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How To Turn Customers Into Brand Advocates

Companies must be willing to turn the selling cycle upside down to inspire user-generated content on social media sites.

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The best social interactions--at least for companies--tend to be user initiated. In fact, most social engagement works best when it is organic, but that only happens when companies are engaging with customers and followers holistically, explained Ajay Ramachandran, chief marketing and product officer at Dynamic Signal, a company that provides social CRM. Ramachandran detailed ways to achieve this goal during an invitation-only session at Pivot Conference in New York.

Ramachandran divides social into five categories: social enterprise, social listening, social responding, social engagement, and social amplification. He puts social enterprise and social listening at the bottom of the scale because they create fewer chances for organic engagement with customers, being focused solely on internal efforts and watching the social scene, respectively. The most advanced category, social amplification, delivers the highest level of customer and follower interactions. He said companies that have reached this level are also most likely to be using the eight tools and strategies that the most successful brands use for social engagement: social CRM, social strategy and execution, content marketing, customer engagement, gamification, social analytics, influencer marketing, and social listening.

"Those are the eight areas that people need to invest in to get to the point of engagement," Ramachandran said.

[ Growing organically: How Whole Foods Handles Social Media.]

To attain social amplification level, first it's important to identify influencers and amplifiers--those that are already engaged with the brand. It is important not to get too bogged down looking at a user's social stats, however. "One of the biggest mistakes people make is relying on generalized influence measurement systems," he explained. "The reality is that all of those systems are designed for consumers."

Engaging customers and building relationships are also important, but marketers must remember that engagement takes forms outside of traditional social media. It needs to be thoughtful and include segmentation that targets messages to end users--the often-mentioned one-to-one marketing. In the social realm, this may include asking users to send photos of themselves engaging with a brand or soliciting product reviews.

Ramachandran also suggested that companies take advantage of the "modern buying cycle" that starts with customers who have already made purchases and taps those customers as part of the sales cycle. In this new cycle, the sale starts with a customer's use of a product and shifts into delight and loyalty, segmentation and targeting, activation and engagement, relationship and advocacy, and amplification and revenue. "About 40% of pins on Pinterest are about this cycle--people loving what they use and posting about it," he said. "We think about selling as a funnel--a large pool winnowing down to a smaller one--but why not upend the apple cart and start small and go bigger?"

When you're hearing about a company from peers, you're more likely to tune in and potentially make a purchase or get involved, he said.

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)

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User Rank: Apprentice
10/19/2012 | 3:49:16 PM
re: How To Turn Customers Into Brand Advocates
This analysis makes a lot of sense and presents a huge opportunity to smaller businesses. SMBs (should) have a much easier time identifying and engaging with potential influencers because they don't have nearly as much data to parse.

The key, though, is the recognition that what Karen calls the "modern buying cycle" - consumers relying on themselves and each other more than on top-down messages from marketers - is as significant a phenomenon at a local boutiques as it is at the Gap or Macy's. The difference is that smaller merchants should actually find it easier to use social media and in-store interactions to identify, reward and stimulate potential brand advocates.

For an example of how this can work locally, see (disclosure: I work there)
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