4 Truths About Customer Advocacy

By Jenna Lebel 

I just got back from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s annual Womm-U conference. The 3-day event featured prominent figures in the digital and word of mouth space as well as a breadth of topics ranging from content strategies to offline programs and measurement. A major theme throughout the conference was advocacy. Advocacy is a term that gets tossed around a lot and is often misused in the process. As the marketing paradigm shifts from traditional push-based marketing to trust-based marketing, advocacy is critical. It’s an important issue for brands that is largely ignored by many. Your brand likely has dormant advocates just waiting to be activated. But before you can really harness the power of customer advocacy, you need to know these 4 truths.

Advocate ≠ influencer

Many people use the terms advocate and influencer interchangeably. They are actually two different things. Marketers define influencers by their social capital—how big of an audience they have (see next truth related to this). These people have built a sizable audience on social sites and brands incentivize them with the hopes of reaching that audience. Conversely, an advocate loves a brand and vocalizes that without prompt. Some advocates are influencers, but not all influencers (as defined above) are advocates.

Everyone is influential in different contexts

Everyone can be influential in different situations. This came out of a keynote from Paul Adams, Global Head of Brand Design at Facebook. Adams claimed that there is no correlation between the number of social connections a person has and their ability to persuade others.  This definitely contradicts what many marketers believe, which is that the larger the following, the bigger the influence.  Influence works because the person on the receiving end gives permission to be influenced, not because someone has a large audience on social sites.

Advocates don’t need to be incentivized or coached

Another misconception about advocacy is that you need to incentivize or coach them in order to get the results you want. Steve Knox, former CEO at Procter & Gamble Tremor and current Senior Advisor at Boston Consulting Group, spoke about the social behavior called reciprocal altruism. Reciprocal altruism is the concept where you give to someone without expectation of getting something in return. Customers will do things beyond just buying your products without receiving an incentive to do so. Think of your favorite brand, the one you are most passionate about. Would you write a review about them or tell 10 of your friends how amazing they are without any prompts or perks for doing so? For me, the answer is yes, and likely for you too. The relationship between a brand and an advocate is built on natural emotion, not incentives.

100% of advocacy happens when we disrupt schemas

Knox also claimed that advocacy occurs when we disrupt core schemas. Schemas are organized patterns of behavior or clusters of pre-conceived ideas of how things should occur. Schemas provide us with assumptions of how things work and help us to fill in the missing details. Schema disruption is at the core of word of mouth and advocacy because when something occurs in a way we don’t think it should, we talk about it. Knox used Captain Sullenberger’s successful landing of a US Airways plane on the Hudson as an example of disrupting a schema. We dubbed that the “Miracle on the Hudson” and talked about it non-stop because it disrupted our schema—planes don’t land on water! Brands can leverage this cognitive principle to get advocates talking more. Keep in mind, to be effective, the schema disruption needs to be tied closely to your brand (if you stray too far from your brand, customers get confused which can have an adverse effect).

Can you think of any other truths about advocacy? Share them here!

Ryan - RMC Mobile May 18, 2012
I really like the idea of disrupting schemas. It's so true. It changes things. 
Louis House May 17, 2012
Great read Jenna! Thank you! Excellent points and a good jolt to the system. 

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