Sanjay Shetty is the founder of Communities R Us Consulting Services, which helps organizations convert customers into brand advocates. Shetty has been the president of INETA APAC, a nonprofit supporting technology communities, for more than nine years. Check out his blog.

Having a brand advocate strategy is invaluable. But finding brand advocates can be tricky and there’s a lack of resources out there to teach you how to reach out to your advocates, so I’ve created my own list of ideas.

There are three primary sources for organizations to discover potential brand advocates: Internal, external and automated tools.

Internal sources of brand advocates include:

1. Loyalty program members. Regular users of your products and services are the first place to look for brand advocates. The people who often complain, or better yet, send in suggestions on how you can improve, are great potential candidates.

2. Early adopters. Some people live on the bleeding edge. They are the ones who want to be the first to check out the latest products, and as such, are in direct touch with the provider organizations. In the software industry, these early adopters are known as the beta testers.

3. Forums. Most organizations provide support forums where customers can post questions and typically other members, users of the products and services, provide answers. The forums we see today are the closest incarnation of the old bulletin board and newsgroups, where a whole lot of people went to search for answers and a bunch of passionate product lovers supported them by responding to queries. This is a fertile hunting ground to discover some of the most helpful brand advocates. You also get to invisibly observe these potential brand advocates and understand their level of expertise and passion in your products and in supporting others.

4. Employee referrals. It’s amazing how much valuable information is trapped within an organization without the organization becoming aware of it. If I were beginning to find advocates, I would first approach my internal teams, the people in the field and the customer support representatives. Starting internally provides a great advantage, as it helps you get support from all your people in adopting your brand advocate program.

5. Partners. Your partners, companies which provide solutions around your products and service providers, can be great sources as well. Most often unknown experts and brand advocates are found here. Approaching your partners as sources for brand advocates will also help cement better ties between your organizations.

External sources to find brand advocates include:

6. Social media. Social media has enabled a whole lot of people to connect and share their thoughts — whether it’s how-to videos on YouTube, or tips and links to useful content via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Similarly, bookmarking sites and sites where people can aggregate content such as Digg and StumbleUpon are invaluable sources of potential brand advocates.

7. Publications. Book authors and magazine article writers are typically experts on a particular subject and have a tendency to share information with others. In the same vein, there are a number of online aggregators of content, in which a lot of authors contribute content, including how-to articles and in-depth whitepapers. All these authors are potential brand advocates.

8. Followers of A-listers. I’ve often found hidden gems among the people who participate or comment on content provided by high profile authors/bloggers/article writers — the so-called “A-Listers.” People who follow and interact with A-Listers are likely to be good candidates to be part of your brand advocate program.

9. Bloggers. I’ve specifically listed bloggers as a separate source of finding brand advocates, as I’ve observed them to be more passionate about the subjects they’re interested in than say, Twitter users or Facebook status updaters. You might find that although some bloggers are great at creating useful content, most of them may not be your typical A-lister, with a large number of followers. However, they probably have a loyal audience and can add to the positive buzz around your brand and should certainly not to be ignored.

10. Industry associations. Any industry today has a traditional industry association. Whether we’re talking about accountants, or IT experts or restaurants. Many of these associations are not-for-profit, helping the cause of that particular industry. In addition, there are associations that represent categories of professional audiences, for e.g. chief marketing officers, project managers, architects, human resource professionals etc. The members of these associations can be excellent brand advocates.

11. Community and user groups. Groups of people focused on a particular topic, who meet regularly (either in person or via online virtual meetings) are another great source for discovering brand advocates. Most of these groups are started by leaders who love to share their passion, and a lot of community members speak and share their expertise with others.

12. Podcasters. I’ve put people who produce podcasts in a separate category, as these brand advocates typically have a different kind of audience. While I’m not a big fan of listening to podcasts, I know of a whole lot of people in the technology field who are podcasters and who are listeners.

13. Q-and-A sites. There are a number of online Q-and-A sites focused on a variety of industries. These are similar to forums, but are typically run independently or as part of other social sites, such as Yahoo! Answers, LinkedIn Answers, Quora or StackOverflow , which is focused on the tech industry. Most of these sites also provide recognition in terms of badges or points indicating the most active participants, making the job of finding brand advocates easier.

14. Customer referrals. A quick way to find advocates is to ask your customers who their go-to experts are — or even their in-house experts.

15. Consultants. Most consulting companies have key consultants who often speak at industry events and publish content around their topics of expertise.

