How enterprise companies ensure their content reaches the right global audiences at low or no cost?

Lets say you represent Microsoft. You’re launching a new version of an existing product globally and you’ve got well a pittance for a budget, essentially some t-shirts, flyers, banners etc. How would you do this? Ok let me up the ante a bit. You need to get some 10,000 events organized globally. What do you do?

How many gazillions would you need?


But how is it possible?

Marketing can be tough
When you think of doing 10,000 events across the world that can bring a drop of sweat to most seasoned marketers.

How did they do it?

Like all magnificent things, it’s very simple

They used the help of their incredible brand advocates.


What is a brand advocate?

Brand advocates are your passionate customers.

In Microsoft’s own words – “They typically have a deep commitment to helping others, voluntarily sharing their passion.”

While there are more than 100 million social and technical community members, only a small portion are selected to be recognized as MVPs. Each year, around 4,000 MVPs are honored. They are nominated by Microsoft, other community individuals, or in some cases themselves. Candidates are rigorously evaluated for their technical expertise, community leadership, and voluntary community contributions for the previous year. They come from more than 90 countries, speak over 40 different languages, and are awarded in more than 90 Microsoft technologies. Together, they answer more than 10 million questions a year!


Across the world in six months to January 2009, more than 2,500 MVPs took part in 229 events, reaching out to over 900,000 people in events principally about SQL Server 2008, Internet Explorer and Visual Studio. Both in the virtual space — through podcasts, for example — and face-to-face through user groups and other networking spaces, MVPs share their passion, their knowledge and their know-how.

(text abbreviated)

Nearly 200 MVPs ran almost 10,000 events on SQL Server 2008 and virtualization around the world.

(Italics and bold formatting is mine.)

Astonishing isn’t it? How most companies don’t do this!

I’m amazed each time. Not by reading the example given above, but amazed at how companies even today try to reach out to customers on their own without using the help of their brand advocates. Its just plain silly. The trust factor when connected via someone you know is far higher than a corporate sales person.


Being a truly social business
Companies co-creating with their customers and using their help to increase word of mouth are saving themselves tons of money and are establishing real solid relationships with their most cherished customers.

Brand Advocacy is not a fad, it’s a principle which has been in use since cave men times, it’s been used by religious organizations worldwide (remember the Christian Evangelists).

It’s the most cost effective and helps build a truly social business.

It simplifies the challenge of reaching global audiences by involving the most passionate (brand advocates) members of the audience themselves.


10,000 events organized globally
Nearly 200 MVPs ran almost 10,000 events globally enabling Microsoft to ensure that their content reaches the right global audiences at low costs. Globally their brand advocacy program encourages their brand advocates to reach out to customers on a consistent basis.

The best part the 200 MVP’s volunteered their time at no cost.

Brand Advocacy is one of the most powerful ways that enterprises can ensure that their content reaches the right global audiences at low or no cost.

P.s. If you’d like to learn how to implement a brand advocacy program, grab a preview copy of the brand advocacy book (Limited stocks).

Leave a comment

How to increase relevance of your brand advocacy program via segmentation?


Large ShoesThe only place I can buy shoes my size is the United States of America… sounds crazy right… we don’t have large size shoes in stores back home (India). Now what does large shoes have to do with your brand advocacy program and with social media? Everything!

Brand Advocates and Social Media

Brand Advocates and Social Media - BedfellowsDo they sound like strange bedfellows? Well they’re not. Being social involves engaging with customers across a huge number of social channels where your customers are. However, it’s difficult for any organization to manage this on their own, considering the limited resources, the volume of conversations and the myriad social channels out there. And if they are doing this, then they’re seriously not leveraging the power of the social network. Social proof causes people to find a third party independent advocate much more credible than an official company representative. That’s the reason why you and I take the time to read a review on sites like Amazon by complete strangers and tend to believe the unknown reviewer.

Moreover, brand advocates, your raving fans, brand defenders, evangelists are the voice of the community and they help amplify your voice across the social networks. A social program without brand advocacy as part of the strategy is missing a crucial ingredient.

The problem with brand advocacy programs

There are very few successful brand advocacy programs. Yep I know it sounds like a strange contradiction considering what I just said about social media and brand advocates. Most brand advocacy programs are challenged with low participation from brand advocates and quite a few are lying dormant after the initial euphoria of signing up the first few brand advocates. But why? There are multiple reasons why this could happen, and I’m going to talk about the segmentation challenge as it’s the most important from the brand advocate point of view.

