How do you motivate a customer advocate community?

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed August 11, 2015
When it comes to turning references into true customer advocates, many enterprises come up short. I asked Influitive CEO Mark Organ to share his research on how to energize customer communities, and better understand what truly motivates different personality types.

In Advocate marketing – real thing, or buzzword mischief? Influitive weighs in, I challenged Influitive Founder and CEO to Mark Organ to get real about advocate marketing by defining the term and sharing real world examples.


But we missed something important: how do you engage customer advocates? Many enterprise communities fall flat. We don't all have the advantage of non-profit like Watsi, which has a Advocate marketing – real thing, or buzzword mischief? Influitive weighs in, I challenged Influitive Founder and CEO to Mark Organ to get real about advocate marketing by defining the term and providing real world examples. But we missed something important: how do you engage customer advocates? This matters because many enterprise communities fall flat. We don't all have the advantage of non-profit like Watsi, which has a passionately engaged audience

The other problem is that volunteers aren't motivated by the same things. Not everyone is interested in compiling reward points. Gamification appeals to some but not others. In my view, if you have to gamify too hard, then there's something amiss, a lack of fundamental purpose. In this follow-on, I'll share some of Organ's keys to energizing a customer advocate community, and include some field views on how this plays out.

Tactics to energize customer advocates

1. Design experiences that create an environment of respect and recognition. Organ:

If you want to get more advocacy, you have to get your advocates to have the right kind of experiences. what "experience" means is that they feel the right way - it's about feeling respected and valued. The incentives you provide should activate go beyond rewards and points to deeper forms of recognition.

2. Provide opportunities for training and skills enhancement. Organ has seen companies provide that type of recognition by offering free interaction with experts, and extra conference tickets:

What we find works really well are providing advocates with a plus-one to user conferences, or give them a half-hour session with a product guru, or a chief scientist, or whoever the chief guru is that is relevant to their interests. Providing access to training is another winning tactic.

At Salesforce, they did something really interesting: they made a couple of seats available at every session of Dreamforce available to their top advocates, whether it was sold out or not. It doesn't cost anything, it's just two seats, but for an advocate, to be able to go into whatever session you want - even if it's three times oversubscribed - that's terrific.

3. Donate to charities on behalf of your advocates. Organ:

The most popular redemption we have is around charity donations. Especially if it's a charity that's not that well known, they get the value of not just having a donation that's provided, but a lot more people get to know about it.

4. "Rewards" like iPads work for some advocates, but don't assume it will be a valid incentive for all:

There are some people who want a gift card or an iPad or whatnot, and we do have that ability to do that within our software, but we find that those are not as effective, typically, as a motivator as rewards that often don't cost anything at all - you just have to conceive and create them.

5. Give the 20 percent of advocates who do care about incentives a program tailored to their interests. Organ:

We've found that twenty percent of our audience actually cares a lot about incentives. We see this a lot with sales professionals and entrepreneurs, who are are typically very competitive people. Right now, I'm here in New York. There's a lot of people here in New York that have this - such as the financial professionals. They are very, very competitive, so being able to advance on a leader board is actually motivational enough for them. If they see themselves as 12th place on the leaderboard, they're saying, "I'm going to get into the top ten over the next ten minutes," and that kind of motivation works for them.

6. Analytical types tend to respond well to achievement-based incentives:

People who are more analytical tend to respond really well to achievement. For example, if they get a special badge because they've helped the company win three new deals in a quarter, they're going to feel good about that, and that's something that they are happy to display to their co-workers.

7. 45 percent of customer advocates are socializers - make sure there a plenty of chances for them to expand their networks.

Organ says that the largest group of advocates are "socializers," to the tune of 45 percent. Better networking means embedding your community software with social collaboration features:

We call these folks "socializers," but basically they are people who simply like to meet other people like themselves. Frankly, their desire to network and form new connections is the biggest reason why they are involved in the advocate community. We have all these social features in our product that allow people to connect, and there's others.

8. Don't overlook the active group of explorers, which includes developers who like to tinker. Though "explorers" are under ten percent of Influitive's advocates, they are a savvy and influential group. Developers tend to be explorers, and they appreciate a chance to look under the hood. Organ:

We have a whole big contingent of developers, like software engineers and product managers and folks like that, and they tend to be more what we call explorers. They like to find the figure out what the algorithm is, or how the system works. For them, you should provide little Easter eggs and other random things that show up in their hub, and let them try to figure out how they got to that. We train our customers on how to do these things in a hub, and get the right mix of approaches so that it's maximally engaging.

Wrapping it up - why do you need a customer advocate program?

I can see the value of better understanding the types of customer advocates and what motivates them. But the lingering question is how to justify investments in this type of platform given the overloaded menu of marketing platforms. Organ responded with a customer example:

Rob Meinhardt, who is our customer at Dell KACE, basically said, "I don't want any marketing." To be brutally accurate, he used a lot more swear words, something like, "I don't want any freaking marketing going out of this freaking company without having a lot of freaking customer love attached to it"  - something like that.

That's our message in a nutshell, but he made it really clear to his marketing team, and so it really focused them to, frankly, use our product a lot. Which they do, and they do a great job of it. This is the fastest-growing division inside of Dell today, and I think that's part of the reason why, because they do delight customers, and they do a great job mobilizing them.

As we finished our interview, Organ revisited the problem of incentives, and why communities fall flat without a deeper sense of purpose:

We're learning every day, and our customers are learning every day. One of the things we have learned is that rewards and incentives are just not critical to the system. Only 20 percent of the advocates ever end up redeeming anything. For a lot of people, it's just they like to be part of something bigger than themselves. If people are able to take something with them that is able to help them advance in their career, it's a really big deal.

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Disclosure: Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner as of this writing. Diginomica has no financial ties with Influitive. We were approached by their PR firm, and I found the content interesting.