Article

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel 19 April 2016

Influencer Outreach Vs. Brand Advocacy: How To Divide Your Investment

Influencers aren’t the only people that can be entrusted to promote your brand. Brand advocates can be pretty powerful too.

Back in January, I wrote about influencer marketing – specifically, 10 strategies for getting it right.

This is because I believe that influencer marketing, when executed correctly, is a seriously powerful tool.

Working with an influencer in your industry can allow you to tap into huge, new, and relevant audiences that are more than willing to engage with your brand. This is because they trust, often implicitly, the judgment of the person recommending you.

But influencers aren’t the only people that can be entrusted to promote your brand.

Brand advocates can be pretty powerful too.

These are your customers, your employees, and other stakeholders in your business that choose to publicly endorse your company. They’re natural campaigners for your brand because they genuinely love what you do.

Sound good?

That’s because it is.

Both influencers and brand advocates can serve as powerful representatives for your brand, but who’s going to serve you best? And if you’re going in invest in both, how should you divide your time?

Influencers vs. Brand Advocates

Back in 2012, Jay Baer of Convince and Convert teamed up withZuberance to explore the differences between influencers and brand advocates – namely, how effective they are at promoting a brand – in an infographic titled “Influencers vs. Brand Advocates.”

influencer1.png

Before this infographic, Jay Baer and Cara Fuggetta of Zuberance had already published posts claiming influencer outreach to be overrated.

Baer thinks part of the problem is saturation. He says:

“As influencer outreach programs like this become more rampant, especially in hot verticals like Mom and Dad and tech blogs, readers and followers start to turn a jaundiced eye toward the endorsement itself.”

I completely agree with him here. There are so many bloggers that start up for no other reason than to get freebies, that consumers are understandably becoming cynical and increasingly resistant to their messages. They’re not authorities. They’re paid reviewers.

Fuggetta’s concern is that influencers are out to help themselves; that they’ll only be interested in helping you if it helps them. As she explains:

“The challenge of an Influencer outreach strategy is that Influencers have their own agenda. Out of the all of the companies throwing free trials or perks at them, they’ll choose to promote a company/product if it aligns with their goal: to build their personal brand.”

I can’t disagree here, either. If anything separates influencers and brand advocates, this is it.

Influencers will promote you so long as there’s something in it for them. Advocates will promote you because they want to.

But who cares what somebody’s motive is for promoting your brand so long as it does the trick, right?

I think so.

But unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

According to research cited in “Influencers vs. Brand Advocates,” only 18% of consumers trust influencers, while 92% trust brand advocates:

influencer2.png

They also point out how you can expect the length of your relationships with influencers and advocates to differ:

influencer3.png

Followed by something we already kind of know…

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All that said, is influencer marketing worth investing in? I still think so, as long as you know what you’re doing.

Making influencer marketing work

By and large, influencers are defined by the size of their audience: how many Twitter followers they’ve accumulated, how many YouTube subscribers they have, how many monthly visitors they get to their blog…

influencer5.png

The bigger their audience, the more influential they are deemed to be.

Of course, things are rarely so black and white.

To be a true influencer, you need more than subscribers: you need authority. You need your audience to trust you. You need to be able to say, “Hey, this product is amazing” and have people go out and buy it, without hesitation.

When someone has that kind of power – in your industry – that’s when you know you want to be working with them.

The key here is having influence in the right places.

It doesn’t matter how influential someone is, if their audience doesn’t align with yours.

Let’s illustrate just how important this is with a quick example.

In Jay Baer’s post quoted above, he references a misjudged venture into influencer marketing.

In 2011, business advisor (and super-influencer) Chris Broganposted a video review of a jacket sent to him by Wilson’s Leather.

The video is short, and as enthusiastic as he is, it’s clear that Chris isn’t an authority on jackets – leather or otherwise.

I don’t doubt that Wilson’s was thrilled with the result – but what did they really get out of this?

We don’t know if anyone actually bought a jacket as a result of the video. What we do know is that it led to around 250% lessengagement than Chris usually gets on his posts.

Chris has well over 300,000 Twitter followers. That’s huge. He’s an influencer all right, just not on men’s clothing. The fit (pun not intended) just wasn’t there.

influencer6.png

An influencer is only an influencer (to you) if they have the trust and authority to affect how your target market spends their money.

Now that it’s clear where brands sometimes go wrong with influencer marketing, let’s talk about something slightly different.

Getting influencers on your side

By and large, getting an influencer on your side involves good old outreach.

Occasionally, you might be lucky enough to be introduced to someone influential through a mutual connection, or to bump into someone and get chatting at an event, but most of the time, the onus will be on you to reach out to people you’d like to work with and get the ball rolling.