SegmentationWhat’s shoes got to do with it?

You might see a great shoe in the window display of a store, you might go into the store, but unless they have a shoe which exactly fits your feet, you’re not going to buy it, right?

Segmentation is the solution
What is segmentation? Segmentation is the act of creating a product which is relevant to a particular person (target profile). You might have one core product, shoes, but you need to produce it in different sizes targeting the differently sized feet of your customers.


clip_image004Yawn! How does segmenting help my brand advocacy program? 

Most brand advocacy programs are designed keeping in mind the organizations requirements and objectives and misses out on keeping in mind the motivations and requirements of the brand advocates.

There are different kinds of people who do different activities: promote, review, comment, rate or share with others. If you want to be relevant to these different people you need to segment your program to help them do those activities easily.

What other advantages does segmenting bring to your brand advocacy program?

1. Increase relevance of your content

RelevanceHave you ever received mail or product content which is just not relevant to you? Raise your hand if you have ( hint hint: the way to do that virtually is to add your comment below Winking smile

Well, as soon as you think about the various segments or kinds of people who comprise your brand advocates you can make your content more targeted and relevant to the appropriate people.


2. Ensures your messages are well received

message well receivedI tend to pay more attention, retain and recollect information which is specially tailored to my tastes and requirements. Most of the general stuff I read I tend to forget very soon. Another perspective is it reduces the load and volume of content which I receive and read and hence content which is correctly segmented also ensures I pay more attention to.

What are the disadvantages of not segmenting your brand advocacy program?

Let me share an example:

You receive introductory information about a product which you’re already an experienced user off, and I keep sending you introductory information, instead of maybe best practices and ideas and add-ons to help you leverage the product further. What would happen very shortly? You’d tune off, You’d tend to ignore my messages won’t you? When you don’t segment your brand advocacy program you tend to alienate even your most faithful brand advocates.

Is there anything like too much segmentation?

Segmentation is an on-going process not a one-time activity. For example imagine you’re an enterprise with a number of products. You might initially segment your brand advocates based on the specific products they are customers / advocates about. Next you might segment based on the kind of activity they do, for e.g. some might be blog writers, some might be active on social channels some might be regularly speaking at conferences and meetings. Should one further segment based on the volume of speaking, sharing a person does? What do you think? You stop segmenting where there isn’t necessarily a large enough reason to segment as simple as that.

What to do when you’re unsure of your segmentation strategy?

unsureTurn around the problem, ask your brand advocates, or even better see the kinds of questions they are asking support for, see what the popular articles or discussions are about around your products to identify the top segments. Listening on Social media channels like like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Google+, as well as various online forums and blogs enable you to understand your brand advocate and customer needs and get ideas on how to segment your brand advocacy program.


Example: Microsoft Segmenting their Brand Advocates

Microsoft has a large number of brand advocacy programs. They have brand advocates who write blogs, who support customers on various social channels etc. One of their programs is called the MVP (Most Valuable Professional Program). Microsoft segments the brand advocates in their MVP program based on the products the brand advocates specialize in. Further they have different programs based on whether they are targeting students and professionals. They even have segmentation based on reach versus depth activities the brand advocates do. They also have segmentation based on the kinds of activities the brand advocates do, for e.g. they have a large brand advocate base called Community Contributors who help in supporting other customers via online forums.

So what now?

Remember that one shoe doesn’t fit all, you can’t build a program focused on just one shoe size, people are people, and they have different needs and do different activities. Your brand advocates do a variety of activities on various social channels. Your brand advocate program can increase its relevance by ensuring that it is properly segmented to meet the needs of its brand advocates. Segmenting your brand advocacy program

If you’ve found this interesting, and have ideas on segmenting your brand advocate program, please do share your ideas in the comments below, and I’d be happy to chat and possibly help you think thru your ideas.

Next steps? 

1. Managing a brand advocacy program can get lonely Join the Brand Advocacy Community on LinkedIn to get ideas and solutions to your brand advocacy queries.

2. Learn How To Segment your Brand Advocacy Program

3. Get more ideas once a week via our newsletter, enter your email id below to receive it.

This post was originally published on SmartBlog on Social Media.

Leave a comment

How do you handle a community member who shows their passion through sting language?

I do not want to remove this member from the community, however, I’m open to suggestions/experiences in handling negativity within a community! 

Have you been in the above situation? Every community manager at some point of time faces the above situation.

