Sanjay Shetty is the founder of Communities R Us Consulting Services, which helps organizations convert customers into brand advocates. Shetty has been the president of INETA APAC, a nonprofit supporting technology communities, for more than nine years. Check out his blog.
Having a brand advocate strategy is invaluable. But finding brand advocates can be tricky and there’s a lack of resources out there to teach you how to reach out to your advocates, so I’ve created my own list of ideas.
There are three primary sources for organizations to discover potential brand advocates: Internal, external and automated tools.
Internal sources of brand advocates include:
1. Loyalty program members. Regular users of your products and services are the first place to look for brand advocates. The people who often complain, or better yet, send in suggestions on how you can improve, are great potential candidates.
2. Early adopters. Some people live on the bleeding edge. They are the ones who want to be the first to check out the latest products, and as such, are in direct touch with the provider organizations. In the software industry, these early adopters are known as the beta testers.
3. Forums. Most organizations provide support forums where customers can post questions and typically other members, users of the products and services, provide answers. The forums we see today are the closest incarnation of the old bulletin board and newsgroups, where a whole lot of people went to search for answers and a bunch of passionate product lovers supported them by responding to queries. This is a fertile hunting ground to discover some of the most helpful brand advocates. You also get to invisibly observe these potential brand advocates and understand their level of expertise and passion in your products and in supporting others.
4. Employee referrals. It’s amazing how much valuable information is trapped within an organization without the organization becoming aware of it. If I were beginning to find advocates, I would first approach my internal teams, the people in the field and the customer support representatives. Starting internally provides a great advantage, as it helps you get support from all your people in adopting your brand advocate program.
5. Partners. Your partners, companies which provide solutions around your products and service providers, can be great sources as well. Most often unknown experts and brand advocates are found here. Approaching your partners as sources for brand advocates will also help cement better ties between your organizations.
External sources to find brand advocates include:
6. Social media. Social media has enabled a whole lot of people to connect and share their thoughts — whether it’s how-to videos on YouTube, or tips and links to useful content via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Similarly, bookmarking sites and sites where people can aggregate content such as Digg and StumbleUpon are invaluable sources of potential brand advocates.
7. Publications. Book authors and magazine article writers are typically experts on a particular subject and have a tendency to share information with others. In the same vein, there are a number of online aggregators of content, in which a lot of authors contribute content, including how-to articles and in-depth whitepapers. All these authors are potential brand advocates.
8. Followers of A-listers. I’ve often found hidden gems among the people who participate or comment on content provided by high profile authors/bloggers/article writers — the so-called “A-Listers.” People who follow and interact with A-Listers are likely to be good candidates to be part of your brand advocate program.
9. Bloggers. I’ve specifically listed bloggers as a separate source of finding brand advocates, as I’ve observed them to be more passionate about the subjects they’re interested in than say, Twitter users or Facebook status updaters. You might find that although some bloggers are great at creating useful content, most of them may not be your typical A-lister, with a large number of followers. However, they probably have a loyal audience and can add to the positive buzz around your brand and should certainly not to be ignored.
10. Industry associations. Any industry today has a traditional industry association. Whether we’re talking about accountants, or IT experts or restaurants. Many of these associations are not-for-profit, helping the cause of that particular industry. In addition, there are associations that represent categories of professional audiences, for e.g. chief marketing officers, project managers, architects, human resource professionals etc. The members of these associations can be excellent brand advocates.
11. Community and user groups. Groups of people focused on a particular topic, who meet regularly (either in person or via online virtual meetings) are another great source for discovering brand advocates. Most of these groups are started by leaders who love to share their passion, and a lot of community members speak and share their expertise with others.
12. Podcasters. I’ve put people who produce podcasts in a separate category, as these brand advocates typically have a different kind of audience. While I’m not a big fan of listening to podcasts, I know of a whole lot of people in the technology field who are podcasters and who are listeners.
13. Q-and-A sites. There are a number of online Q-and-A sites focused on a variety of industries. These are similar to forums, but are typically run independently or as part of other social sites, such as Yahoo! Answers, LinkedIn Answers, Quora or StackOverflow , which is focused on the tech industry. Most of these sites also provide recognition in terms of badges or points indicating the most active participants, making the job of finding brand advocates easier.
14. Customer referrals. A quick way to find advocates is to ask your customers who their go-to experts are — or even their in-house experts.
15. Consultants. Most consulting companies have key consultants who often speak at industry events and publish content around their topics of expertise.
16. Trainers. Trainers are a great source of experts who want to publicize their expertise and are motivated to be the first to learn about new products. They interact with a variety of customers and are exposed to various scenarios in which your products are used.
17. Conference or industry event speakers. Speakers, whether they are doing keynotes or speaking at sessions, can be extremely powerful brand advocates.
I’m sure you’re wondering whether there are automated tools to help you discover brand advocates. The simple answer is yes — but I have mixed feelings about these tools as they are online-only. Influence happens both online and offline.
Moreover, going through the sources listed above and identifying and observing potential brand advocates manually enables you to gain insight and understanding of your potential brand advocates — where the participate, what they focus on, what kind of questions people ask them about, etc. This experience will prove to be valuable in its own right. Once you’ve gone through these 17 sources to find your brand advocates, then consider evaluating automated tools. This will give you a far better understanding of the tools’ capabilities.
Here’s a mind map that captures all of the above ideas in one visual (click to view larger).
How are you finding brand advocates? Sound off in the comments, and don’t forget to share this article.
Image credit: VizCraft