Molly Ploe

If you’re still focused on controlling the storyline associated with your company in 2020, here’s a reality check that you need to hear:

People are talking, or tweeting, behind your business’s back.

Before you panic and shift to damage control, think for a second. If you’ve got a massive following of advocates in the public sphere touting the virtues of your operation, a little gossip can be a very good thing.

A carefully developed social advocacy program can sometimes be a more beneficial use of your time than toiling endlessly over the perfectly crafted three-word tagline. Here’s how to turn traditional brand advocacy into a game-changing social venture.

What is social advocacy?

Social advocacy refers to the actions of brand advocates who publicly share information related to their experiences with a company or their perceptions of the business’s brand identity. The term social advocacy can also be used to describe shared efforts to address widespread, systemic issues in society.

While these two definitions might seem unrelated at first, they actually share a significant amount of common ground. After all, businesses live in the real world, and they have to be directly engaged with the issues that people care about in order for customers to trust their sincerity and authenticity.

What does social advocacy mean in the context of marketing?

In the marketing world, social advocacy consists of conversations that take place away from official company communication channels. It’s the process by which information related to the organization is shared by:

  • Internal thought leaders.
  • Employee advocates.
  • Influencers.
  • Current and former customers.

While advocacy campaigns can still be coordinated and facilitated by marketing leaders, the heft of the work is often done by informal social advocates speaking to their peers and colleagues directly about their experiences.

Social advocates can participate in these campaigns by:

  • Referring friends and acquaintances to the company or promoting its products and services.
  • Sharing content created by the company and adding their own commentary.
  • Creating their own content related to topics and issues raised by the company.

Can a campaign be both social advocacy and marketing?

The answer to this one is a bit of a paradox. A campaign can be both social advocacy (i.e., a concerted effort to fix deep-seated problems in the community) and marketing. That is, as long as it isn’t actually marketing.

What does that look like?

  • The business has to spend less time on self-congratulation and put more emphasis on the critical issue at hand.
  • Companies have to acknowledge if they’ve ever been culpable in the problems they’re pointing out, and they have to share the steps they’re taking to make things right.
  • Articles and landing pages have to lose the traditional CTA in favor of links to advocacy tools or requests to support organizations that are dedicated to the cause.

All of these points are readily apparent in a recent open letter and additional posts from The Infatuation and its Chief Executive Officer, Chris Stang.

In this way, The Infatuation acknowledged its missteps, voiced its commitment to turning things around and highlighted the NAACP. Future posts amplified Black voices and encouraged readers to support Black-owned restaurants and to donate to racial justice nonprofits.

Obviously, it’s best to get things right the first time. When you don’t, there are actions you can take to get back on the right track.

In some ways, it’s Marketing 101: Your goal isn’t to show your customers that you’re the best at what you do; it’s to helpfully share strategies that will empower your followers to solve bigger problems. Sometimes, the best way to do that is to direct your readers away from your website and toward donation pages for advocacy groups.

Can social advocacy be used to enhance brand reputation?

Sharing your earnest commitment to social causes can be an important way to establish your brand reputation for current and potential customers, as well as employees, peers and business partners.

Recent research illustrates how important corporate social responsibility is for earning, and retaining, business:

  • Knowing that a company is driven to improve conditions in the world would make 77% of consumers more likely to buy products or services from that business.
  • In order to earn their business, 70% of consumers expect that you can tell them what your company is doing to address important ecological and social concerns.

Being an active participant in regional, national and global problem-solving efforts can raise brand awareness for your organization.

Ambassadors on your behalf who participate in online review forums can also help elevate your brand reputation.

Like we said, people are going to talk about you. Trying to script their responses won’t work. Provide them with the inspiration they need to improvise about your brand’s positive attributes.

What does social advocacy look like in action?

Social advocacy efforts often tend to follow either one of two processes, depending on the objectives of the campaign and the advocacy skills of those involved:

  1. The company could lead the charge by identifying a problem in the world or by focusing on a product or service they want to highlight. They can deliver a targeted CTA to their audience to submit content, share a review, circulate content or to get involved in another way.
    1. Dove does a great job of exemplifying this practice on Twitter by encouraging their audience to take action in support of The CROWN Act.

  2. Social advocates, out of a desire to share information with communities they consider important, can participate in self-guided actions related to the cause, or the content, they care about. They may post information about the company in an open online forum, or they could share relevant content from the company with their social media followers.
    1. Whether you directly solicit reviews from customers or not, Yelp ratings and Google reviews could always be coming your way, so get ready.

Different tactics will help gain word of mouth for your cause depending on the type of social advocacy in which you want to engage.

What are the different types of social advocacy?

The various varieties of social advocacy are defined by their goals, methods and participants. Here are some of the most prominent categories that we’ve noticed are leading social advocacy efforts in recent years.

Employee advocacy

What’s one of the surest paths to content marketing ROI? Turn to employee social advocacy. With a well-designed employee advocacy program to incentivize participation, you can encourage the ready and waiting brand evangelists already working in your office to spread your company’s message far and wide.

Often, employees want an opportunity to paint their workplace in a positive light because it reflects well on them, too. And when employees share content from the company with their friends, family and followers, those readers will take note. They may not know your brand yet, but they know Kyle in accounting. They trust Kyle. Kyle’s never steered them wrong.

In addition to burnishing your company’s overall identity, employee advocates can be essential for employment branding efforts. When happy employees share their experiences, word gets around.

But, can social advocacy be used to improve employee engagement, too?

This all comes down to how you design your advocacy program. Make sure that participants feel they have a stake in the company’s success. Opportunities to attend off-site training don’t hurt, either.

Social media advocacy

This is social advocacy that takes place on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other venues for sharing content and cat pics. Here, there’s less of an emphasis on influencer marketing tactics.

Instead, social media advocacy campaigns focus on developing relationships and driving engagement with insightful posts from thought leaders. Fun opportunities for users to participate with a company around a common theme can be a boon, too There may be a soft social selling element to this work, but the real goal is to encourage the target audience to engage with the company’s branding and pass on their message.

Social justice advocacy

In this category, the message is what’s most important. Brand identity and media campaigns take a back seat to social change and promoting organizations that strive for justice. Crucially, this is not a category you can just dip your toes in. It requires long-term commitment to confronting social issues.

Examples of social advocacy in marketing

As content marketers, these are some of the social advocacy campaigns that have turned us into fellow advocates.

Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work 2020, Employees’ Choice

Hats off to HubSpot for capturing the No. 1 spot this year, and we’re thankful to Glassdoor for collating the data that enabled these rankings. This is employee advocacy at its finest. What’s the secret? Nonstop commitment to developing positive workplace cultures.

Happy Valentine’s Day From Spotify for Artists

What do we love about this social media advocacy tweet from Spotify for Artists? Let us count the ways:

  1. It’s timely and heartfelt.
  2. It’s simple and shareable.
  3. It leverages the participation of built-in brand ambassadors to reach their fans.

Silence is NOT An Option, Ben & Jerry’s

The beloved ice cream company didn’t mince words when it addressed issues of racial justice that were raised yet again this summer. By taking a clear and direct stand, this social justice advocacy initiative spread an unambiguous message that’s been retweeted more than 135,000 times. Take note: Ben & Jerry’s walks the walk, and they have a history of speaking out on this topic, lending their brand further credibility.

How important is social advocacy in marketing?

The bottom line is this: Social advocacy strategies are initiatives that produce brand advocates down the road. People are always going to talk. Give them something good to say.