5 Steps to Create Brand Advocates for Your Small Business

06/05/2013 01:48 pm ET | Updated Aug 05, 2013

In today's socially-driven world, your customers aren't just customers -- they're valuable marketing assets. Word of mouth -- or keyboard, as these days it's mostly done via social media -- is what drives your business' success. If companies want to promote themselves in an organic way, they've got to develop brand advocates.

Turning advertisements into sales is no longer the best route for small business marketing. A small business doesn't have to count down to the dollar to determine ROI for a paid advertisement. Instead, small businesses that focus on creating awareness of products and services in the minds of potential customers become the most successful.

But because brand advocates can't be bought, it requires a bit of foresight on the part of the company. Here are five steps to creating brand advocates for your small business:

1. Provide an amazing product or service. If you want customers to be really excited about your product or service, you have to start by ensuring your company provides the best. Steve Jobs championed the idea of great products as marketing tools. He focused on creating an "insanely great product," paying keen attention to detail to ensure Apple's creations couldn't be beat. No one will willingly promote something that isn't the best out there, so before you jump into obtaining brand advocates, first make sure you're delivering to the best of your ability on your end.

2. Create people power. Brand advocates aren't created out of monetary investments -- they're created out of investments in relationships. This isn't something that can be automated, either: It takes time and effort on the part of the company to engage with customers at each corner, including social media, the company website, email lists, blogs, and mobile devices. Advocacy is a two-way street -- if someone tweets at your company, tweet them back. If someone leaves a glowing comment on your Facebook page, feature it in a status update. Creating advocates means giving customers a sense that their contributions to your company are just as important as your contributions to their lives.

3. Help advocates create content. Brand advocates are people who have had a great experience with your company. They become advocates because they want to help others. Provide an easy way for happy customers to give you positive reviews -- feature testimonials on your company blog, create polls to get feedback, and use videos, photos, infographics, or other multimedia content to give advocates a platform to engage with.

4. Keep it authentic. Too often, companies use incentives to spur brand advocacy, but this isn't always the best marketing route. Customers will become disgruntled if they learn your company had to pay someone to write a review or post a recommendation -- it diminishes credibility and hurts your reputation. If you can't get brand advocacy via authentic routes, it may be time to reevaluate the quality of your product or service.

5. Become socially conscious. Earn your advocacy by showing you're a company with a conscience. Many brand advocates have abandoned companies like Nike and Adidas because they learned of the companies' poor treatment of workers overseas. Give back to your community, or take a stand on social issues that matter. Customers will be more likely to stick with you in the future if you show you care about the greater good now.

Remember: creating advocacy doesn't mean counting numbers. When small businesses find brand advocates, they gain a renewable marketing strategy that can help drive their business for years to come. Use these tips to drive engagement and relationships, and watch your small business in both sales and recognition.

Kes Thygesen is the co-founder and head of product at RolePoint, a complete social recruiting suite that provides unrivaled access and reach to quality job candidates. Connect with him and RolePoint on LinkedIn and Twitter.