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CheerleaderEvery organization, from small businesses to nonprofits, has brand advocates. They are the people who toot your horn, recommend your products, services, or mission, and share their passion with many others.

Your organization doesn’t have to be an Amazon, Apple, or Google in order to have brand advocates. Have you ever asked friends or neighbors which doctors or dentists they use and recommend? How about accountants, hairdressers, or plumbers? Movies, restaurants, or vacation resorts?

We tend to trust the people we know when it comes to word-of-mouth referrals. And, now with social media, millions of us are ‘listening’ to strangers online share their reviews and recommendations on the products, services, and causes they adore.

Yesterday, I attended a presentation by Rob Fuggetta, founder and CEO of the brand advocacy platform company, Zuberance. He is also the author of Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force

What I learned in the hour surprised me. The importance of brand advocates is something I have promoted for a long time. But, after hearing Fuggetta, I now know some stats that support the concept.

He cited one example from the Rubio’s restaurant chain. With every star the company received on the review site, Yelp, the company’s revenue boosted by 5-9%! That floored me.

OK, I thought. This can work well with consumer products. But, what about business-to-business companies, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations? Fuggetta says the same principles apply.

“The most valuable thing that companies can do with social media… is leveraging social media to amplify advocacy for your brand and products. Unlike listening or engagement, advocacy has provable ROI: It drives referral leads and sales.”

So, what’s in it for your small business or nonprofit? Turning your brand advocates into your marketing team allows you to get three things.

Fuggetta’s Three Rs of Advocacy:

  1. Recommendations. 
  2. Referrals.
  3. Revenues.

Let’s look at #2. Small businesses and nonprofit organizations have never had the same types of marketing budgets as corporations. They have traditionally relied on referrals that come in slowly over the years.

If your dentist is closer to the end of his/her career rather than starting out, ask what s/he did to market during his/her career. Chances are that his/her new patients came from word-of-mouth referrals, which took time to build.

Enter the social media age, and young dentists today can leverage social media in ways that accomplish more in a shorter period of time than their older counterparts ever could. It’s the same with most other small businesses and charities.

In the past, it took many older nonprofit organizations years to build a strong infrastructure and foundation that enabled them to grow and serve their communities and missions. Today, organizations such as DonorsChoose.org have grown in a shorter time with the help of brand advocates, or champions. The organization funded $1.1 million in projects in 2003 and $46.5 million in 2012. Some of their champions include Oprah Winfrey and Stephen Colbert in addition to everyday people who care about education in the U.S.

In 2011, Fast Company published its annual ranking of the 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World that included Apple, Facebook, Google, Nike, General Electric… and DonorsChoose.org! It was the first time a charity had made that list.

Another point Fuggetta makes in his book is that traditional marketing and advocate marketing (as he calls it) can complement each other very effectively. That resonated for me. In addition to using online testimonials, using them in paid advertising can “double performance of their paid media.”

So, what has your small business or nonprofit been doing with its brand advocates? Do you know who they are? How are you leveraging their love for you?

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