01/08/2014 11:38 am ET Updated Mar 10, 2014

The Few Who Can Fuel the Many: Building a Robust Community of Advocates

Social media has heralded the Age of the Consumer, right? One-to-many dialogue, real-time feedback, special offers, beloved picture quotes, and those quirky viral memes! But a higher volume of communication does not automatically result in brand loyalty or advocacy. It is worth noting that the default vernacular used to describe consumers who chose to interact with brands on social channels is "Follower." While the tools have gotten more sophisticated, the challenges remain the same: How does a brand effectively build communities of advocates?

Not All Influencers Are Made Equal

Not everyone is an influencer and not every influencer is influential in all areas. Do you go to the same person for recommendations on wine, cars, beauty products and technology? Neither does anyone else. By carefully identifying and curating those influencers who are seen as the "go-to" resource for recommendations in a specific category, you will have a stronger influencer campaign by aligning with a credible peer authority.

Real World Trumps Digital

According to word of mouth marketing experts Keller Fay, "The number of brand-related social networking conversations is relatively minor when compared to the billions that take place across America via offline channels -- face-to-face discussions at home, in the workplace, book clubs, youth sports, parent groups -- anywhere people come together and spend time talking. Even in today's digital world, 90 percent of recommendations that lead to consumer action happen offline."

So while potential influencers likely have a robust social media presence it would be a mistake to weight that as more important than their offline networks. It is possible to build a social presence without having much of a real-world social life. These are broadcasters rather than true influencers and their constant stream of information will generate awareness, but will do little to build advocacy for your brand.

Give Them the Royal Treatment

To get an influencer emotionally connected to your brand and excited to share their discovery with their network, you have to give them more than just a discounted (or even free) product sample. The product must be connected to an experience that underscores the brand value and provides a real-life context.

When we helped Levi's launch their new CurveID jeans to college women, we popped up a stylish studio where co-eds were custom fit into their perfect pair of jeans and received mini makeovers so they felt and looked fabulous. Would giving away coupons for free jeans online have accomplished the same thing? Sure they'd have gotten a lot of takers, but their stories would have been: "I downloaded a coupon online and got these jeans for free."

Contrast that with: "Levi's put this cool studio in the middle of campus and this gorgeous girl who looked like her jeans had been custom made for her showed me how to find the perfect fit for me based on my curves -- turns out I'm a Demi -- then she took me to a chair with a mirror surrounded by pop lights and refreshed my make-up and I got my photo taken to put up on Facebook."

Something Worth Talking About

Influencers love to be the first to discover something, whether it's an entirely new brand, a new offering from an established leader, or a dormant brand experiencing a renaissance. If discovery is their first love, their second love is sharing that discovery, ideally offering their friends a taste of the insider access they enjoyed. This can take the form of special offers, an invite to an exclusive event, or a surprise and delight package that shows up on their doorstep.

Building social sharing tools into the real-world experience will allow influencers to naturally and organically broadcast happenings in the moment via photos and hashtags that curate the conversation across channels. For a Pepsi launch, we gave our curated influencers the first taste of our new product and the opportunity to send a "love" package, complete with product to two friends -- igniting a wave of advocacy across the country.

For the launch of Malibu Island Spiced, we created visual and engaging experiences for our influencers, including a celebrity-staffed braid bar, with Facebook and Instagram in mind, providing technology on-site to allow for photo capture and sharing in real-time.

Don't Overlook Your Most Important Advocates

Brands trying to generate excitement and buzz often focus on their target consumers and entirely ignore what can be their biggest and most credible advocates: their own employees. One of the mantras we share with clients is that "at the end of the day, everyone is a consumer."

When working with PepsiCo to launch a new campaign for one of their brands, we always activated an experience for employees and bottlers at their campuses first to generate excitement around and support for the initiative. A start-up client, Premier Protein (recently acquired by Post) understands the importance of living their brand from the inside out and asked us to help them articulate and communicate their corporate culture to employees, including a design of their new space to surround their team with good energy.

So we leave you with this. Carefully curated and thoughtfully engaged advocates, either in your walls or out, can do the heavy-lifting for you, igniting brand passion and recommendations amongst their networks in authentic ways brand marketers dream of. So don't skimp on finding the right people and delivering the right experience or else what could be a brand-love explosion might end in a tiny poof of smoke.