Companies are now anxious to adopt all things “social”. But as many of us know, you could select the best, industry-leading tool and your community could still fail.
Why? As my InfoWeek blog “Who’s to Blame for a Failed Community” suggests, social software vendors may provide you with best practice advice or strategy toolkits, but the responsibility for success lies solely at the feet of the customer organization to both invest in and execute upon a well thought out social business strategy. A key part of that strategy must include investing in both community management and a strong community advocate program.
Kevin Crossman just covered last month The specified item was not found., so let me focus this blog post on the role of Community Advocates and why you need them.
It is my firm belief that a community can’t grow; sometimes it can’t even get off the ground well, if you don’t have these advocates involved early and often with you. Advocates can be your secret weapon in going wide, viral and global in both employee and market facing/customer communities.
The tactical way in which you locate or engage with your advocates may vary based upon the type of community (employee, customer, product support, etc.), but the principles I’ll describe below can apply to either type of community.
- What are Community Advocates?
What Advocates Do and Why You Need Them?
- First, advocates can share in Community Work.
- Second, advocates can increase your community reach and word of mouth promotion.
- Third, advocates can be a powerful front line source of end user and member support.
- Fourth, advocates can help you prune and curate community content.
- Finally (although the list could go on!), your community advocates can be a trusted source of user feedback.
- What’s the Bottom Line?
What are Community Advocates?
Wikipedia says “an advocate is someone who speaks on behalf of another person”. Advocates are also sometimes thought of as an “influencer”. Sean Driscoll of Ant's Eye View, in a recent presentation on "An Advocacy Program Framework", shared the following definition (referenced with permission):
“Advocate (Ad-vo-cate), noun
- one that pleads the cause of another
- one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal
- one that supports or promotes the interests of another”
What Advocates Do and Why You Need Them?
We’ve defined “advocates”, but why are they so important to your community? First let's look at what a few experts have to say below.
"Without advocates--people who encourage others to use social business software to enact purpose-driven use cases that solve an end user's pain, or satisfy a business need for them--expect adoption to mosey along at a frustratingly slow pace, especially in more traditional cultures and regulated industries."Gia Lyons, Strategic Advisor and Jive Software Business Community Manager
"Customers become advocates when they willingly advocate on behalf of your company in public. . . There are of course totally organic advocates who will tirelessly promote your company out of affinity for your products or services. If you are not engaging these people, stop reading this piece and figure out how to do it right now.” David Armano, EVP, Global Innovation & Integration, “Humanizing Business & Brands: Your Ambassador Ecosystem”
So what do advocates do? And why is that important?
First, advocates can share in Community Work.
Advocates can help you get real work done in the community. They can:
- Lead topics, discussions or smaller communities of interest
- Show members ways to make effective use of the community to accomplish business goals
- Help welcome new members
- Deliver training or coaching sessions
- Answer questions in the community
- Write help topics for the community
- Share best practices
Bottom line, advocates provide extra arms and legs you need to get community work done.
At CSC, we called our advocate group our “C3 Lifeguards”. They became our “strategic planning partners” in our social business journey. Our early team of 100 advocates helped us plan, seed and lead 200 use cases (or groups in C3) prior to our pilot launch. We asked these advocates to be local storytellers and deliver training sessions to their local teams, executives and business units. We attributed the early success of our pilot directly to the effectiveness of this advocate program.
Second, advocates can increase your community reach and word of mouth promotion.
Often, these advocates will not only promote, or spread word of mouth about the community, but highly engaged advocates will also vocally defend the community to naysayers and critics in areas where community managers alone cannot reach.
I just recently witnessed a powerful example where community advocates came to the defense of a brand in the marketplace. An industry blogger released a post that contained brand information many brand advocates perceived as inaccurate. The advocate group was so fully knowledgeable and engaged with that brand that the advocates responded in significant numbers to that industry blog post with what the advocates perceived as more correct facts.
Why was that so important?
- Well, first the brand in question did not ask the advocates to reply.
- Second, the collective voice of the advocates was more powerful, and truly more influential, than that of a brand’s marketing or PR team.
- And finally, the advocates proved to be more credible, because they provided real examples from their specific experience supporting their contrary positions.
