and recruitment has evolved significantly over the past few years. Much work has been done in understanding their motivations, how to appropriately engage, what to ask of them and what to “give” them in return. Additionally, more brands than ever are interested in exploring a path to brand advocacy. Yet as we talk with brands, we’re befuddled by how many neglect this route. Some just don’t know how to get started, while others simply don’t think it’s worth the effort.
Research conducted by McKinsey should persuade those in both camps. It studied what motivates people along the decision journey, and word-of-mouth (WOM) was paramount. The study further found that having a robust “post-purchase” channel as part of the marketing cycle was key to finding and activating loyalists who will drive advocacy or WOM.
Our own work at ComBlu bears this out. We have helped many large, global brands identify, recruit and activate brand advocates, and then engage them over time. These brands got to know their advocates, and recognized the input they gave and the WOM that they spread. Productivity among this group is dependent upon segmenting advocates and understanding how to engage specific types for defined goals and purposes. For example, a very small percentage will actually create a video or write content for you. Yet, many engagement road maps focus almost exclusively on this type of activity. Not only does this waste resources, it restricts return motivation and can lead to stagnation. Yet, many people will curate content or share it, but few brands stimulate this “collector” behavior as part of the engagement strategy. Knowing what to ask, and who to ask to do very specific things is part of knowing them and respecting them.
ComBlu defines brand advocacy as the confluence of conversation, community and content. We sponsor a Content Council for brands and almost all of the members consider content to be a powerful engagement asset. Most brands though have not mapped content to the right point of the decision journey and continue to push vast amounts of content indiscriminately into the cloud. Few have stopped to think how to use advocates to amplify it. Fewer still know how to use their content as a stimulant for conversation. And, many still think of Facebook as their hub for brand advocacy.
Social measurement is starting to get more sophisticated and allows brands to better gauge the impact of their advocacy marketing or engagement campaigns, and use the insights they glean to calibrate programs. The really smart brands use social business intelligence to better know the needs, wants and quirks of their advocates. Without great, deep relationships with them, there is no brand advocacy.
My entire life I have been an Olympic Games junkie. No matter if it was the Summer or Winter Games, I found myself counting down the days until the opening ceremonies, and would then watch as much of the competitions, athlete personal interest stories, and news from the Games as I could fit in without causing serious concern among my friends and family (I don’t ordinarily watch much TV).
While waiting for the London opening ceremonies (July 27, BTW), I began looking into ways to be even more plugged in this year, and knew the impact of social media would be key. Olympic organizers have dubbed the London games the world’s “first social Games” and I was thrilled to learn that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) created an online hub for the “ultimate Olympic fan” (they mean me, right?).
The main purpose of this community is to strengthen the digital connection between fans and competitors. This is great, especially for star athletes in non-mainstream sports like Greco-Roman wrestling and modern pentathlon, or those sports you may only follow during the Olympics, like diving and fencing. Social media offers these athletes a way to connect with—and stay connected to—a fan base long after the games are over.
The Olympic Athlete’s Hub pulls together the verified social media feeds of 1,000+ current and former competitors, across a wide variety of sports. The community offers fans the ability to follow their favorite athletes, and to learn more about and connect with new athletes as they follow the game.
The hub also posts content directly from Facebook and Twitter accounts, and incorporates gamification. Fans can play “Game for the Games” and earn virtual medals, as well as real rewards (e.g., collectable pins, autographed T-shirts, etc.) when they follow athletes, watch videos, etc.
Just like women athletes, coverage of the Olympics has “come a long way, baby.” Take a look at this infographic published by the IOC showcasing the evolution of the coverage of the games. To my delight, this year it will be more sophisticated than ever before.
The Olympic Games have always brought the world together. Thanks to social media, this connection is stronger than ever before, and will continue long after the closing ceremonies.
I am already earning medals on the Olympic Athletes’ Hub as I wait for the Games to begin. And, I am happy that I can now make it look like I am online “working” and not just watching the games.
How much Olympic coverage do you plan to take in? What role will social media play? I’d love to hear and learn of any other fun Olympic-dedicated sites you plan to engage in.
Earlier this week I had an interesting conversation with a client that I want to share. Our talk focused on the issue: Can you make community advocates or are they born? My client argued that she knew who in her organization was the most professionally and emotionally invested—and that she could handpick the people who would be the most engaged with a high degree of accuracy.
Her theory is that those professionals who are most engaged before an organization has a community, will also be the most engaged afterwards. And, while ComBlu does have the best and smartest clients, I have to disagree. I’ve worked with communities where the initial advocates were handpicked versus self-selected. In these cases the advocates are happy to be chosen, and they do attend all the training sessions and create their profiles. But when it came to the kind of ongoing engagement that keeps a community robust and alive, many of those folks were absent. Why? Because the kind of ongoing community involvement that is natural to some was not natural to them. But, are my experiences the exception or the rule?
Like many topics within community strategy and management this raises a number of great questions for discussion:
· Is it engagement if you have to call or email and remind the person to be involved?
· Is someone an advocate if they only act when there is a tangible reward like a t-shirt or giveaway?
· By a series of ongoing engagement tactics, can you take someone who is not active and lead them into a higher and more involved online role?
If I knew the answers to all of these I’d write a book and not this blog. But, until that happens I’d love to hear from you. Share what you think and what you’ve seen. Let’s get a great debate going, one that we can all learn from. Engagement is a constantly changing discipline, so take this chance to contribute to our collective knowledge. Comment here or shoot me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org.