Today, marketing your business for free may seem to be an unattainable process. But with social media marketing, it doesn’t have to be. The only investment in the act of marketing on the social web is time and energy.
Thankfully, you don’t have to go at social media marketing alone. Engagement in a process called brand evangelism is one beneficial strategy to get your brand known and to help spread your message. Brand evangelism is a word of mouth marketing tactic in which the ardent supporters of your service or product feel so passionately about your offerings that they act as unofficial spokespeople on your company’s behalf. They are cheerleaders on the sidelines and they’re rooting for your team.
By listening to the conversations — the blog posts, the forum discussions, the tweets, and the other public dialogues — that relate to your brand, you can find out who feels strongly about your company and product, you can assess who might have a neutral stance toward your service, and you can gather information about your detractors those who dislike your current offerings. In a brand evangelism strategy, you’d take note of those who feel good about what you are doing: they already represent your target audience. As such, it would be foolish not to embrace them. Their citizen marketing can boost your credibility in the eyes of their peers who are hopefully your customers.
Spotting your brand ambassadors should not be too tricky. The easiest way to find these people is to find the communities that your users frequently visit, be it forums, Twitter, or other social networks. If you have a Facebook Fan page, look at what people are saying. Subscribe to service-specific alerts (e.g. get Twitter mentions of your brand via RSS or email) or use a service like Backtype (backtype.com) to see comments across blogs and other social media sites (such as FriendFeed). Google Alerts can also help you dig into the wider search space and may help you spot mentions of your company that may not otherwise be caught by other services. While seemingly overwhelming, there aren’t too many search services out there, and there isn’t one free solution that tracks every single mention of your brand. (Paid solutions, such as SocialRadar and Radian6, however, may eliminate this overhead.)
Once you gather these sources, begin by listening to what they are saying. Find out the users who can’t stop singing praises about you. (Find out about those who don’t like you and try to determine what is pushing them away.) Gather their usernames or contact information. You’ll need this to proceed.
Now you know who your brand loyalists are. These are people who are already loving who you are. Love them back. Offer them benefits that let them continue singing praises about your offerings. Sure, they might do this by themselves without your involvement, but embracing your supporters can keep them promoting you for much longer. Offer them free products, samples, or gifts. Shower them with discounts or monetary compensation. Provide them with inside information, such as your upcoming product line or new services to be launched. Non-disclosures may need to be signed and paperwork establishing a formal business relationship may need to be filed.
As part of the brand ambassador agreement, it is important to ensure that when you do embrace these brand evangelists, those marketing on your behalf are completely transparent and open about their involvement. Full disclosure of their representation as it relates to specific perks is important. This is especially true as the FTC plans to police sponsored conversations. Brand evangelism programs fall under the jurisdiction of sponsored content.
As for your detractors, take them under your wing as well. These individuals felt impacted by something that was associated with your company, so you can and should work with them where appropriate to nurture their perception about your company. In fact, the mere aspect of giving these individuals a voice and letting them know that you value their opinions — and even positive action showing that you have listened — can turn that perception around. What do you have to lose? It’s amazing what talking to people can do. Could you turn these people into brand ambassadors? Maybe.
Ultimately, there will be overhead “costs,” such as monitoring your evangelists’ representation of your brand. In some instances, depending on the type of role you want your evangelists to play, it may be necessary to train the individuals on your brand’s practices and culture so that they do not come across as clueless people being paid to promote you.
Therefore, you may want to have someone from your company to act as a point of contact for the ongoing brand ambassador engagement. This task can be delegated to a community manager who corresponds directly with the evangelists and distributes the special perks. The community manager should also keep an eye on the blog posts and other engagements made by those who partake in the brand evangelist program. Internally, the overhead is minimal; your “marketing” team has just been outsourced, clearing your company’s paid marketing team to work on more exciting projects.
One concern is the brand evangelist program itself. You may find yourself dealing with those who believe that brand evangelism is questionable and deceptive. While this holds true for sponsored programs, only a small minority of individuals have question such practices, and you likely will end up seeing returns on your investment despite this small bump. It’s up to you to determine whether you feel that it is something you are willing and able to participate in.
The benefits of brand evangelists programs may outweigh the cons, though. Taking your biggest supporters under your wing may cause them to come to your aid in the future, even when the brand ambassador program duration comes to an end. If you embrace a customer and show them how valuable you think you are, they may return that embrace and protect you when you need it.
Does brand evangelism work? In 2007, Royal Caribbean ran a campaign called Royal Champions, inviting 50 of its most vocal ardent supporters on cruises and to face-to-face meetings with company executives. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and there was much buzz from the happy participants. The company observed higher levels of word of mouth marketing from influential community members and have decided that this marketing tactic was worthwhile to their brand.
If you are looking for a fun way to empower your customers and encourage positive discourse, brand evangelism programs are a great way to promote your brand. Give your customers a voice in the communities where they already have influence. There’s not much to lose and a whole lot to gain.