At CSC, our C3 Lifeguards helped us promote both the announcement of our new employee community and the effective use of the community for business purposes. They helped run local Lunch & Learn training sessions, and promote C3 to their local project teams and executives. They volunteered to lead 200 use cases that had local or business unit applications and in many ways helped us reach more people across our company and across the globe with real work examples. In 20 weeks our member registrations grew from 100 advocates to 25,000 registered users and from 200 work groups to 2000 groups. We attributed this viral growth of both user registrations and sponsored groups to the direct result of our C3 Lifeguard efforts.
Third, advocates can be a powerful front line source of end user and member support.
If you nurture advocates well, train them, arm them with templates, and make them feel part of your planning team, they can be a powerful source of end user or member support. Your advocates may field simple questions such as “how do I use” the community features or they may answer more complex questions such as “how do I use a brand’s product or solution”. Bottom line, these advocates can be your local storytellers, sharing best practices and use case examples for business value. This type of user generated community support can reduce the need for direct answers or intervention from a community manager or moderator.
Again, at CSC, our C3 Lifeguards proved to be immensely in providing member support around the clock. Our employees did not have to wait for me to wake up on East Coast time to get an answer. As advocates came online in other times zones I knew they could, and would, watch and answer community member questions.
That type of immediate, front line source of support is not only beneficial, but it also shows members that member questions really do matter. When members get their questions answered quickly, they are left with a positive experience and keep using the community or even recommend the community to their network of colleagues.
Fourth, advocates can help you prune and curate community content.
It’s impossible for any one person to be able to create all the content a community needs nor be able to read, answer and engage with all members or questions in a large, vibrant community. Advocates can be an effective way to scale the work of content planning, pruning and curation.
Jeremiah Owyang, Altimeter Group, addresses this phenomenon best as he describes the Rings of Social Influence . . . “Companies cannot scale for social business -customers will always outnumber you. [To solve for this companies must] Leverage all the voices in your "rings" [of influence] . . . Use the crowd to self support not just in customer service, but also in marketing.”
In fact, this very Jive Community is an excellent example of great community advocacy at work. Many of us have volunteered to write blog posts to benefit the larger community knowledge base. There are others among us who are great curators or awesome at posting “lessons learned” and helpful tips & tricks. And there are other members who know the Jive Community membership well enough, and each of our strengths, to know when to push posts or questions other members for them to answer.
Finally (although the list could go on!), your community advocates can be a trusted source of user feedback.
Advocates are often very highly engaged with a brand’s products or services. They may also know the sentiment of the community and its members by being so highly engaged in the community. As such, this audience can be an important and trusted source for product, solution, brand or community feedback. Brands can leverage these advocates by providing behind the scenes product previews with the goal of gaining insights and innovative ideas.
At CSC we continue to engage our C3 Lifeguards in release testing, feature release priorities and other programs where we value the input and feedback of our members.
What’s the Bottom Line?
In short, a community manager must not forget the essential role community advocates can play in a healthy, vibrant community.
“Spend lots of love and attention on identified advocates… Equip them to onboard their network, wherever it happens to exist. These people are critical to a positive, rapid and widespread adoption experience.” Gia Lyons
As a community manager, it’s important that you locate, nurture and engage with your community advocates. The effort you invest with this advocate team will pay you immense dividends in the long run.
In summary, advocates can:
- Be your local story tellers to their peers, to others in the industry or with other members;
- Demonstrate best practices for community use to be emulated by others in the community;
- Be a powerful front line source for member support and answers;
- Be a highly motivated voice of your brand, influencing not only the community members, but others in the marketplace as well;
- Be a source of content and engagement planning;
- Be a source of feedback and guidance for you as you steer your community to success.
Claire Flanagan is CSC’s Director of Social Business and Community Strategy and a Jive Champion. She led CSC’s employee community C3 and is leading efforts to bring social business capabilities to other aspects of CSC’s eco-system of customers and partners.
Claire speaks regularly at industry conferences about social business and has received numerous awards along the way such as the Jive Community Adoption Award, The 2.0 Adoption Council’s Internal Evangelist of the Year Award and the Jive Champion Award. The C3 team was a CSC Chairman’s Award for Excellence Finalist. She is a charter member of The Social Business Council, board member for The Community BackChannel #cmtybc, and a member of The Community Roundtable. You can connect with Claire on Twitter at @cflanagan.
The views expressed here are Claire’s personal opinions, have not been reviewed or authorized by CSC and do not necessarily represent the views of CSC.