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Advocates, influencers and how to tell the difference

Many companies use influencer marketing to reach new, untapped audiences or to build brand awareness. And while paid influencers work, converting your existing base of loyal followers into advocates for your brand or organisation can reap dividends as well.

Many companies use influencer marketing to reach new, untapped audiences or to build brand awareness. And while paid influencers work, converting your existing base of loyal followers into advocates for your brand or organisation can reap dividends as well. 


Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is the celebrity endorsement for the social media age. It’s quite common, and anyone with an Instagram or Facebook will recognise the classic #ad #sponsored that might pepper the feed of your favourite follow.  

Who qualifies as an influencer will depend on what industry you operate in (engineering is different from HR is different from pharmacy), as well as what you hope to accomplish with the campaign and who your target audience is. They can be thought leaders, bloggers or journalists, authors, speakers or consultants who have a reputation within the industry.

Influencer doesn’t have to mean superstar, either. While you can work with someone as big as Beyoncé within your industry, mega-influencer fatigue is setting in and more companies and brands are opting for micro-influencers. While they have a much smaller following, their followers tend to be more niche and engaged, which is great for reaching subsets within an industry or target group. 

Influencer marketing can also be quite involved. There are budgets to consider, content to flesh out and post schedules to manage. Influencers often have their own brand to consider as well, which means you want to make sure your brands complement each other. They will also need clear instructions from you and the deliverables need to be agreed on beforehand. They can even bring some fresh perspective to your campaign, but it does mean there’s much more of a time commitment. 

And because there’s an exchange of money, transparency is paramount. It might be tempting to bury the transaction, but hell hath no fury like someone who has realised they are being sold something on the sly. 

Influencer marketing definitely has its place. It’s great for short campaigns or to raise awareness, as well as reach people who might not be part of your network yet. Just be prepared to invest time and money to identify your influencers and work with them on content, targeting and success metrics.


Advocacy marketing

Influencer marketing can be great for generating buzz or raising awareness. But advocacy marketing is more likely to net you genuine engagement, and it’s more sustainable in the long run. Why? Your audience is more likely to trust someone in their circle, someone who looks like them, speaks like them and acts like them, and who they already interact with in some way.

Brand advocates are like the holy grail, because the foundation of advocacy marketing is trust – you can’t buy it, and that’s a crucial difference between influencer marketing and advocacy marketing. The commercial aspect of influencer marketing will always be there, which can affect the audience in one way or another. 

A recent survey conducted by Nielsen found 84% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know. An advocate’s networks and reach will likely be smaller than an influencer’s, but they will be filled with people who trust that person’s opinion. 

So, who are your advocates? You can spot them in your company’s enews send lists, the comments section of your social media pages and at events. They are already liking and sharing your content. 

Advocates are highly satisfied members or customers who are likely to recommend your brand and sing its praises to their network because they want to share your work. They are also motivated by genuine passion – for your brand, your organisation, your purpose, your products. What advocates may lack in audience size and clout, they make up for in enthusiasm, which is a key differentiator between advocates and influencers, as passion for your brand or organisation is not a prerequisite for hiring an influencer. 

Advocates are also free (yay!), but turning a person into a brand advocate is much more of a long game than influencer marketing and it comes down to being useful as a brand and delivering an outstanding customer experience. Identifying, mobilising and tracking advocates at scale can be a challenge, as it’s not a formal relationship. Therefore, it will require some time to establish who your advocates are and encourage them to leave reviews and comments, share your content or promote a product.

Influencer and advocacy marketing can balance each other well, and each serves a purpose as part of a wider marketing strategy. Ultimately, your need for one, the other or both will be determined by knowing who you want to reach, why and what action you want them to take.


This article was written by Rachael Brown.

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