Get 3x Customer Advocacy with a Community

Welcome to my guide for tripling your advocacy output; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Your Customers Want A Community

Customers want the ability to connect with each other, see how others are getting results, and be able to ask questions. Specifically, they want communities.

Along with customers asking for communities, teams need feedback, ideation, representation, and competitors are building communities that become a selling point.

Several companies have proven that a community can be wildly beneficial for everyone involved, especially customer advocacy.

From my own experience, a community can bring customers together and make it much easier to scale advocacy programs.

The transition from community member to advocate is a natural shift based on the relationships created by the community manager and among the customers/members themselves.

Customer Marketing (& Other Teams) Need A Community

Customer marketing & advocacy (often considered one department/team/function) often starts with one team member grasping at straws across the customer ecosystem to find the best advocate/reference/customer for an opportunity/ask/challenge.

  • Sales needs someone as a reference.
  • Marketing needs people to fill out reviews.
  • Education needs people to share their knowledge, speak, host, etc.

This puts the sole CM person at a disadvantage because they need to get these requests filled while also trying to build the program (build the ship as it’s sailing).

As more internal teams see the value in having the CM professional filling requests, they respond with more requests, increasing the workload.

You need a community to scale advocacy!

Here are more reasons a community is necessary:

  • Get more stakeholders, team members, partners, and experts involved with your company & programs.
  • The content created in a community is wildly helpful for your company.
  • Community gives your team members access to prospects, customers, and others at EVERY stage of the sales/lifecycle funnel.
  • There really are more advantages to having an advocacy community than you can brainstorm.

Community Is the Path to Long-Lasting Advocacy Programs

No matter how you shape it, you need a lot of customers to create a long-lasting successful Advocacy program.

That can either come by constantly asking Customer Success, Support, and other teams to 1) share data, 2) promote your program OR by building a program that attracts members itself.

This is the difference between begging other teams to help you and getting their support to send customers your way because it is in their best interest.

Yes, Customer Success will send members to your community – to you! And you can cultivate them into advocacy.

So, no more contests, SPIFFs, pushing or begging.

5 C’s of Successful Community & Advocacy Initiatives

After years of building these programs, I’ve created a 5 pillar approach to Community Advocacy; here it is:

Customer Programs, Community, Connections, Collaboration & Cultivating Advocates

Customer Programs

You’ll need to get customers’ attention to make this initiative successful. You want to give them access to other customers, fans, and collective knowledge.

But, since everyone seems to be launching a community right now, customers are getting bored with attempts to get them to join yet ANOTHER community for connection, learning, and sharing.

This is why we launch Customer Programs. It’s a bit different from what others are doing (or at least how they are doing it) and makes your initiative a bit more innovative.

These programs attract customers to your advocacy world. They help members find a specific value. You can add these programs to various onboarding and customer communications to get customers to join.

Customers Programs I’ve started:

  • Monthly match program
  • Weekly informal obstacle call
  • Expert community columns
  • Topic online meetups
  • Spotlights
  • Certification award invites

The match programs & weekly calls seem to be the most widely popular programs so far.

You’ll have to watch your users to see what they are most interested in. I usually ask some of my most active members what they think about a program before launching it.

The nice thing about these programs is they can be set up before you have a community in place, contribute to building your community, become the draw to your community, and you can phase them into your strategy over time.

Community

As part of joining your programs, customers must join the community platform. This is where they’d fill out the form, do a survey, indicate interest, etc.

Your community is where you scale your advocacy program. By providing the discussions, answers, connections, and opportunities, your members & customers want, you’ll build a healthy flow of activity that attracts your customers back to your platform/advocacy program.

Inside this platform, you’ll build a natural flow into advocacy. It’s not extremely difficult to do. As you are building discussions and nurturing your relationships with members, you’ll hear indications of what they’d like to do as part of being an advocate.

I’ll begin by saying that any customer who joins the community can be considered an advocate because they are taking a step to be closer to the company. Additionally, by asking each of them 1 question, you can figure out what type of advocate they would like to be. Based on Laura Ramos’ article on the 4 types of advocates, I ask:

Ask members: How do you want to participate?

  1. Educate and learn from/with others.
  2. Share my honest feedback and experiences.
  3. Grow my career through various opportunities.
  4. Collaborate with X Company on cool projects.

The top 3 answers are your most active members, and because you know what motivates them, you can nurture them into the appropriate activities.