5 ideas on how to handle a community member who shows their passion through sting language

Here are my thoughts:

  1. One In Person Conversationon one engagement might solve it completely. Meet in person or Pick the phone, yeah I know it sounds old fashioned, but it often gets to the heart of the matter the fastest. Or If phone isn’t feasible then go the email route.
  2. Do you have Policya policy in place for the community about how you expect members to communicate? Now might be a good time to put it in place and point it to the membership overall. In fact make sure there is available an easy way for members to communicate back to the Community Manager(CM) about issues with other members. This way it becomes easier to approach the person saying not just you, but other members are also having an issue.
  3. Don’t make itNo Personal attacks personal, sometimes in a rush people don’t realize that they’re being too critical or harsh. So when you connect one-on-one give them examples of how they could have responded to be more valuable to the person they were responding or by saying what they did. Give them examples, showing how they could have responded in each case.

Other considerations (If you as the community manager are new to the position):

4. The Communicate via a Friendeasiest way at times might be not for the manager, but a senior member of the community or a friend of the miscreant to do the one-on-one communication. The idea being that when a peer communicates sometimes that’s more effective than someone senior (a.k.a. community manager).

5. Ensure Ratingsyour community platform has a ratings engine, that way the community can self-moderate and down rate members who are unhelpful, too critical, or just stingy :-)

Finally, there are times when you need to take stronger action(removal of the member, legal, etc.) however, the points given here are especially for the situation given in the introductory paragraph, where the member uses stingy language. Simply taking the initiative to immediately talk to the concerned member usually goes a long way in solving the issue.

What has worked for you? How have you handled negative/problem community members? Would you stop being a consumer and share Smile yeah I know I’m asking you to stretch and share… but please do share in the comments below.

Read more:

Leave a comment

Secret Weapons for Crisis Management: Brand Advocates & Communities

Nobody believes you, no matter what you say, more and more people gather around, the roar of the crowd, the vicious comments, the loud voices, so many voices, and no matter what you or your employees, or your agencies do, the noise just doesn’t go down and often increases further. Handling an online crisis can be like fighting a losing war however, as it’s often said the solution to a problem lies within the problem itself.



Read on to learn how you can leverage the power of Brand Advocates and Communities who can provide a formidable high wall of defence to protect you in a crisis, often nipping it in the bud.

Nipping Crisis in the bud… but first lets understand the kinds of issues which companies face:

Not all issues are crisis, and sometimes a timely intervention can prevent a crisis. However one needs to examine the root of the problem before one reaches the stage of leveraging brand advocates and communities.

There are two kind of issues a company faces:

1. Social Media Issues and 2. Social Media Crisis.

Social Media Issues

Social media issues are typically the voices of customers who’re either not satisfied, or not happy with rising prices or are facing a disruption in service or a late shipment etc.

In the normal course of a companies operations, these kind of issues are handled by the customer service team. The social media team can help connect or lead customers to the respective channels to get their requests serviced and typically just an acknowledgement of the issue and some guidance is enough to diffuse it.

Really Large Organization Issues

When it comes to the Fortune 500, the problem is a different one, the sheer number of customers can at times mean that your large internal support teams are just not able to service customer support requests. Can you even begin to imagine the size of the problem faced by an organization the size of Microsoft?

Communities and Brand Advocates to the Rescue

Communities2Microsoft leverages communities/ user groups extensively. It has built custom communities for the sole purpose of enabling peer to peer support. Customers helping each other.

I’ve included below details from the Microsoft Frequently Asked Questions section of the site.

Q1. What is the Microsoft® Community Contributor Award?
A1. It is an award offered by Microsoft which is designed to recognize notable contributions to Microsoft online community forums such as TechNet, MSDN®, and Answers.

Q2. Do Microsoft Community Contributor Award recipients represent Microsoft?
A2. No. Awardees are not Microsoft employees, nor do they speak on Microsoft’s behalf. Awardees are independent third-party individuals who have received an award from Microsoft that recognizes their notable contributions to Microsoft online technical communities.

Q4. Do Microsoft Community Contributor Award recipients receive any payment from Microsoft?
A4. No. Recipients of the Microsoft Community Contributor Award receive a small benefit which can serve as a resource for their participation in technical forums, but they do not receive any monetary payment from Microsoft.

Amazing isn’t it, the possibilities, customers helping each other. This is a tiny snapshot of how Microsoft leverages communities and brand advocates.

