I have been getting a lot of questions about advocacy so I want to take a few minutes to share my thoughts. I often hear people use the terms “influencers” and “advocates” interchangeably. While there are similarities between these two groups, in my opinion they’re not necessarily one and the same. You may have a different viewpoint on this, and that’s fine. What I’ve discovered is people define these terms differently which results in mixing these 2 groups. Taking some liberties with Ant’s Eye View’s (AEV) definitions of advocates and influencers, this is how I would like to describe them:
An influencer is someone who actively shares their opinions and expertise through their (large) personal and professional networks. An influencer is someone that can cause an effect without apparent exertion or force. Most common examples include analysts and media.
An advocate is someone who proactively defends, promotes and participates in the public conversation for a particular brand, product, service or cause. An advocate is someone that has positive affinity toward and stands behind a brand, product or cause. Most common examples include your most passionate customers and general brand aficionados.
In my mind, advocacy implies passion for and dedication to a brand, product or cause. An advocate is someone who, in some shape or form, makes a brand or product a part of his or her identity. An influencer may not do so. An influencer can have an opinion (or can stay neutral) but typically, he or she will not be ready to “commit” to a brand. Their motivations will likely be different, too. In addition, according to the AEV definition, being an influencer implies a large network while an advocate’s network may be small(er). Therefore, an influencer can be viewed more as a brand accelerator, while an advocate can be viewed more as a brand defender.
The Connection Between Influencers and Advocates
Is it important for a brand to engage with its advocates and influencers alike? Absolutely! Is it possible for an influencer to be an advocate, and vice versa? Absolutely! But, is every influencer an advocate? No! Can an advocate affect his or her (smaller) network? Absolutely! There are overlaps for sure but as I mentioned, their underlying motivations and expressions will often be (slightly or significantly) different.
Confusing? Let’s take me as an example. Those of you that have been reading my blogs know that I practice yoga (well, that’s an understatement). There are many yoga gear brands out there but for whatever reason, I’m a Lululemon fan. I have an emotional attachment to that brand. I practically live in those pants. When people ask me for yoga gear recommendations, without hesitation I recommend Lulu. When they are having issues, I stand behind them and patiently wait until they figure them out (recent see-through pant issue, anyone?). I have turned several of my friends and fellow practitioners onto Lulu (and Ann Taylor LOFT but that’s a whole other story) but I’ve done so on a much smaller scale than a true influencer has the potential to do. I consider myself an advocate but I don’t consider myself a real influencer. I do have “positive affinity toward and stand behind” Lululemon. But I don’t see myself as “someone that can cause an effect without apparent exertion or force.” (Although if a bunch of you run out to get a pair of Lulu pants after reading this blog post, let me know because I may need to reconsider my status :-)).
Nurturing programs, such as influencer and/or advocacy programs, offer great opportunities to brands to connect with their communities in unique and targeted ways. And they offer great opportunities to influencers and advocates to engage with a brand in more personal and exclusive ways. Our advocacy program is called Cisco Champions, check it out. If you’re thinking about starting your own, here are a few quick tips to consider:
1. Have an executive sponsor
2. If you’re a bigger company, create a cross-functional team to secure early buy-in and build long-term partnerships with your key stakeholders
3. Decide on the program structure. Here are a few options to consider:
4. Create a replicable and scalable framework. I outlined a possible framework in 5 steps but please keep in mind that these steps are all related. For example, learning should take place at every step of the way, and your learning and measurement phases should inform your activation plan:
6. Be patient and keep at it
I would love to hear from you. Do you have a cool advocacy framework you can share? Or any lessons learned or best practices you want the whole world to know? Please share them in the Comments box below!