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How to Develop a Social Advocacy Program on Social Media

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  • How to Develop a Social Advocacy Program on Social Media

What makes customers truly excited about a brand? Sure, a brand can scream praises about its own products and services online but — just like in a normal social setting — it hits differently when somebody else says it.

The truth is, simply getting people to talk about your brand and products can be more effective than a big-budget ad. Despite how much the advertising and marketing landscape has changed over the decades, one of the few things that remains unchanged to this day is the power of word-of-mouth.

What is a social advocacy program?

While “social advocacy” may sound like a shiny new term, being an advocate is — at its most basic sense — being a fan or supporter of a brand.

In marketing, having an advocacy program involves getting your customers or employees to share positive experiences and interactions with your brand and show public support. These conversations should happen outside the official channels of your brand (for example: on your customer’s personal social pages or during face-to-face conversation).

An advocacy program should get more people excited about your brand and as a result increase sales and in some cases, attract possible employees.

Influencers, Ambassadors, Advocates: What’s the difference?

All these new terms are thrown around and may be used interchangeably. After all, all three have the general role of supporting a brand in a public space and are an important part of a social media branding strategy, but they do have their differences..

  • Influencers – Influencers are typically famous people with a sizeable following on their social media accounts. Their relationship with a brand is usually transactional and on a pay-per-post basis. Brands partner with influencers offers several advantages and helps the business to reach a wider audience.

When hiring an influencer or recruiting using Instagram, brands can usually control what they say or a general template is provided.

  • Ambassadors – Brand ambassadors are people whom brands partner with because of their in-depth knowledge about the industry and products. Ambassadors can represent brands during events and are expected to know more about a brand than your typical influencer.

Ambassadors are either compensated monetarily or through free products and exclusive perks.In some cases they also operate on an affiliate relationship, receiving commissions for driving sales for a brand through their recommendations.

  • Advocates – Advocates are composed of loyal customers and/or employees of a brand. They are usually regular people who simply love your products/services and want to share how they feel voluntarily.Because they’re real customers, their experiences with your brand are seen as more authentic and believable.

A shared aspect about influencers, ambassadors, and advocates as that they all have the potential to help your brand reach more customers.

Why does your brand need a social advocacy program?

An advocacy program can work wonders for your business. Reviews and personal recommendations from real customers can help increase a brand’s credibility and build trust. According to a report, customers tend to spend 31% more when a business has positive reviews. Plus, 92% of customers trust recommendations by peers.

Unlike having to search for another influencer who has the right audience, launching a social advocacy program will leverage your existing customers who already know and love your brand.

Today’s consumers have become more wary of traditional advertising — they don’t want to be sold to. Instead, they are looking for conversations and a community that they can belong to.

It is natural customer behavior to look through reviews before purchasing a product or availing of a service, having a regular stream of reviews and recommendations through an advocacy program can possibly lead to an increase in sales, greater market share, and brand loyalty.

Any brand can create an advertisement that highlights its products and services, but not just any brand can say that it has a community of loyal customers who wholeheartedly recommend it to their friends and family.

Brand advocacy and marketing

In its purest sense, being a brand advocate should come naturally. We are all advocates of our favorite brands whether we realize it or not and this is reflected in our regular day-to-day behavior of publicly supporting a brand through word-of-mouth or maybe resharing a post on social media.

But how can we encourage our customers to consciously engage in advocacy activities?

  1. Recognition – Sometimes, all people want is to get noticed. A customer tagged you on Instagram? Reshare the post on your stories. Received a review on your website? Make sure to respond to every single one. Customers want a brand that they can connect with.
  2. Rewards – While advocates don’t need to get compensated the same way influencers do, there’s no denying that a little reward can go a long way. Incentivize people for activities that help grow your brand.

Take Uber’s referral program for example: to encourage existing users to spread the word about the app, everyone was given a unique referral code that they could share on social media or privately to their friends. Each successful referral rewarded both the inviter and the invitee with Uber credits.

Incentivising your customers for doing advocacy behaviors is one of the best ways to encourage them to make it a habit.

