[Editor’s Note: Customer advocacy and the importance of nurturing communities has been on the forefront of much of the blogosphere lately. In this post, originally publishedhere, Influititive’s VP of marketing, Jim Williams, promotes the idea that your VIP-level customers deserve more than just a gift card for their advocacy.]
Advocates are supporters of a brand because they genuinely believe in the product or service being offered – not because they could get a gift card. They tout their gratitude without agenda or motive, so when it comes to the rule reciprocity, it’s important to do the same.
In other words, it’s crucial for brands to make the distinction between recognition and reward.
It’s Business and Personal
The ol’ adage “it’s not personal, it’s just business” doesn’t apply in today’s socially connected world. Business has become social. As such, the currency du jour is social capital. Rather than focus on prizes, advocate marketers need to focus on recognition – incentives, perks and programs that actually help advocates build connections, enhance their reputation and hone their skills. In the process, your business will improve the customer lifetime value. Here are some broad categories of recognition, followed by ten creative ideas gathered from our customers.
Ways to Recognize Advocates
1. Give them Access: Advocates should be made to feel like a part of the family, and family usually gets first dibs on information (which they then leak to everyone else). Give them a sneak peek at your latest product or service by sending samples, exclusive offers, or behind-the-scenes looks at development. If you’re holding an event, make sure they’re the first to know and complement the invite with reserved seating, specialized services or invitations to exclusive reception and dinners.
2. Give them a Voice: Asking for an honest opinion and then actually acting on that opinion demonstrates to advocates how much you value their expertise. Further, there is no better source for discovering the most relevant ways to improve your offerings. These people believe in your vision and consider your products critical to their professional success. They want to be ‘inside the tent.’ By having an executive spend just 15 minutes on the phone with them every few months you not only fulfill that need, but also ensure their advocacy for years to come.
3. Give them a Spotlight: Many advocates are driven by recognition. Remember, the act of advocacy isn’t purely altruistic. By promoting your brand, your customers and fans are also promoting their knowledge and expertise. So call them out publicly! Engage them on social channels (sometimes just a “thank you” is enough!), recommend them on LinkedIn. Highlight their passion and ingenuity on your blog.
4. Give them Authentic, Personalized Treatment. This is possibly the most important aspect of advocate marketing. You must truly get to know your advocates to show them that you value them as individuals – not just because you want to ”get more out of them.” At Influitive, we send personalized thank you messages and gifts whenever possible. We take the time to discover unique things about advocates and then surprise them with meaningful communications. This includes remembering important dates like marriages, birthdays and anniversaries and congratulating them with hand-written notes. Yes, it takes time and effort – but the return is incomparable and critical to improving the customer lifetime value.
Here are ten specific ways you can recognize and promote your advocates in return for their efforts:
- Invite them to executive retreats
- Send them to educational industry conferences
- Give them special status at user conferences (Reserved front row seating or early registration for track sessions, for example)
- Let them participate in product sprints or roadmap discussions
- Recommend them or endorse their skills on LinkedIn
- Follow, retweet, like, promote. Lavish social media love on them
- Go out of your way to make introductions & connections
- Put them on stage, as often as possible
- Offer them guest blogging opportunities
- Set them up with media & analyst interviews
These are just the tip of the iceberg! What examples of ‘social capital’ have you found to be effective for recognizing customers, fans and evangelists?