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Recently we talked about what it takes to maintain great communities, and some of the roadblocks you might face while building up your community. Here at Thought Labs, we feel that advocacy is an essential part of the foundation of any online community. Advocates are active and helpful, answering questions and contributing to discussions, create subject matter expert content from the community, and bring a different perspective to internal discussions with the social team. Their efforts will inspire others to get involved and help push conversations between community members forward as well. They are pillars of the community, and their presence is required to build a true community.


The Catch-22

As I’ve mentioned above, one of the benefits of advocacy is that when other community members see your advocates in action, it will spur some of them to get more involved themselves. It’s great that just like building a community, building advocacy starts to support itself to some degree the more it grows, but how do you get that started in the first place? What makes a fan or follower decide to become more than a lurker or casual recommender? Having been an active brand advocate before working as a community manager, I’ll be exploring this question both from the perspective of a potential advocate, and from the perspective of the social team as well!

Who Are You

Who is your typical brand advocate?

The fans that are most likely to become heavily involved in your community are likely motivated by the following:

  1. They have a genuine desire to help people. To provide the time and effort commitments necessary to contribute answers and useful information to a community consistently over long periods of time, your advocates have to enjoy helping others, and will likely be intrinsically motivated to do so.
  2. Potential advocates will be knowledgeable and passionate about the focus of your community, and usually (but not always) desire recognition for their efforts and/or for their expertise.
  3. They will usually be drawn to the community because they already feel connected in some way with your brand. They love your products, they’ve heard great things from friends, they feel some sort of investment in your brand, and this spurs them to join the community. Alternatively, some advocates will be interested in the subject matter or focus of your community, but may not necessarily feel any connection to your brand. Whether they’ve never tried your products, or actively use a competitor’s product but feel your brand has a better community to be involved with, they’re not here for you, but for a chance to interact with your audience.

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What are they looking for in an online community?

  1. Your advocates want to help people. An established or growing community can provide them with the proper platform to use their existing knowledge and skills to do so.
  2. Your advocates will usually (but not always) desire recognition for their efforts or their expertise, both from the community and from the brand.
  3. Some say if your product isn’t interesting, or you don’t have a rabid fan base, that you can’t build an online community. Having those things certainly makes the job a bit easier, but it doesn’t preclude you from building community or advocacy. Some advocates are there for the subject matter your community focuses on. They want to be a part of those conversations, and they want to participate, but they’re not there for you, but rather for your community. Even more interesting, when competitor’s products improve or existing brand advocates have bad experiences with your products, they may still remain active and helpful in your community, even though they’re not using your product any more.


How can you provide them with what they need?

  1. By actively building your community and actively listening to and interacting with that community, you’re already providing your potential advocates with the platform they need to get involved with your brand and your community.
  2. Each brand handles rewarding the efforts of advocates differently, with everything from a simple thank you to lavish gifts and travel opportunities. You should definitely start out small in the beginning. Reach out to new active members of your community, create a dialog with them by asking for feedback about the community and the brand, and develop your relationship from there. Let them know that you see their efforts, that someone cares, and that they’re making an impact. As for recognizing their expertise, you could incorporate their area of knowledge into the type of feedback you request, or ask them to write a guest subject matter blog post for your blog.
  3. How can you build a community around a product that nobody cares about? The simple fact is that while you will be fighting an uphill battle, as long as you understand what your community cares about, why they listen to you, and what sort of content they really crave from you, then you can form a healthy community around any brand. If you talk about things people care about (rather than just your products, that also goes for brands with rabid fan bases!) you will attract the people who are there to participate in conversations that matter, answer questions, and generally just be helpful. Even if they don’t prefer your products, you can still build a mutually beneficial relationship with them that helps you create a thriving community while providing them with recognition for their contributions and expertise in that community! If you do this right, even if they don’t love your products, they will love you and your community.


Ultimately, to turn fans and followers into advocates, you need to keep these key takeaways in mind:

  • Everyone wants to feel like they’re doing something that matters. Show new members who take an active interest in your community that they matter to you. You can do this by reaching out to them just to establish a connection at first, and as you develop a formal advocacy plan, you can invite these potential advocates to become a part of that program as well.
  • The content and conversations you have with your community need to matter. No one wants to talk about how their day is going with a brand, conversation for the sake of conversing will never generate interest among the people who will actually care about what you have to say. Figure out what your community cares about, and give them loads of it! This will encourage observers to become more active in your conversations, which can be the first step to encouraging your next advocate to get more involved with your community!
  • Give credit where credit is due. When you notice someone is putting a lot of extra effort into your community, don’t stop at establishing a private dialog with them. Promote their efforts to your community! If they’re joining your advocacy program, share a photo of them with a short bio and a thank you for being so involved! Ask them to write subject matter expert blog posts that you can share with the community. If they feel connected to your brand, then establish some real connections by introducing them to other people and groups within the organization.
  • There are many creative ways to recognize and reward your new advocates. At the end of the day, it all boils down to managing the correct ratio of social capital between the brand and the advocates. You need to understand each of your advocates, why they are involved, what motivates them, and figure out how each of them would want to be recognized or rewarded. Once you understand that, you just need to figure out the right balance between the efforts of your advocates and the rewards and recognition that follow from your brand.

John Maver’s series on the types of brand advocates can help you to further identify the different types of advocates and what motivates each of them, so that you can start to figure out who your advocates are, where they fit in to your overall community, and what they expect from your brand in return for the effort they put into building and maintaining your community.

Post by Zachary Chastain
Mar 29, 2013