Email is the easiest way to do this; however, it pays to start building a relationship before you hit send.

In an article for BuzzsumoCraig Cherlet of Marketing Streamdescribed what his team does before emailing an influencer:

“Before outreach activities even start, we develop influencer personas so when we’re doing research, we know who we’re looking for. We perform our research online using various magazines, media, and articles within our target industry to find the people that match our persona.

“We then usually reach out using Twitter, follow them, analyze their published content and try to understand them and their needs, challenges, and goals. If it looks like they’re a good fit, we then start to invest time in engaging them, building the relationship, and then ask if they would be interested in our project.”

Follow a similar strategy, and by the time you actually send an outreach email, your name will already be familiar to the recipient. This greatly increases the chance they will actually open your email, read it, and respond.

So what do you say in an outreach email to an influencer?

To find out in detail, have a look at my guide to crafting the perfect outreach email.

If you’d rather hear the short version, stick with me right here.

  • Respect the influencer’s time

Influencers tend to be very busy people. The bigger (i.e. more influential) they are, the busier you can assume they will be.

This means they don’t have time for marketers who beat around the bush in their pitches. They want to know what you have to offer them, and why it will benefit them (not why it will benefit you).

Get to the point quickly, then clearly and concisely outline the RTR (reasons to respond).

  • Personalize

We’ve established that influencers are busy. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in them and what they do.

Showing that you know the person you’re contacting is key to capturing their attention. Use their name. Reference something they’ve done recently. Mention a mutual contact.

Just be careful of trying to flatter them – it can very easily come off as insincere.

  • Be clear about what you want

Don’t assume anyone you contact can read your mind (instead, assume they can’t). If you want an influencer to respect you and respond, you need to be crystal clear about what you’d like them to do as a result of your email.

Making advocate marketing work

With all this talk about the downside to influencer marketing, you could be forgiven for thinking that you can forget about advocate marketing and it will take care of itself.

I’ll give you that. It certainly has looked like the easy – and preferable – option so far.

But it’s not necessarily a walk in the park.

Not every brand has customers that are ready and willing to fill the role of brand advocate. Often, you’ll need to find one or more “potential advocates” and take steps to turn them from customer into advocate.

Where to find advocates and potential advocates

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but great places to start include looking for people that have…

  • Engaged with you (positively!) on social media

  • Commented on your blog posts

  • Reported favorably on their experience in customer surveys

  • Been involved in trying or testing your products

Before you proceed, you’ll want to bear in mind that not everyone who could be a brand advocate should be a brand advocate.

Look for loyalty

Do a bit of digging into potential advocates and write any off your list that show signs of disloyalty, either with brands or with their online connections.

Find people that can tell a good story

A great brand advocate is creative and articulate. You want them to be able to describe you and your products in a particular manner, so having a way with words is a big, big plus.

Look for people that are highly engaged online

This seems obvious, but it could be easily overlooked. Your best brand advocates won’t be the ones that just talk to their family and friends about you; they’ll be the ones that talk about you online, too.

If you can find potential advocates with a reasonably large following, that’s great, but it’s not the most important factor here. People that are regularly engaging online – talking, sharing, and liking – are the ones you really want to find.

Once you’ve identified a group of happy and qualified customers, your next task is to promote them from “happy customer” to “raving fan”.

Let’s summarize how to do this with one quick question.

What do you do to make your customers feel special?

Whatever your answer to this question, triple those efforts for your potential brand advocates.

You’ll want to do things like:

  • Surprising them with a gift.

Have they done something you want to thank them for? Send them a surprise in the mail. It doesn’t have to be expensive – it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

  • Sending them a thank you note. 

You don’t need to shower a customer with gifts to say thanks. A personalized note can be just as – if not more – effective than a present (alternatively, you could always send both).

  • Offering them access to an exclusive loyalty scheme. 

Exclusive is the operative word. Loyalty schemes are great for driving return visits, but giving your most valued customers access to a “VIP” scheme is a sure-fire way to turn them into bonafide brand advocates (just make sure the benefits are genuinely worthy of the VIP title).

  • Asking them for a testimonial. 

If you think you’re asking too much of a customer by requesting they write a testimonial about their experience with you, think again. If you personalize your request – that is, you explain that you’re not asking all customers for a testimonial, only them, and tell them the reason why – you’re going to make that customer feel special. They’re going to want to provide that testimonial because you’ve asked them (and only them) for a favor and they don’t want to let you down.

Best of all, writing the testimonial will help cement in their mind what they think is so great about you, and propel them even further on the way to brand advocacy.

