04/13/2012 11:47 am ET Updated Jun 13, 2012

Why Your Business Needs Brand Advocates

Over three billion items are shared every day on social media. That's roughly 35,000 shares per second. Zuckerberg's law states that "the amount of information sharing will double every year (a la Moore's law). With new apps being developed to enable frictionless sharing it appears that this number will only increase.

While most brands have jumped into social media wholeheartedly and broadcast their message, the real potential is to enable customer-driven conversations which focus on the brand.

One model to enable peer-to-peer marketing for brands is developing a brand advocacy program. Brand advocates are powerful influencers in the social media world and can prove more effective than most others when employed appropriately.

We're moving from Like to Love
In 2010, Facebook changed the structure of fan pages. No longer did people become a 'fan' of a page, they simply 'liked' a page. And while this change may have increased the conversion of users who connected to brands and paved the way for Sponsored Stories, the value of a "Like" has become meaningless. Many brands optimize for growing the number of Likes they have on Facebook. There are many problems with this. Most notably, your brand's most passionate fans are now mixed with passersby who simply liked your brand to get a $5 coupon. Your superfans no longer feel special nor are they recognized in any way. Your true fans want to feel special and like that they are apart of something exclusive. They want to interact with others who love what they love.

One startup, helping to solve this is, which helps artists release their music on Facebook. Fans of artists don't just Like the artist, they Love the artist and submit their email to get early access to new songs. This does two things: One it segments your Likes from your Loves. Second, and more importantly, it gives the brand (in this case artist) control over their fans. The artist owns the email of the user instead of renting a like. Now the artist can reach out directly to their fans instead of paying Facebook to get their status update in front of more users. Of people that Like your page, 99.5 percent will never return to your fan page and 95 percent will not see the status updates you post. The Love button gives the brand control.

Consumers Trust Other Consumers
As brands have built huge followings on social media they have attempted to humanize their message. Sometimes this works, but most of the time it doesn't. At the end of the day, the brand still has business objectives in mind. For most businesses, these objectives utilizing social media can be boiled down to two operational goals: decreasing customer acquisition costs or increasing life-time value of a customer. And consumers can recognize this. Roughly 66 percent of consumers trust people they know on social media, whereas only 33 percent of consumers trust brands on social media. Consumers are much more effective at promoting your message than your brand is.

Brands Are Building Their Own Networks
Many brands are building their own network. Whether it is a fan club or a brand ambassador program, they see the shortcomings with relying solely on Facebook or Twitter to manage true fans. Consumers want a place where they feel special and can connect with like-minded people. Brands want to own the relationship with the fan and incentivize them to take certain actions.

KarmaLoop, a leading ecommerce site, has 100,000 'representatives' which promote their product on social media. These reps generate nearly a third of the company's revenue. Lady Gaga has partnered (and invested in) Backplane, a company which develops affinity-type networks. The first manifestation of this is Little Monsters, Lady Gaga's own fan platform.