16. Trainers. Trainers are a great source of experts who want to publicize their expertise and are motivated to be the first to learn about new products. They interact with a variety of customers and are exposed to various scenarios in which your products are used.

17. Conference or industry event speakers. Speakers, whether they are doing keynotes or speaking at sessions, can be extremely powerful brand advocates.

I’m sure you’re wondering whether there are automated tools to help you discover brand advocates. The simple answer is yes — but I have mixed feelings about these tools as they are online-only. Influence happens both online and offline.

Moreover, going through the sources listed above and identifying and observing potential brand advocates manually enables you to gain insight and understanding of your potential brand advocates — where the participate, what they focus on, what kind of questions people ask them about, etc. This experience will prove to be valuable in its own right. Once you’ve gone through these 17 sources to find your brand advocates, then consider evaluating automated tools. This will give you a far better understanding of the tools’ capabilities.

Here’s a mind map that captures all of the above ideas in one visual (click to view larger).

 

 

 

 

 

 

How are you finding brand advocates? Sound off in the comments, and don’t forget to share this article.

Image credit: VizCraft

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13 Responses to “17 ways to discover your brand advocates”

  1. sj says:

    You can also have someone find them for you. Sites like Care2.com with their massive membership of 18+million members specialize in populating communities with brand evangelists.

  2. @lpinkston says:

    This is a fantastic list! Do you use any marketing automation tools to identify and tie together people who touch your brand multiple times but in different areas?

    • sanjayshetty says:

      Hi Leigh,

      Thank you. There are various software/automation tools which help in identifying potential online influencers. However, the key question to ask is not which software but why? I know this might sound simplistic, and I’ll explain more. Business objectives come first, then strategy, tactics… and tools are last in the hierarchy.

      Most for profit businesses typically have two root objectives, increasing sales or reducing costs. So depending on that base objective you’d go down two different paths as different kinds of strategies, people and software are needed.

      My recent post Interesting Readings around building a community

      • sanjayshetty says:

        Take for example a company like Microsoft. One of their objectives of working with brand advocates is to reduce costs, and one of their strategic ideas to achieve this is via call deflection, i.e. reduce customer support costs with the help of brand advocates. In order to do this they’ve created specific programs, one of them being Community Contributors which certain kinds of people participate in. The approach to identify and involve these people is not solely achieved via the current crop of social identification/automation tools out there. It’s a combination of multiple tactics. I hope that clarifies the reason I ask Why? There are many things involved which need to be clarified and I'd be happy to understand those, before I suggest or go down the tools path.

        I hope that helps clarify why I’m hesitant to just shoot off recommendations on tools before knowing much more in-depth details. Thank you for taking the time to raise this important question.

        P.s. apologies as I had to break up my reply into two comments as there seems to be a limit to long comments.

  3. Brandy says:

    Great article – thanks so much for writing it. We have had great success using eCairn to find our "brand advocates". The tool looks at everything you mentioned above, determines how they are all connected, and gives us a good picture of where our marketing spend should be. It's not based on key words so the information we get is clean.

    Thanks again for the writeup! I truly believe this is where us marketing people are going.

  4. [...] Read more on SmartBlogs. [...]

  5. Todd says:

    Enjoyed your article. Our clients find brand advocates in some of the places that you mentioned, but for them the issue becomes keeping track of them, getting them to help reach new people and seeing results, which is why they use us, http://www.socialtoaster.com.

  6. Funny. I read three articles today stating that 2012 is the Year of Social Influence and not one mention of Klout as a way to find brand advocates? Social influence scoring is becoming mainstream.
    My recent post Supercharge your social media strategy by getting back to basics

  7. meerakarthik says:

    finally money………….all about money……………..

  8. [...] Discover your brand advocates Posted in Marketing and tagged with Branding, Building, Content, Customers, Experiences, Growing, Growth, Ideas, Marketing, Networking, Planning, Social, Strategy. RSS 2.0 feed. « GAME CHANGERS [...]

  9. Jason says:

    Would be a great article but the missing images are killing me.

    • Doris Nhan says:

      Hi Jason,
      SmartBlogs recently revamped our websites and we're working to restore all of the images. The images in this particular post have been fixed.

      Thanks for your patience!
      -Doris

  10. Though it’s been recently acquired by Twitter, I’d like to strongly encourage you and your readers who use Twitter for business purposes to consider adding http://backtweets.com as an 18th way to discover brand advocates

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