Just be sure to justify their efforts by actually using the testimonial on your site.

So now that you know how to pick and recruit influencers and brand advocates….

What should you do if you’re unsure whether to invest in influencer outreach or in nurturing brand advocates?

For starters, never put all your eggs in one basket.

On their own, both industry influencers and brand advocates have the potential to be effective instruments for communicating your brand’s message and engaging new audiences, if you use them correctly.

Use them together and you’ll widen your reach and be able to diversify the messages being broadcast.

You just need to ensure you’re making educated and informeddecisions about how you spend your money.

In other words, be flexible with your spending.

I sometimes see big corporates drafting detailed marketing strategies at the start of the financial year, and sticking rigidly to them.

That seems crazy to me.

We should always be monitoring, always be learning, always be ready to switch up our strategy and change how we’re allocating our budget when we identify something that’s working well – or something that isn’t.

Approach influencer marketing and brand advocacy this same way, and you’ll quickly learn how best to use your budget and where your greatest chance of success lies.

However…

There are some strategies that lend themselves best to influencer marketing, some to brand advocacy, and some to both in equal measure.

How to divide your time

Launching a new product

Who? Both

Influencers can help you get a new product off the ground because they have the contacts and audience to get your product in front of people that will care.

Advocates are equally valuable. Give them early access to a product, and they’ll be able to assist you with testing and provide feedback, all while spreading the word about what’s coming before it’s officially launched.

Creating content

Who? Both

Influencers and advocates can both assist in the content creation process. Influencers can provide their expertise, such as supplying quotes or insider information you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

Advocates can help you identify the questions your audience is likely to be asking (what questions do they have themselves, and what questions do their peers ask?) so you can create content that answers them.

Promoting content

Who? Both

If you’ve got a good, ongoing relationship with an influencer, you should always be asking them to share your content with their audience. Likewise for your advocates – you just need to ask.

Providing testimonials

Who? Both, sort of

Influencers could provide you with testimonials, but influencers are at their most effective on their own domain and in front of their own audience.

Only post testimonials from influencers to your site if the majority of your visitors will recognize, and trust, the influencer in question.

influencer7.png

Most of the time, brand advocates are your best bet here. As we’ve discovered above, consumers trust advocates more because they have no ulterior motive for promoting you.

Helping in a crisis

Who? Advocates

I’d like to say that when the s**t starts to hit the fan we can count on the influencers we work with to back us.

But I won’t.

Influencers have a reputation to uphold, and if they believe an association with a brand could do their own brand harm, it makes sense that they would back off a little. I don’t think we can blame them for that.

Advocates are different. They don’t have a brand to protect – except yours. If they’re a genuine advocate, they’re likely to come to your defense.

We see examples of this all the time in celebrity-land. In the blink of an eye, fans will flock to defend their idols.

influencer8.png

Even if your advocates don’t run to help, you probably only need to ask them to. What advocate wouldn’t want to defend the honor of a brand they love when asked personally?

Networking

Who? Influencers

Who better to introduce you to someone influential that another influencer?

If the influencers you’re working with have connections that could also prove valuable to you, don’t cold outreach to them – get your mutual connection to introduce you.

Building your social following

Who? Both

Every time an influencer posts about you to a social network, they’re putting you in front of their audience, and that’s massive. If they’re not mentioning you often, talk to them about it. It could be a simple oversight and something they’re more than willing to do more regularly.

Advocates are equally as valuable here. Okay, so they won’t have an influencer-level following, but what they are likely to have is the time and inclination to engage with you properly on social media.

A great advocate can be relied upon to respond to and share your posts. This doesn’t just get you in front of their audience; on sites that use algorithms (like Facebook, and to some extent, Twitter), it will help to boost the overall visibility of your posts, too.

Helping out when you have little-to-no budget

Who? Advocates

A survey carried out last year found that 70% of influencers want compensation for their time, while the average cost of a sponsored post runs between $200-$500.

This means brands on a budget can pretty much rule influencer marketing out of the equation.

Thankfully, there’s an alternative.

Advocates rarely “expect” compensation. This means they’re all the more grateful when they do get it.

Bear this in mind, even when you’re on a budget. Compensation for advocates doesn’t need to be monetary. In fact, it might be preferable if it’s not – what better compensation is there for someone that loves your products than your products themselves?

Despite what some might try to have us believe, influencer marketing and brand advocacy are both valuable in their own unique ways. You simply have to know how to harness each of them to their full potential and understand what sort of backing a situation calls for.

Have you worked with brand advocates, influencers, or both? If you have any insights to share on your experiences (positive or negative), let me know.

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