  1. Community – Think about it: fans club or what we now call “fandoms” have existed since anything or anyone worth supporting existed. Creating a community around your brand can encourage advocacy behavior because people naturally want to feel a sense of belonging.

You can create a community of advocates through Facebook groups, close friends lists on Instagram or a private Telegram group with your most loyal customers. This will not only encourage advocacy behaviors but also help you gain valuable insight into your customer base.

To entice more people to want to be part of your community, all you have to do is offer exclusivity in the form of content, special deals, or being “the first to know” about brand announcements and releases.

Where to begin

The beauty of looking for advocates is that you don’t have to look far. Your best advocates are your regular customers and your employees. This is why it’s important to always keep your employees engaged and updated with your branding because they know more about you than the average consumer. But before picking just any of them, you have to decide on your goals.

Setting goals for your advocacy program is just like setting goals for any marketing campaign — it should be specific and quantifiable.

For example, your goal could be to increase sales of a particular product by 20% in three months or to achieve an average of 4.5 stars on your Amazon page. Once you’ve set your goal, you can start planning how your advocacy campaign will work towards achieving that goal.

One of the most famous social advocacy programs done on Twitter was Starbucks’ Tweet-a-Coffee campaign which allowed customers to send eGift cards by syncing their Starbucks account to their Twitter account and Tweeting @tweetacoffee along with the handle of the recipient.

Social Advocacy

Image source: https://stories.starbucks.com/

The campaign encouraged customers to engage with each other online whilst effortlessly promoting the brand. The program was highly successful with over 27,000 new customers and over $180,000 in sales.

What made the program so successful is the brand’s brilliant idea of leveraging what its customers already love to do — share their love of coffee on social media. The brilliance of Tweet-a-Coffee was also due to its shareable nature. Instead of focusing on the branded” nature of the program, what it highlighted was the act of giving.

Learning from Starbucks’ success, it’s important to study your customer’s behavior and turn it into a movement. One way Starbucks was able to push engagement was to reward the first 100,000 customers who Tweet a coffee with a $5 gift card.

Ask yourself: what can you do to encourage your customers to be vocal advocates of your brand?

Determine what advocacy behavior you want to see

Brand advocacy behavior can be categorized into two actions: recommending or supporting. While recommending and supporting can easily be confused with one another, there are some nuances that set them apart.


Customers can recommend you in many ways. They could leave positive reviews on your website or product page, get their networks to sign-up for your service or purchase your products, or simply refer other people to your brand.

The most popular form of an advocacy program that encourages recommending behavior is referral campaigns. There’s no thinking about referral programs without thinking about the success that was Dropbox.

In order to grow its user base, the app launched a referral program that rewarded its customers with 500MB more of storage for every successful sign up done through their unique referral code. As a result, Dropbox saw a 60% increase in signups soon after the program was launched.

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Image source: https://www.dropbox.com/

Pro-tip: One key takeaway from the success of Dropbox is that rewards don’t need to be monetary in form. Offering your customers more of your product will not only incentivize them to refer more people but also encourage them to use your product more.

Similarly, a ton of retail brands with e-commerce websites have permanent referral programs. Glossier, for example, has a “refer a friend” tab where customers are rewarded a $10 gift card for every successful referral, while referees are given 10% off on their first purchase.

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Image source: https://www.glossier.com/

If your goal is to increase page or product reviews, you can reward your customers with points that they can use to purchase more products on your website.

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Image source: https://ph.shein.com/

Fashion e-commerce giant, Shein, uses a point system to encourage customers to leave product reviews. The success of the program is pretty apparent as you scroll through Shein’s product pages and see that the products have thousands of reviews.


A customer can do a number of things to show support for a brand and social media has ready-made tools to help encourage that behavior.

One of the most popular ways brands can encourage supportive behavior is through branded campaign hashtags. Adding hashtags is a simple way to show support for a brand or a cause.

When used strategically, hashtag campaigns offer a ton of benefits including an effortless way to gather user-generated content (UGC), boost SEO ranking, increase brand awareness, drive traffic, and ultimately, increase sales.

