Who’s Your Best Bet, Advocates or Influencers?

First things first. Happy New Year folks! Hope 2014 ushers in more success, prosperity and joy for you and your loved ones.

A lot has already been said on the topic of social media advocacy/advocates and influence/influencers. However, a lot of people still inadvertently substitute one term with the other. Though both groups are indispensable to a marketer, the objectives they help achieve are divergent.  The oxford dictionary delineates the two terms as follows:

Advocate (Noun)

A public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.

Influence (Noun)

The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.

The definitions of the two terms makes it adequately clear that they’re not the same and that they cannot be used interchangeably. Now let’s put them into the social media perspective.

Influencers vs. Advocates

Advocates are individuals with a high degree of reliability, who have had a positive experience with a particular brand and are voluntarily willing to share their experience with their peers and extended networks. Advocates voice their appreciation for that brand without expecting anything in return and they remain loyal to the brand until such time, that they find a better alternative. They may or may not have a high reach.

Influencers are individuals or a group of individuals with a high degree of authority, who enjoy enormous clout over a large network of influencees and can disseminate the brand’s messaging and even conceivably influence the purchase decisions of the members within their networks. Influencers may or may not have used the brand’s product/service for themselves and they may not necessarily be fans of the brand. Influencers are driven by incentives or compensation.

The following infographic brings out the dichotomy between the two, which will assist the marketer in their planning process and subsequently help them tailor their campaigns.

Influencers vs. Brand Advocates

                                                     (Source: Zuberance.com)

Mentioned below, are a few additional factors that distinguishes the two.

A B2B brand can choose to leverage ONLY advocates for their marketing initiatives. But for a B2C brand, they cannot afford to disregard either of the two. While influencer programs will help brands realize indefinable goals such as creating awareness, augmenting the brand’s persona and growing a community, it may not automatically translate into revenues for the brand. On the other hand, advocacy may not help the brand garner a lot of eyeballs but it could produce instantaneous results which will affect the brand’s bottom-line.  It is upto the marketer to strategically plan their campaigns, keeping the brand’s long term and short term interests in sight.

A few aspects that marketers should ruminate over while drawing up their social media outreach strategy are:

  • Quantity vs. Quality: If the objective is to reach a larger audience within a short span of time, in a bid to create brand awareness, then Influencers are the way to go. If the objective is to build a community on the foundation of positive sentiments and brand affinity over a period of time, advocates help fulfil this need.
  • Short-term vs. Long-term: If the requirement is to create buzz/chatter around a specific campaign, Influencers can tap into their large networks to enable this. If the brand is looking to bolster its image and increase sales referrals over the long term, advocates can help facilitate this.
  • Earned vs. Paid: In the long run, earned brand affinity is more sustainable and entrenched than paid loyalty, which is comparatively short lived. Advocates thus are more suitable ambassadors for the brand in due course.
  • Flexibility: With advocates, marketers will have to adopt a waiting game; they need to be encouraged, nurtured and satisfied, in order for them to advocate your brand to their peers. Even then the brand has very little, or no say in how the advocates choose to talk about the brand. With Influencers, the brand has the flexibility to direct content, timelines, channel and the engagement model.
  • Outcome Oriented: If the brand is looking to do some fire-fighting to avert PR nightmares, influencers are the best bet since they have a higher clout and a larger following. If the brand is looking to put together testimonials, case studies or success stories, advocates are more credible than somebody who endorses multiple brands.

According to a Nielsen study published on ‘Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages’, 92% of respondents say that they trust recommendations from the people they know and 70% of the people say that they completely trust consumer opinions posted online. Advocacy works like traditional word-of-mouth. A customer is most likely to be influenced by somebody they know and someone who talks out of personal experience. For example, you’re looking to buy a new toaster. Whose endorsement are you most likely to consider before you make up your mind? Recommendation from someone in your own personal network, or an influencer or celebrity like, say Justin Bieber? Maybe that’s debatable but you get the point, right? This isn’t to say that influencers are irrelevant in any way. Both advocates and influencers serve different purposes and both groups need to be fostered, however they need to be approached differently and leveraged appropriately to meet the organizational objectives. What’s important to note here though, is that neither advocacy programs nor influencer outreach can substitute unswerving customer satisfaction measures adopted by the brand.

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