As of current estimates there are more than 2000 independent user groups and a few thousand brand advocates supporting the company. Each of these help nip issues in the bud before they become a crisis.

Social Media Crisis

If the issue is faced by a large number of frustrated/angry customers with strong negative emotional responses then the issue can often escalate into a crisis. Most savvy companies typically have teams which handle these crises. However sometimes the problem is even bigger.

When normal intervention by Customer Service or PR Teams Fail

Here one is looking at extremely strong wide spread negative emotional responses, it’s like a crusade, one media outlet after the other carries the story, bloggers, online publications, heck it even flows to offline media channels.

Brand Advocates: The Secret Weapons of Crisis Management

From a company perspective its like an all out battle, with exhausted internal and external agencies messing things further. Or the classic deer in the headlights syndrome where the key decision makers don’t know what to do. A single brand advocate can turn the tide.

E.g. Samsung faced a recent crisis, they had cancelled a blogger’s airplane ticket on a press trip for refusing to write about the brand. The social fabric was like ripped from under their feet as they story bounced all over the web across a large number of publications with people across the web voicing extremely strong opinions.

A Single Calming Voice

However, a single brand advocate sharing his side of the story seemed to be like a calming balm in cyberspace. Now people could see multiple perspectives from someone who they identified with, someone who is not a company employee or from the PR agency. A third party who shared the same dais but had a different perspective and experience. The point here is not to say that either party was right or wrong. However, one single advocate seemed to turn the tide.

What about malicious campaigns run by others?

A competitor may tweet or post malicious information either on

- Their own site

- A social media channel

- Or third party channels

In either case the rules are quite straight forward:

There are things you can do on an individual basis and use the help of your community and brand advocates. In either case, the first step is acknowledging the issue, and not denying it. Making sure that you communicate on those channels where the campaign is being run, but leading people to a detailed clarification on your channel.

A recent example of this was where Microsoft attempted to address a campaign by Apple. In addition to traditional media which they ran campaigns on, they were supported by thousands of Microsoft’s Brand Advocates who charged right in, to defend their favorite platform. This time it wasn’t a cacophony but the sweet sound of music sung by the brand advocates in their favor. It wasn’t so much as trying to win a war against Apple, the point was rather to rally their customers around their platform.

The bottom line being that in this social era you need all the help you can, especially when crisis can springs up on you, due to a variety of reasons. You can’t do it alone.

Your brand advocates and communities can be an invaluable support ecosystem in helping you manage both issues as well as crisis.

Your Turn: Do share your experiences where you’ve leveraged brand advocates and communities especially in crisis management.

Leave a comment

How (and why) to Cultivate Individual Relationships with your Brand Advocates?

Sometimes the most obvious things are totally ignored, and then one wonders what happened! A classic example of the lack of individual relationships is the Samsung story where they cancelled a blogger’s airplane ticket on a press trip for refusing to write about the brand.

Relationships are the life blood of your brand advocacy program especially in the social business era. However, you need to cultivate and build those individual relationships.

This can prove challenging as the size of your brand advocacy program grows. Read on to learn how you can refuel your brand advocacy program with the fuel of the Social Economy – Individual Relationships.

Brand Advocacy: Why focus on building individual relationships?

Brand Advocates - Individual RelationshipsBrand Advocates are people, people are individuals, having different goals, styles of working and preferences. Painting them with one common brush is ineffective. Brand Advocates are individuals first, they may have similar needs but expect and deserve to be treated as individuals.

The Corporate Challenge – Treating advocates like sheep

People are not SheepTo be successful with Brand Advocates, you don’t need to be Colin Powell (they are not an army to be commanded) or St. Paul (they are not sheep to be herded). You need to be sorta like Casanova (they are to be treated as individuals).

Advocates are looked upon as external to the organization and hence one often finds the approach to building relationships like that of herding sheep. This is a big mistake and it’s often just because the organization hasn’t thought thru the process of a brand advocacy program or is experimenting with it or just testing the waters. Don’t do this, as it kills the spirit of the relationship even before it begins.

Brand Advocates - How to Cultivate Individual RelationshipsHow do you build individual relationships with Brand Advocates?


Every relationship has a beginning, a middle and and end or a continuity. Cultivating a relationship mean that one works on nurturing the relationship through the lifecycle of the relationship.