One of the most memorable hashtag brand advocacy campaigns ever created on social media was done by Recreational Equipment, Inc., or better known as REI. The American outdoor recreation brand started an #OptOutside campaign which launched on the much-awaited Black Friday sale but instead of the expected move to put products on super sale, REI opted to close all its stores and put all its employees on a paid holiday.

Instead on focusing on revenue and sales (Black Friday is easily one of the most profitable weekends of the brand), REI decided to urge its customers and employees to #OptOutside.

This bold move started millions of conversations online and became a movement, with hundreds of brands and non-profit organizations joining in.

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Image source: https://www.rei.com/opt-outside

Since the campaign’s launch (Black Friday 2015), #OptOutside has been used 18.2 million times on Instagram and counting. The campaign has become a permanent advocacy campaign for the brand and has helped customers form a deeper connection with it.

REI has been known to encourage its employees to be vocal advocates of the brand by sharing on their respective social media pages. Of course, it helps that REI is also known to be one of the best places to work in the USA — happy employees make the best brand advocates.

To create an advocacy program that truly resonates with your audience, you have to be able to think beyond the consumerist approach of growing your brand. It will help to go back to your “Why” and what sets you apart from your competitors.

Pro-tip: It’s easy to encourage your employees to advocate for your brand, but the difficulty lies in giving them a reason to. Take inspiration from REI whose employees championed the campaign because they also benefited from it.

The importance of a name

The name of your program could be the factor that leads to its success. REI’s #OptOutside campaign is so impactful because it summarizes what the brand is all about in just two words.

The best thing about it is that it’s not a branded hashtag, anyone can use it, but everyone will remember where it came from.

So, think of your program name carefully. Sit on it if you need to. Whatever you call it will determine whether it will stick.

Preparing for Launch

Whether you want to start a referral program or launch an advocacy campaign via a hashtag, the launch is the most crucial part. How do you spread the word about your program? It’s important to take note of your owned channels and find out where your target audience is most active.

Even if your campaign will be mainly hosted on social media, it’s recommended to make the announcement on multiple channels and if possible, physical touch points.

If you have a physical store and want your customers to post a photo of themselves using a particular hashtag, you can post signs in dressing rooms or on the check-out counters.

Possible channels/marketing materials to consider:

  1. Social media pages
  2. Email newsletter announcement
  3. Email footers
  4. In-store flyers/posters
  5. Product packaging
  6. Blogs
  7. Decals


The most successful brand social advocacy programs still exist even years after launch. Unlike a regular marketing campaign that ends after a particular season comes to a close, your partnership with advocates can last a lifetime — but how?

After you achieve your short-term quantifiable goals, it’s possible to retain and even scale the program. Take inspiration from REI who kept its microsite even years after inception because the messaging is still relevant.

An effective and sustainable advocacy program must be rooted in a strong company ethos. It’s not just about doing A so you can get to point B.

It’s about offering a great customer experience and products or services that stand-out. It’s about treating your customers more than just your means to a sale, it’s about building a community.

Without working on these, no advocacy campaign will work.

One way to keep your advocates engaged long-term is to gamify your program. Instead of the regular refer-to-get-rewarded design, you can encourage varied advocacy behaviour by offering different types of rewards. This way, you avoid customer fatigue and create a more interactive experience.

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Image source: https://www.adidas.co.uk/creatorsclub

The Adidas Creators Club offers different types of rewards per action, encouraging club members to participate in different brand activities. The program also pushes members to discover more brand moments and products which they otherwise might not have considered, creating a deeper brand-customer connection.

Taking inspiration from the Adidas Creators Club, your program can be ever-changing. Remember to keep your communication lines open to find out what your advocates are interested in.

Get Started with Social Advocacy

While still a form of marketing, launching a social advocacy program for your brand is one way to cut through the noise of regular brand communications. A strong program can help you foster a colorful community of advocates willing to vouch for your brand minus the pricetag of your typical model or celebrity influencer.

Remember that the most important part of your program is your advocates. Don’t forget to make them feel they are valued.

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