Brand Advocacy: Social Media's Sweet Spot

[This is an excerpt from the ground-breaking new book by Zuberance Founder/CEO Rob Fuggetta, "Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force" (Wiley, 2012)]


Many marketers are experiencing a "social media hangover."

They're starting to question the value of getting more like and followers. They're seeing that only 10 to 15 percent of fans ever return to a brand's pages on Facebook, and that less than 1 percent of fans engage with brands on social networks. And here's the dirty little secret about social media: doing social media right takes a lot of people and time, two things most companies don't have.

Social media may be inexpensive compared to traditional media. But social media isn't free. If you add up the cost of all the people required to manage an effective social media program for a company, you'd be surprised how large the tab really is.


Companies can't afford not to be doing social.

You must use the communication channels your customers and others use, and, increasingly, those channels are social. There are now more than 800 million active Facebook users, with more than 200 million added in 2011, according to the Social Media Examiner. Plus, there are now 100 million active Twitter users (they log in at least once a day). In fact, we haven't even scratched the surface of the power of social media. The technology is transformational.

Even if you can't measure or prove social media ROI, you can't afford not to be using it. If there wasn't a ROI, would you not do social?


Ironically, the most valuable thing you can do with social media is something that's been around marketing ever since Eve said to Adam: "Here, take a bite out this apple. I recommend it."

It's getting your enthusiastic customers (AKA "Brand Advocates") to recommend your company, brand, products, and services.

As the founder of a company that sells advocacy technology and services, you probably think I'm biased.

Guilty as charged.

But I'm also a career marketer like you. I've tried every type of marketing tool and technique. I've created some award-winning marketing campaigns and some duds. I've never seen any marketing approach work better than getting your Advocates to do your marketing for you. But don't trust me. Ask the Advocates of this approach.


A while ago, I attended a market research firm's annual event for marketers. Speaker after speaker urged marketers to innovate, to try new approaches.

"Your customers are way ahead of you!" they proclaimed. "They're ignoring your ads and using word of mouth networks instead," speakers ranted.

Marketers in the audience applauded wildly. And then they went to lunch with their ad agency to plan their next ad blitz.


It's time to take a few of the dollars you're spending now on underperforming tools that don't work very well, like billboards and ads, and invest in advocacy.

Nancy Terry, SVP of marketing of Sport & Health Clubs in the Washington, DC, area, is a fitness marketer who gets it. Like lots of other marketers, her budget isn't getting any bigger. So she's moving some of her marketing dollars from other marketing tools that aren't working very well into advocacy.

"I am one hundred percent convinced that getting our enthusiastic members to help market our club is an approach that will work," said Nancy, as she launched an advocacy program in early 2012. "After all, word of mouth is the number one way we get leads today. Why not invest in what's working?" she asks.

Good question.

-Rob Fuggetta, Founder/CEO, Zuberance (@robfuggetta)

Click here to purchase Brand Advocates.

Top 10 Ways to “Sell” a Brand Advocate Program to Your CMO

You’re excited about starting a Brand Advocate program. Now you need to “sell” your CMO or VP marketing on the idea. Here’s some advice and guidance on how to get your CMO’s blessings and budget for an advocacy program:

1.      Keep it simple. Advocacy is a fancy term for Word of Mouth marketing. Some people may not understand or even heard of the term “advocacy.” But your CMO (and nearly all business people for that matter) know the power of Word of Mouth. So instead of saying to your CMO, “We’d like to start an advocacy program,” try telling them: “We’d like to start a Word of Mouth marketing program.”

2.      Find the CMO’s pain/attack the pain. This is “sales 101.”Focus in on the CMO’s pain and show him or her how an advocacy program will help fix it. See chart below:

CMO Pain

How Advocacy can Help

Real-world example

Negative Word of Mouth, e.g. low online ratings

Boost online ratings

Symantec doubled its star ratings and increased sales 200% on

in one quarter after energizing its Advocates

High customer acquisition costs

Lower customer acquisition costs

Ooma, a VoIP provider, cut acquisition costs 54% by energizing its Advocates

Get more value from Facebook marketing

Find Advocates from among Facebook fans and turn them into a marketing force

has identified over 2,000 Advocates on its Facebook page, and is inviting Advocates to share testimonials plus offers with their Facebook friends.

