For online software companies, customer advocacy is one of the most powerful, cost-effective and fertile ways to spread your message and acquire new customers.

Simply put, a customer advocate is someone who loves your product so much that they’re happy to spread positive word-of-mouth messages about your brand to their friends and colleagues. Unlike social media influencers, who are often paid to make public endorsements, customer advocates are not financially motivated and simply want to spread the word about the products they love.

In this article, we take a closer look at why advocacy is so powerful, and exactly how you can cultivate a loyal tribe of willing advocates for your business.

 

Why Customer Advocacy Is A Game Changer

1. It stands out because it’s authentic

The digital world is saturated with conventional advertising, and it’s getting increasingly hard to break through the noise. Customer advocacy can help you stand out in a crowded marketplace by offering an authentic voice.

One of the most effective ways of humanizing your brand is to leverage word-of-mouth from customers who genuinely love your products. No matter how good you are at crafting branded marketing messages, there’s simply nothing like a passionate endorsement from a real customer.

In fact, even if both your brand and a customer said exactly the same thing, the customer’s voice would triumph on the credibility scale. A recent Adweek survey found that 76% of individuals were more likely to trust content if it was shared by a “normal” person rather than a brand.

76% of individuals are more likely to trust content shared from a person rather than a brand

2. It provides “living testimonials” for your product

Customer success stories have been consistently proven to improve lead generation and conversions. But what’s even more effective than a static success story is a customer who is so enthusiastic about your software that they become a “living testimonial” for your brand.

Prospects know success stories have been edited to present your solution in the best possible light, and that it only involves a one-off time investment from the featured customer. But when a customer loves your software so much that they’re willing to make it part of their social identity and spread the word to their friends and colleagues, that’s a truly powerful statement.

The key here is independence. You should not be “pulling any strings” on your advocates, or that will defeat the point. Studies show that 92% of customers trust independent advocates, while only 18% trust sponsored social media influencers.

Studies show that 92% of customers trust independent advocates, while only 18% trust sponsored social media influencers.

Trust your advocates to spread the good word on your behalf, and you will be rewarded for it.

3. It multiplies the scope and effectiveness of your organic reach

According to a 2016 Nielsen study, 82% of customers actively seek out referrals from their peers before making a buying decision. By leveraging your advocates’ networks, you’ll be able to multiply your organic reach in a way that cultivates deeper trust.

Let’s face it: when prospects see social content from a business – sponsored or not – they instantly put up their sales radar. Our email inboxes and social feeds have become saturated with marketing messages, and people have developed a certain degree of immunity to the vast majority of that marketing content.

A recommendation from a friend or colleague, however, slips under that radar entirely, because it’s likely to be both genuine and relevant to our own interests. For that reason, customer advocacy is often much more effective at capturing the attention of prospects, while also allowing you to cast a much wider net.

 

How to Create Loyal Customer Advocates

Customer advocacy usually starts with a “moment of delight”. A customer is impressed with the quality of your solution or your customer service, and takes to social media or another public channel to share their amazing experience.

Unfortunately, in most cases, that’s where the story ends. Sometimes, the company might reply with a quick “thanks” or “glad we could help”, but very few companies have a strategy for capturing such moments of delight, and turning happy customers into active brand advocates.

That’s a real shame, because chances are, those customers would love to engage more deeply with your brand, but there was no real pathway for them to do so. Fortunately, building out that pathway really isn’t all that difficult.

Essentially, the process for cultivating passionate customer advocates consists of three steps:

1. Make a small request

This could be something as simple as asking them to fill out a Net Promoter Score survey, or writing a review on a relevant third party website like G2Crowd or CNET.

The idea here is to test the waters and see if they are open to a more substantial degree of interaction with your brand. So the request should be relatively easy and quick to do. Once you’ve made the request, watch how enthusiastically they respond and determine if they would be a good fit.

Remember, your advocates are going to be the first exposure many new prospects have to your brand, so you want to ensure that they reflect your values.

2. If they agree, reward them

Customer advocates are primarily inspired by their genuine passion for your products, not monetary gain. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t like being rewarded for their efforts! The key is to give them something that they value, and that is uniquely associated with your brand.

Common advocate rewards include:

  • Recognition: Advocates love the status that comes with public association with your brand. You can recognize your best advocates on your website content, social media, or in live customer events. You might even want to establish a more structured form of recognition within the program itself, which could include levels, titles and virtual badges.
  • Access: Many advocates will be thrilled at the chance to get special access to something not available to the general public. This could be a new feature you’re developing, the latest beta version of your software, or exclusive events at your user conference.
  • Influence: Offering your advocate additional opportunities to impact your product’s future. For instance, this could mean individual consultations with your product development team, or being a trusted advisor to your marketing team. Of course, this level of influence is not very scalable, and should only be reserved for your most loyal advocates.
  • Free Stuff: Finally, you can offer advocates free stuff related to your brand. This could include branded merchandise, or more commonly, free features or subscriptions to your software product itself. Dropbox, for instance, built its customer acquisition strategy on the concept of “free storage for referrals”. This type of reward is ideal, because it provides real monetary value while also deepening advocates’ relationship with the brand.
3. Rinse and repeat

Once you’ve “closed the loop” on the first request-reward cycle, you’ll want to repeat it again and again with larger requests and more significant rewards. This is how you gradually cultivate loyal brand advocates over time, who are happy to help out with complex requests like being featured in press releases and case studies, or championing your product at industry gatherings.

 

Start Your Customer Advocacy Program Today

Building a passionate tribe of customer advocates is a long process, and one that can only happen organically over time. That’s why it’s critical to start as early as possible. By identifying and nurturing enthusiastic advocates, you’ll be able to develop an authentic brand identity that naturally attracts your very best prospects.