Social media has given marketers and entrepreneurs the opportunity to create real online discussions about their brands. From vodka to ice cream, cell phones to notebooks, the smartest companies today are not investing in paid celebrity endorsements, but in real brand advocates.
Of course, we have all seen powerful brands before, many of which existed long before social media came to play. In the 1990s, major companies were leveraging the internet to build brands that spread through word of mouth, creating some of the biggest companies around today. In fact, the leader of the modern internet, Google, was built through word of mouth, first in technology communities, then through high-tech PC users, and eventually to almost everyone with an internet connection.
With successful brand advocates come downright unsuccessful brands, and for every human-powered brand around, there are thousands wishing that they had the same level of consumer participation and flat-out discussion. These tips are great for building your long-term brand, and creating brand advocates, brand evangelists, and long-term users that love to spread discussion.
1. Do not plan for social media discussion, just let it happen.
In recent years, brand advocacy has moved away from traditional mediums and moved towards social media. It is understandable — social media is a major platform for branding, product discussion, and influence — but it is not entirely accurate. Brand advocates have existed much longer than social media. Look back to the early days of modern music and you will find artistic advocates. Look back over the last two hundred years and you will find political advocates.
Brand advocates do not come when you have got a platform for discussion; they come when you have got a reason for discussion. Build something that people can’t wait to talk about, and you will have an army of fans, all ready to spread the word.
2. Brand advocates can’t be bought, they have to be earned.
Offer a rebate and you will win the favor of the small number of customers that bother to cash it. Offer great products and you will win the long-term support of a great deal of happy customers. The difference between Apple and Microsoft is that Apple wins customers. Microsoft gets customers, but they rarely build a long-term relationship with them.
Ponder this — How many times have you heard of someone switching from their Mac to a PC, and vowing never to buy another? It is a reasonably rare occurrence. Compare it to the number of people that switch from their PC to a Mac, swearing never to buy another PC again. The contrast between the two is not because of short-term incentives, but a better product, long-term company care, and the feeling of belonging to something that is worthwhile.
3. Professional networking can take your business a long way.
Give influential people free stuff. It is as simple as that. One of the greatest ways to generate real long-term fans is to get your product (or service) into the hands of someone they admire. As a small company, it is difficult to generate real brand advocacy, at least straight away. Brand advocacy comes with a great reputation, great products, and great customer care. If you can only offer the last two, get your products into the hands of someone who can do the first. If you can impress them, you will impress thousands of other people.