3.      Give your CMO the “word” on Word of Mouth. 94% of consumers trust Word of Mouth; only 24% trust ads, Nielsen says. If you have information about the influence of Word of Mouth on your company’s sales, give it to the CMO. If you don’t have this research, ask your sales team. Many companies get more than half of their sales from Word of Mouth.

4.      Show your CMO negative Word of Mouth about your company. Negative Word of Mouth comes in many forms: poor reviews and ratings; nasty posts on Facebook and Twitter; venomous comments in online forums. Screen-grab this content and show it to your CMO. Or just have your CMO type in your company or brand name with the word “sucks” and see how many hits you get.

5.      Prove that negative Word of Mouth – even a little – can hurt your company’s sales. If your CMO responds by saying, “Oh well, a few negative reviews aren’t a big problem,” share research with him or her that proves that even a few negative reviews can kill your sales and ruin your reputation. One negative post on social media, on average, has as much impact on customer purchase decisions as five positive posts, NM Incite says. And 80% of consumers change their mind after reading a single bad review, according to a survey by Cone, a Boston-based strategy and communications agency.

6.      Provide stats proving that positive Word of Mouth boosts sales. Numerous studies prove that advocacy drives sales. A one-star increase in ratings on Yelp can boost restaurant sales by 5% to 9%, a Harvard study showed. And companies with only 12% higher Net Promoter Scores (a measure of advocacy) grew their revenues 2X faster than companies with lower Net Promoter Scores, according to a Bain study.

7.      Set clear expectations. When making the case for advocacy, it's important to estimate on how many Advocates you can identify; how many will recommend your brand and product; how many will create and/or share or publish positive reviews, testimonials, etc.

8.      Focus on Return on Advocacy. Advocate marketing programs have compelling, measurable ROI as measured by media and sales value. Club One Fitness, a San Francisco-based fitness chain, got $525,000 in lifetime membership revenues from a two-month advocacy campaign. And Parallels, a software company, got a 30% sales conversion rate when Advocates shared offers and testimonials with their peers. To help you estimate the Return on Advocacy from an Advocate marketing program, download "What's a Brand Advocate Worth?".

9.      Show why your company should move some of its marketing dollars into advocacy. About 90 percent of most company’s marketing investments go to traditional marketing like ads. Yet only 1 in 5 CMOs say they’re getting the marketing results they want. Arm yourself with the facts: What’s your sales conversion rate for traditional marketing programs? How many leads are you getting? How qualified are these leads? Then, drawing on relevant case studies and examples, show how advocacy programs are more effective and less expensive than traditional marketing programs.

10.  Show how a Brand Advocate program will super-charge your company’s Content Marketing Program. Depending on the size of your company, your company may be spending millions of dollars developing content. (Companies spend about 26% of their marketing budgets on developing content, one study showed.) One design firm charges $10,000 to $15,000 for a single infographic! Show how a Brand Advocate program will deliver thousands of pieces of premium content like highly positive reviews and glowing customer testimonials for less than the cost of brand-developed content., the popular genealogy website, generated over 6,800 glowing Advocate testimonials in less than 90 days.

-Rob Fuggetta, Founder & CEO, Zuberance, and author, “Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force” (Wiley, 2012)

Now Available! Download Chapter One of New Book, Brand Advocates

About Brand Advocates In the social media age, power has shifted from advertising’s Mad Men to millions of passionate Brand Advocates. Their trusted recommendations are driving purchase decisions for trillions of dollars in sales of cars to computers; soap to software; hotel rooms to home appliances; fitness memberships to fish tacos; and more. In this ground-breaking book, advocacy expert Rob Fuggetta shows marketers and business leaders how to identify Brand Advocates; energize them to spread positive Word of Mouth and drive sales; and track results from advocacy programs. Brand Advocates is chock full of colorful real-world stories of Brand Advocates and innovative marketers who are getting eye-popping results by turning Advocates into powerful marketing forces.

Click here to download Chapter One now!

To purchase Brand Advocates, choose from the retailers on the right.

Lauren McCadney, CDW's Passionate Marketer

Lauren McCadney is all about passion. Smart, articulate, and always striving to make a difference, McCadney is the social media guru at CDW, a $9.2 billion provider of technology solutions for businesses, government, education and healthcare based in Vernon Hills, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.