The Beginning of a RelationshipStage 1: The Beginning of a relationship

  • Boy Sees Girl
  • Boy smitten by Girl
  • Boy meets Girl

Map this to how you discover, and how your advocates interact with you. Maybe the first look happens when you observe them tweeting sweet nothings on Twitter about you. Or  when they come across your program on your website. Or they physically meet you the brand advocate manager. Yeah believe it or not physical meetings still happen.

- Each interaction point provides an opportunity. It might begin on the advocacy page on your website or at a networking event. You need to specifically design this to encourage relationships with the brand advocate. You need to plan out how they will be welcomed into your brand advocate program.

They Meet AgainStage 2: The mid path – Boy meets her again

- You need to plan and have regular interactions/meetings. It’s a dance you have to do, as it enables you to be comfortable with each other and helps you establish rapport and a relationship. Without regular interactions one loses sight and touch which is necessary in building an individual relationship.

- You need to nurture the relationship. It’s like dating all over again, and then some. You need to cater to their expectations and that brings up the next challenge.

Building individual relationshipsWhat if your brand advocates run in the hundreds? Will individual relationships work then?


I could literally hear that big BUT come up. How do you scale your operations in the enterprise?

Here are some quick ways to get started (advanced tactics below)

- Regular telephone conference calls (works up to 30 people). 30 per week, works out to 120 a month, and 360 per quarter.

- Offline physical meetings – at events or conferences or even hold periodic roundtables. (works up to 100-200 people)

- Online webcasts – ( works up to 100-200 people at one go). You could do this weekly for advocates across different regions, states, countries etc. (200 a week, 800 people a month)

Important: Not all advocates will be comfortable with each of these mediums, some will prefer physical meetings, some online interactions. Don’t expect all of them to turn up just because you’re making yourself available.

Lots of Brand AdvocatesWhat if you have thousands of brand advocates? How can you scale building individual relationships?

There are various ways in which organizations can scale to building individual relationships.

Multiple Brand Advocacy Managers

Most large organizations have a ratio of 1:80 or 1:100 i.e. one brand advocate manager per 100 brand advocates. This ensures that the individual relationship is maintained between the organization and the brand advocates.

Incorporate a Buddy System or a Council

Buddy System - Peer Support

No matter how many brand advocate managers you have, you can’t be everywhere all the time. A Buddy System is the way out. Older brand advocates act as mentors supporting newer brand advocates. This helps in the initiation process of  building relationships between the organization and the individual. This greatly speeds up the relationship building and provides the added value of extra hands to manage the growing brand advocate ecosystem. The biggest value added is the building of relationships amongst the brand advocates themselves, reducing the load on the brand advocacy manager.

Similarly Councils, are like an advisory board comprising brand advocates who primarily play a role in easing and speeding up the individual relationship building:
- initiating new brand advocates,
- familiarising them with the brand advocacy program,
- providing support and also help in
- facilitating relationships amongst brand advocates and
- providing structured feedback back to the organization.

Both the buddy system and the council help in easing the process of building individual relationships between brand advocates and the organization.

Stage 3? What when the relationship ends?

Brand advocates needs are going to change over a period of time, some may just not be able to participate due to work or other constraints. Most organizations provide a path back and to be connected with these brand advocates. This is typically done by maintaining informal communities of ex-brand advocates.

How to build a deeper individual relationship?

To build a deeper relationship you need to ensure that certain minimum activities are performed by you.

  • Segmentation - Different people have different relationship triggers. On a program level you need to make sure you’ve segmented your audience in order that the right people get the right messages. This is crucial especially as the size of your brand advocacy program increases. (Learn more about Segmentation)
  • Evangelism – Reciprocity – When you praise or do something for others, it tells them you care. Additionally, it automatically ensures a similar return gesture from them, thereby deepening the relationship.
  • Frequency of interactions – People often suss over this and I find that more than frequency it is the consistency in interactions which matter. Take a pick whether it’s weekly or even monthly interactions, stick to your schedule and vary it to accommodate their requests.
  • Face to Face – Nothing, I repeat nothing beats face to face interactions. You need to ensure that these interactions happen. I’m not going to even bother to elaborate on this, however this is possibly the most important part of building a deep individual relationship.


In the social business era cultivating these individual relationships will decide the success of your brand advocacy program. Individual relationships are the life blood of your brand advocacy program. You need to design your program to nurture the relationship. The least of the benefits would be to avoid incidents like the Samsung blogger mishap.

Next Step?

Please do drop a note in the comments below to share how you’re cultivating individual relationships with your brand advocates and let me know if you have any questions.

1 Comment