A new debate stirring in the world of social media marketing has to do with the difference between advocates and influencers. Influencers might be celebrities, bloggers or pundits who have the ability to effect a behavioral change in others by mentioning a specific brand. They are sometimes driven by the offer of a free sample or perk to make a recommendation.
An advocate communicates consistently regarding one specific brand. The most extreme example is the paid celebrity endorsement, which may or may not have an effect on buying behavior. A true advocate, often a highly satisfied customer, can be priceless. Brand marketers love to find people who are so passionate about a product or service that they promote it solely for the sake of helping others, usually without any type of incentive.
As we evolve from a model of mass marketing to personal marketing, understanding the difference between these two can be crucial to success. In April 2012 a Nielsen Report, "Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages," reported that 92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from family and friends over all other forms of advertising. While an influencer might have a larger audience than the advocate, the difference is that 92 percent of their audience trusts the advocate while only 18 percent trust the influencers which it comes to a recommendation.
Industry insiders are now debating the merits of influencers versus advocates. Kevin Price, publisher and editor-in-chief of U.S. Daily Review, summarized a presentation from the last NMX/Business Next social media conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. A panel that was led by Mark Fidelman saw experts like Sam Fiorella, Jennifer Beaupre, Luke Hohmann, and Lori Ruff discussing the merits of each.
One company coming down firmly on the side of advocates is Branderati, which creates Advocate Influencer Networks (AIN) from an existing community. Branderati helps brands to recognize, recruit, and engage the most valuable fans in order to unlock a new level of social media ROI and word of mouth. Their turnkey strategic and creative services, as well as a unique software platform, help convert "like" to love and love to loyalty, as well as analyze and optimize the effectiveness of the engagement in real time. Their effectiveness has been proven across more than 80 influencer marketing initiatives for many of the top brands in the world.
Ekaterina Walter, CMO, is listed as their "brand muse." She comes to Branderati from a hugely successful stint as global social media strategist for Intel. Her guiding principles for Facebook engagement include original content, not just automated, and original videos, not just YouTube links. Walter's true passion lies in helping companies transform into a social business and empowering true advocacy, both internally and externally. One of her recent Branderati blogs provided 26 statistics marketers should know about the age of advocacy including:
- In 2011 46 percent of U.S. executives said that an increase in brand advocates was one of the most important benefits of social media. (Jive)
- Customers referred by other customers have a 37 percent retention rate. (Deloitte)
- 73 percent of millennials feel it is their responsibility to help friends and family make smart purchasing decisions. (Fleishman-Hillard)
- It only takes 10 percent of a population with an unshakable belief to convince the rest of the population to adopt the same belief. (SNCARC)
- Brand advocates are 50 percent more likely to influence a purchase. (Marketing Charts)
Based on these revelations, new brand marketing strategies might have to incorporate both influencers for their audience and advocates for their passion.