  • For example, Amy joins and wants to educate others – she will be active in answering questions in the community; you can message her when a topic comes up, and she’s an expert in that area.
  • Jon wants to share feedback & his experiences. You can ask him if he’d like to turn that into a blog post when he posts one of his stories. He’s also likely to leave honest reviews, join product betas, and generate ideas for the company.
  • Stephanie wants to grow her career. She will participate in events, speak on webinars, write content, and network with your team and members. You can ask her to share her expertise in a blog post, have her be a reference, etc.
  • Collaborators are usually VP-level and up. They won’t normally participate much in the community, but it’s nice to build a relationship and get them onto CABs, EABs, or Champion programs.

By segmenting these members, you can now personalize outreach for individual advocacy requests. (AKA, you are set to begin scaling.)

Connections

At the core of any community, you’ll find relationships, the ties that bring people together to become something more than the sum of all parts.

In the beginning, of your community, you’ll have members connect with the community manager or another team member; from there, further connections need to be arranged between members. These conversations are usually around making introductions, helping members get comfortable posting in the community, reminding them visit and listening to what is important to them.

These relationships contribute to an active community that feeds your customer marketing initiatives & the company’s success.

Start by getting several members into my founding members group, then help them connect with each other by making introductions based on their interests, projects they are working on, goals for the year, favorite sports teams, and even steps in their career.

From here, you can offer a variety of calls to discuss hot topics; this helps immensely with the sense of community, which again contributes to the active community.

One of my secrets to building these connections is in the follow-up. When you’ve come to one of my events or ask for a recording, I might make specific recommendations about when to join us, who to talk to after, or even when to listen in on the recording for a certain topic.

I do this when I have the time to connect 1:1 with members, when I need to encourage activity, and when I want to bring more attention to something we’re working on.

Collaboration

Once you have your community and programs in place, it’s time to make sure you are adding value to other teams (internally) and collecting/enabling value from those teams to your customers.

I usually pick a couple of teams where I can immediately add value to their KPIs – I will:

1) show that I’m a team player who supports them as well and

2) build a relationship that will support the community and my programs in the future whether just through resources or by sharing our value back to our executives.

It’s very easy for a community to add to the education, social, content, and sales enablement teams. Based on the initiatives they are working on, I can give them content ideas, content creators, content for social, and feedback for courses and certifications.

Once I’ve given them value and worked on those internal relationships, I can also ask for support.

  • I can ask the social media team to share upcoming programs or events
  • I can get lists from the education team about who has completed certifications (and is likely to become an advocate someday)
  • I can ask for sales relationships that are already being used as references for my advocacy initiatives.

It’s supremely important to build these relationships, this is how customer-led growth works, it has to permeate and make change within the organization, and we do that by enabling other teams to see and add value.

To start working with other teams, ask how you can help them reach their goals, set up monthly calls with the 2 teams you can start with, and after 6 months, add another team and move the first 2 teams to as-needed calls, bi-monthly or quarterly.

I also start a monthly email and ask stakeholders if they want to be updated monthly on what I’m doing for customers.

This is a long race, it’s change management, and it’s absolutely necessary to the future success of your programs both in community and customer marketing, as well as your future as a department in the company because as these teams see your value, they share how necessary it is to have these programs.

Cultivate Advocacy

Now for the fun part – Advocacy!

Based on your approach, I’ll admit that putting your community into place can take a bit of time to build up. But once you have it moving along or even when you only have customer programs in place, advocacy can really pick up.

Example of a small community with advocacy – Sendoso (Leslie Barrett)

Scaling: I suggest starting with some fun challenges, opportunities for hand-raisers, contests, and even swag, in order to get some attention for your challenges.

From there, I like to include newsletters and 1:1 outreach to members based on their participation in the community.

But the real scaling comes when you can segment your members and send them challenges based on their actions.

Segmenting & Personalization Ideas:

  • Members who have completed a few challenges and then disappeared – Reach out and send a reactivation email.
  • Members who wanted to be educators – send an email and ask for their expertise topics.
  • A new request comes from sales- check to see what new members have signed up to be Reviewers/Feedback givers – send them an incentive to be a reference call.
  • You notice your top advocates but need to nurture more into action, look at the advocates who are just under the top advocates and set up 1:1 calls to learn more about their experience with your company.

The hardest part I find about scaling is keeping it all organized. You absolutely need a system or automation that helps you manage all of the requests (internally), asks to the customers, the customers themselves, hand-raisers for different activities, and completed asks.

I really like Influitive. They can even help you make the business case to your executives. But, if you can’t invest on that level just yet, Orca is great for bridging SFDC & Advocacy, and Slapfive is great for solo teams (and their customer support is stellar).

My success: I’ve used Influitive to build a community where we drove the company’s first lead program in our category in the Gartner Magic Quadrant.

This ‘guide’ is just a start, I’m collecting feedback on the clarity, inspiration, feasibility, and understanding. Please message me on LinkedIn https://linkedin.com/in/marygreencny