When looking for influencers, try your existing customers

I often wonder if influencer programs are still worth it. It’s an argument that have in my own head all the time. If you’ve been following me, you already know that I’m a big fan of employee advocacy programs, and I feel that the rise of these programs has had an effect on external influencer programs.

Looking for influencers? Try your existing customers. Photo Credit: 10ch

There will always be questions about whether or not influencers are authentic, especially if reviews and opinions are compensated. It isn’t my intention to start that circular conversation, it’s a topic that can and will be debated over and over. Instead, what I’d like to point out is that an influencer program can be a great way to reward loyal customers.

In full disclosure, I am a part of an external influencer program for Verizon FiOS, and this blog post was created as a part of the program. BUT I was a customer for five years before being asked. So no, I wasn’t paid to convert from some other cable or satellite TV company. In my opinion, it’s great to feel recognized or rewarded by a brand for being a loyal customer, and being a part of this program just reinforces my commitment to them.

Existing customers are great for influencer programs because the decision to buy into the brand was informed and not made because they received products and/or services for free. If a customer has been loyal to a brand for a long time, there are most likely to be pretty passionate about that brand. And I would venture to guess that they have made that passion known to others in their own way without trying to be a salesperson.

The definition of a mercenary is “working or acting merely for money or other reward” (dictionary.com). If you pay someone to initially like your brand, once that payment stops, or there’s a higher offer from a competitor, that person will most likely switch sides.

I’m not saying Verizon is perfect because no brand is perfect. The reason why I paid for the service, turned down competitors that knocked on my door repeatedly promising to lower my bill, was because I believed that the Verizon’s service was better. And throughout all this time, that opinion hasn’t changed, the service is great.

Whether or not brands want to believe it, consumers aren’t stupid, they can see through all the fake advertising and people that are put in front of them. Loyal customers don’t need to be fake, because they’ve already bought in. It’s encouraging to see brands like Verizon reward them for their loyalty. That’s definitely a good thing.

Looking For Brand Advocates? Try Your Employees!

Brands are always looking for advocates, people that are willing to help promote the brand, spread their messaging and share the love. Celebrities seem to be the first choice for brands to ask to become advocates, and while I’ve got no problem with this I wondered if any celebrity endorsement actually influenced my impression of a brand. Personally the answer is no, but what celebrities do bring to the table is their reach. A celebrity endorsement might not endear people to a brand, but it will make the brand’s product known to the masses.

From this point on, whether I choose to buy the product or the brand that the celebrity has endorsed is all on the product or the brand itself. In other words, a celebrity is not going to convince me that I need to buy something when I know they are getting paid to promote the product. Just because Blake Griffin dunks over a Kia Optima and promotes Subway doesn’t make me run to the nearest Kia dealer or crave Subway’s foot long sandwiches all of a sudden. While ironically I do have a Kia Sorento, nothing about Blake’s endorsement played a part in the decision making process to purchase the vehicle. In fact part of the decision to purchase the Sorento was influenced by the customer service of the sales department at the Kia dealership I went to. The sales rep had a direct influence on my impression of the brand.

So you’re probably saying that’s obvious, it was a sales guy and he was just doing his job. And you’re absolutely right, he was doing his job. But consider this, with the explosion of social media and most people putting where they work on their bios, your employees are your brand advocates each time they log onto their social networks. If I engage with an employee of a brand, I’m getting an impression of the brand whether we talk about their products or the weather outside. And brands have to believe that I will remember that impression the next time I choose to buy their product. What’s more important is whether or not I become a positive or negative advocate for the brand based on that engagement. Is it fair? Maybe not, but it is reality.

So what’s the answer? I think brands need to spend more time investing in their employees. Create a positive work atmosphere and a place employees want to be, plus encourage a healthy work/life balance. Brands not only need to show that what their employees do is important and valuable, but that they’re valuable too. Brands need to put the right leaders in place that are willing to buy into and encourage this philosophy. That would be my suggestion where to start, and here’s a great real life example of an employee being a great brand advocate.

My new Nike journal, a gift from brand advocate Christina Yow!
My new Nike journal, thanks Christina Yow!

I met Christina Yow on Facebook through multiple friends and just by being active on the social platform. She works for Nike, and as long as I can remember I’ve always been a Nike fan. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Michael Jordan era but the brand has stuck with me. If you haven’t had a chance to chat with Christina I definitely recommend you do it. You will have some great conversations! She’s warm, welcoming and has a positive attitude. The way she engages on social media definitely is a positive for Nike as a brand. When I asked her about the company she had nothing but positive things to say about them, and since the conversation was not public I’m convinced that she was telling me the truth. Christina left a positive impression on me about Nike through our engagement and even though I was a Nike fan before meeting her, it definitely made me more of a fan afterwards! Oh by the way Christina was nominated for a Shorty award, you can vote for her here (you have until February 18).

So what do you think about brands empowering their employees to be brand advocates? Is there something that your company can do to make you a better brand advocate?