As you might have guessed by the volume of coverage it’s getting here, I am thrilled that the ‘online influencer’ debate is heating up. Why? Because it gives me plenty of chances to tell smart companies like yours why it makes far more business sense to empower and embrace your existing evangelists.
If smartly done, targeting influencers has real business value. But it’s more for creating short-term buzz rather than sustainable growth. And even IF you do target influencers, it should often be done in conjunction with connecting with your company’s evangelists.
Here’s 5 reasons why I think it’s better to target evangelists rather than influencers:
1 – Evangelists don’t have to be paid, just acknowledged. You don’t have to pay customer evangelists to promote you, they are already doing that. And they aren’t doing it FOR the money, they are doing it because they love your company and believe in your products. So you reward them by acknowledging them. By pointing out who they are, and thanking them. All that does is validate their love in you, and it motivates them to promote you to even more people.
2 – Evangelists have a vested interest in promoting you to their networks. With influencers, you are trying to give them something, usually cash or a gift, in an effort to convince them to promote you to the network that they have influence over. But evangelists are already interested in promoting you to their networks. Think about it, when we have a product that we love, that we buy consistently, we tell others about that product, right? If you love your Honda, guess what happens when someone tells you they are in the market for a new car? You tell them how much you love your Honda.
I love this quote from Bill Samuels, CEO of Maker’s Mark on the philosophy behind his company starting a brand ambassador program (emphasis addded): “We enjoy talking to our customers one-to-one. It really is in our nature. We never worry about the fact that this is inefficient because we are only talking to 50 or 60 or a thousand or ten thousand instead of a million. Which you do when you try to slap everybody on the ass with an advertising message. Because we know that our next customers are going to come from their efforts, not from our efforts.”
3 – Evangelists can help you reach your target market. In their groundbreaking business book Creating Customer Evangelists, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba had a wonderful quote that illustrates why evangelists are your best salesforce. They said “They know your target audience better than you because they are the target audience!” How efficient would it be to have a direct and uncluttered line to the exact customers you are trying to reach? That’s access that your evangelists have, and you have access to your evangelists. All you need to do is make the connection and reap the rewards.
4 – Evangelists will tell you what you are screwing up, then they will help you fix it. One of the big fears that companies have about social media is that they fear hearing criticism from customers. But evangelists are a different breed of customer. Whereas other customers might blog that ‘You suck!’, an evangelist will say ‘I think Company X got it wrong here. Here’s what they should have done.’ Evangelists may criticize, but they also offer solutions, and will help you IMPLEMENT their suggestions.
For example, my friend Melody is a HUGE Starbucks fan. And she has one of the more popular Starbucks blogs on the planet, devoted to the company she loves. Notice in this post, she reviews a new Starbucks drink, and explains that she’s not sure if ‘it will work’, then explains WHY she thinks this way. She gives Starbucks actionable feedback because she cares about the brand.
But notice something else: That post has *72* comments! Melody isn’t just blogging about her love of Starbucks, she has created a place where other Starbucks evangelists can gather and discuss the brand they love! Passion attracts passion, and it’s on display in the comments section of every post Melody writes. How valuable is the feedback that Melody and her readers leave via comments?
5 – Evangelists want to see you succeed. This might be the biggest misunderstanding that companies have toward evangelists. These people really do love your company, and they want to see it be as successful as possible. Why would you not do everything possible to embrace and empower these special customers?
To perfectly illustrate this point, I wanted to return to an example that Ben and Jackie shared in Creating Customer Evangelists. As you might recall after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the airlines industry was devastated, as were all the airlines. In October, SouthWest Airlines received a letter from one of its customers, Ann McGee-Cooper. In that letter, McGee-Cooper told SouthWest that “We are encouraging our clients to fly Southwest Airlines. We are buying more stock…and we stand ready to do anything else to help. Count on our continuing support.”
And McGee-Cooper included something with that love letter to Southwest: A check for $500. With the check came an explanation that McGee-Cooper understood that at that time, Southwest needed the money “more than I do”.
How amazing is that? This one example perfectly illustrates why evangelists are far more valuable to your company than influencers. And a perfect love story since this is Valentine’s Day
So there’s 5 reasons why I think evangelists are better than influencers. If you would like to hire me to help your company use social media to connect with your online evangelists, click here to get more information, or email me so we can discuss your needs.
Wait…is your company looking for ways to create evangelists for your brand? Check back here tomorrow and we’ll show you how!