The Zen of Advocacy

zenZen is not some kind of excitement, but merely concentration on our usual everyday routine.” – Shunkyu Suzuki

Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. Myspace. Blogs. YouTube. Community platforms. These are all tools to enable conversation. But that’s it – they are just tools. Having a presence on all of them doesn’t mean they will impact a business.  Stop thinking a Twitter strategy or a Facebook page is going to solve all your marketing challenges.  They won’t.  Instead, think of all of these channels as tools to leverage in order build advocacy.

Advocates, as customers,  are pivotal to growing a brand.  Here are some things that advocates can do for you:

  • Recruit new customers, or ultimately new advocates.
  • Share information with their networks.
  • Come to the defense of a brand in a crisis.
  • Develop new product or marketing ideas.
  • Provide purchase behavior insight and a shortcut to expensive market research initiatives.
  • Influence detractors.

As I talk to clients about social media, the concept of building advocacy gives social media marketing initiatives a purpose.  An advocacy program can arm the best customers with “to-dos,” and all of the available tools in social media give an easy way for them to collaborate and share.  When used effectively, community solutions and other social media outlets – paired with the right strategy – can give advocates meaningful and direct ways to execute all of the above.

I was intrigued by a story on the Wikipedia entry for Zen.  The story was about a martial arts master addressing a student having challenges with other students impacting his technique.  The master took the student to a stream.

“Look at the water,” he instructed. “It does not slam into the rocks and stop out of frustration, but instead flows around them and continues down the stream. Become like the water and you will understand harmony.”
Soon, the student learned to move and flow like the stream, and none of the other students could keep him from executing his techniques.

Imagine if companies treated cultivating advocates the same way the student and master viewed achieving harmony. By sorting through all of noise and focusing on connecting with and empowering advocates, marketers can create programs that have clear business impact – surrounded by the noise and echo chambers of social media.

What are some other benefits of advocates and what companies do you see that are embracing this concept well?  I’d love your input.

photo credit: h-k-d via flickr

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  • I love the image of watering flowing around rocks as an analogy for a social marketing approach – it’s not pounding customers over the head or using dynamite to break through (damaging the relationship in the process), it is matching the customer flow and making things effortless and organic for them.

  • I love the image of watering flowing around rocks as an analogy for a social marketing approach – it’s not pounding customers over the head or using dynamite to break through (damaging the relationship in the process), it is matching the customer flow and making things effortless and organic for them.

  • Adam,

    I like the story you’re telling about advocacy and the role it can play in customer engagement. The most obvious examples that come to mind are:
    -Dell Ideastorm
    -Legos Mindstorms
    -MyStarbucks

    These early attempts are certainly provide some learnings which brands can use as a starting point to begin thinking about how to develop their own strategies around customer advocacy.

    Great post for thought and further convo

  • Adam,

    I like the story you’re telling about advocacy and the role it can play in customer engagement. The most obvious examples that come to mind are:
    -Dell Ideastorm
    -Legos Mindstorms
    -MyStarbucks

    These early attempts are certainly provide some learnings which brands can use as a starting point to begin thinking about how to develop their own strategies around customer advocacy.

    Great post for thought and further convo

  • Rachel – Great point about matching customer flow. I was thinking about that state that brands or companies can achieve when all of these things are working in order – you aren’t so focused on in-your-face marketing because you’ve build solid relationships with advocates. Their word of mouth and passion for the brand helps compound the benefit, and social media provides so many new tools to do that in an online way.

    Ken – Thanks, those are great examples where companies are asking customers to participate. I wonder if the ratio of those customers involved are full brand advocates vs. the “passer-by” who opted to participate. Recently I’ve been working on designing programs that are invitation only, recruiting and activating the “best of the best” customers from companies’ CRM platforms. I’m really fascinated by it – I would expect that every company would want to achieve that same “Zen.”

  • Rachel – Great point about matching customer flow. I was thinking about that state that brands or companies can achieve when all of these things are working in order – you aren’t so focused on in-your-face marketing because you’ve build solid relationships with advocates. Their word of mouth and passion for the brand helps compound the benefit, and social media provides so many new tools to do that in an online way.

    Ken – Thanks, those are great examples where companies are asking customers to participate. I wonder if the ratio of those customers involved are full brand advocates vs. the “passer-by” who opted to participate. Recently I’ve been working on designing programs that are invitation only, recruiting and activating the “best of the best” customers from companies’ CRM platforms. I’m really fascinated by it – I would expect that every company would want to achieve that same “Zen.”

  • I think your approach, focusing on “best-of-the-best” customers is the best way to start. Segmenting customers by advocacy levels/participation makes sense, and you want to focus on activating the ones that truly fit the bill, and aren’t passer-by consumers.

    Will it ever get to the point where “advocacy” is a staple in any marketing plan? We’re way off from that but social media has the potential to make it happen.

  • I think your approach, focusing on “best-of-the-best” customers is the best way to start. Segmenting customers by advocacy levels/participation makes sense, and you want to focus on activating the ones that truly fit the bill, and aren’t passer-by consumers.

    Will it ever get to the point where “advocacy” is a staple in any marketing plan? We’re way off from that but social media has the potential to make it happen.

  • Very nice, Adam. I like the water metaphor as a way to approach the issue of social media advocacy. As you know, I am a huge fan of giving your best customers tools to become your best marketers (http://bit.ly/nxz8b). When customers contact each other, they are far more credible than any marketing department could ever be.

    While I think reaching out to the best of the best customers to make them aware of such tools is a great tactic, I would also look for ways to build tools that any happy customer can come across and use to spread the good word.

  • Very nice, Adam. I like the water metaphor as a way to approach the issue of social media advocacy. As you know, I am a huge fan of giving your best customers tools to become your best marketers (http://bit.ly/nxz8b). When customers contact each other, they are far more credible than any marketing department could ever be.

    While I think reaching out to the best of the best customers to make them aware of such tools is a great tactic, I would also look for ways to build tools that any happy customer can come across and use to spread the good word.

  • Great post,Adam

    Many people are overwhelmed with the amazing features that social media has extended. I can’t deny the benefit that it presents to a blogger like me. However, some don’t how to make it work for all.

    Creating an advocacy is such a great idea to make a big difference with the trend that is happening right now. This is one way of maximizing the usage of social media in a more beneficial way. It is a win-win situation for both sides. This approach will eventually work since audiences are looking for value and something that is worth their time these days.

    I guess this post is a good reminder to think of a better way to achieve harmony within the social environment.

    Love the analogy about harmony!ss

  • Great post,Adam

    Many people are overwhelmed with the amazing features that social media has extended. I can’t deny the benefit that it presents to a blogger like me. However, some don’t how to make it work for all.

    Creating an advocacy is such a great idea to make a big difference with the trend that is happening right now. This is one way of maximizing the usage of social media in a more beneficial way. It is a win-win situation for both sides. This approach will eventually work since audiences are looking for value and something that is worth their time these days.

    I guess this post is a good reminder to think of a better way to achieve harmony within the social environment.

    Love the analogy about harmony!ss