McCadney is an accomplished, visionary marketer who joined CDW in 2005 after a lengthy career at telecoms company SBC (which later became AT&T after it acquired AT&T.) The Enterprise Council of Small Business, a division of the Corporate Executive Board, recently named McCadney the 2010 “Small Business Marketer of the Year.”

McCadney is passionate about photography and considers it her gift. She specializes in portraits and events. “I’ve always wanted to tell stories and I also LOVED pictures,” says McCadney. “After much soul searching I realized that photography is my means of expression,” she says.

McCadney is also passionate about kids. “I believe that every child deserves a chance. Unfortunately, not every child receives one. Therefore, you’ll find me doing what I can to make a difference whether it’s sitting on a board, throwing a fundraiser, or volunteering my time,” says, this graduate of Howard University and the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University who lives in Chicago.

And McCadney is also passionate about customer relationships, social media, and brand advocacy. She’s championing and driving CDW’s Brand Advocate program, which in only a few months is quickly approaching nearly 1,000 CDW Advocates.

Energizing Passionate Customers

Unlike other companies, McCadney and CDW didn’t have a compelling marketing problem like negative Word of Mouth they were hoping to solve by leveraging Brand Advocates. Instead, with the skilled eye of a talented photographer, McCadney saw an opportunity that others hadn’t recognized yet: turn CDW’s enthusiastic customers into a powerful marketing force. “Research shows that three out of four people no longer trust what advertisers say. But nine out of ten are going to trust what a peer says,” points out McCadney.

McCadney knew CDW had passionate customers she could leverage. From her early work in social media she saw them support, promote, and defend CDW on Spiceworks, an online community for small business IT professionals. “I realized there were people who were passionate about CDW to the extent that if an issue came up about CDW, they would rush to my (CDW’s) defense. They could actually get in there and kind of diffuse things before I could get to it. So my thinking was already, “How do I start to identify these folks on a larger scale?”

And she knew CDW had a large number of customers willing to recommend the company. But until recently, CDW wasn’t leveraging these enthusiastic customers.

“We would look at the (customer loyalty) report and collectively say, “Look, our number went up again. This is great.” But we weren’t doing anything with this group that was rating us a 9 or 10 when asked “How likely are you to recommend CDW”. Ultimately, I asked myself ‘Why aren’t we asking them (Advocates) to do something? Why aren’t we doing something to recognize them, thank them, ask them to act on our behalf. I think they would.’ “

She was right.

Working with Zuberance, McCadney has begun systematically identifying and energizing CDW Advocates. McCadney and CDW started energizing its Advocates by inviting them to rate and review their CDW experience. Within just a few months, CDW Advocates have created nearly 700 positive reviews, a valuable content asset that CDW is publishing on its website plus in its catalog and email marketing campaigns. “They (CDW Advocates) tell the CDW story better than any copywriter could because they are relating our story from a personal perspective. They know what’s important to IT Professionals and do an amazing job of clearly explaining why you should shop at CDW or the value that we bring,” says McCadney.

Beyond Ratings & Reviews

McCadney is taking CDW’s Advocate program beyond ratings and reviews. “Reviews are just the most tangible manifestation that this individual is an Advocate of our brand,” she says. So CDW is looking to implement user generated content in the form of Success Stories and they’re exploring Customers Building Customers. “For me, I view energizing our Advocates as an entirely new and relevant way of marketing. And that’s something I’m very passionate about,” says McCadney.

Three Key Tips

Here are the three key lessons from the CDW case study:

1. Go beyond Net Promoter. Asking customers how likely they are to recommend your brand or product and measuring your Net Promoter Score is important. Get more value from Net Promoter by making it easy for Promoters to actually recommend you.

2. Give Advocates multiple advocacy tools. Advocate are willing and eager to recommend you in lots of different ways. Go beyond Advocate ratings and reviews. Give your Advocates ways to create and share or publish testimonials, offers, plus answer prospects’ questions, and more.

3. Evangelize evangelism. Energizing Brand Advocates represents a different marketing approach for many marketing organizations. Be prepared to champion the cause of advocacy including educating your colleagues about the benefits of leveraging Brand Advocates continually.