social media researchWhat would you say if you could add 5, 10, 100 or 1000 marketing reps to your team? For free?

What if these marketing reps would freely write about your brand and tell their friends and all they expect in return is recognition and access to insider information?

Who are these free marketers? Brand advocates. BzzAgent has recently released a new research study giving us the skinny on the habitat, behaviors and motivations behind brand advocates.

Who are brand advocates and what motivates them?

This careful study identifies many attributes of brand advocates. I’d like to discuss nine of them that will help you think through how to effectively engage advocates for your business.

Definition: A brand advocate is any customer who has been officially commissioned to speak on behalf of your brand without compensation.

Some examples of brand advocates:


Ambassadors for crafting and for Fiskars.

So what can we learn about who advocates are and what motivates them? Here are nine observations, based on the research of Dr. Kathleen R. Ferris-Costa from the University of Rhode Island’s College of Business Administration.

#1: Advocates are prolific creators of information

Internet users are becoming increasingly comfortable sharing their experiences with products and services through social media. What makes a brand advocate stand apart is his or her prolific communication about these experiences.

The survey found that brand advocates create and curate more than twice as many communications about brands as the average web user. They are savvy in writing meaningful content and sharing it on highly visible sites.

#2: Advocates influence the opinions and purchases of their friends

In Malcolm Gladwell’s classic book, Tipping Point, he identifies three unique kinds of people who make social movements possible: connectors, mavens and salesmen.

Brand advocates blend the strengths of a connector and a maven. They love connecting people with others of similar interests. But they are also information storehouses who love to share their knowledge.

The study found advocates are 70% more likely to be seen as a source of reliable information.

Additionally, brand advocates are 50% more likely to create content that influences a purchase.


Starting an influencer program does not have to be expensive. Note researcher Jeremiah Owyang’s observation that even experienced large brands don’t have to spend a lot of money to maintain effective advocate programs.


#3: Advocates love to talk and are probably already talking about your brand

Brand advocates are 83% more likely to share information than the average internet user. What’s more, 54% of advocates view information-sharing as a form of relaxation.

Notice that brand advocates are also motivated to make decisions, solve problems and contribute to a pool of information.

Smart businesses make it easy for brand advocates to share information about their brand. Provide relevant information through your blog, Facebook page or through exclusive emails and watch advocates share it.


Key takeaway: Find the people who are already talking about your company (here’s a great article for tips on seeing who is talking about you), find out what motivates them (survey them?) and give them valuable information worth sharing.

#4: Advocates like to use social media to help people

At their core, brand advocates like to help others. They don’t hoard information to inflate their egos; they want to be seen as useful.

Advocates love to meet new people through social media. In fact, they are 2.5 times more likely to use social media to expand their circle of friends.

In case you’re skeptical, be forewarned that advocates are not purely altruistic. They also want to get something out of this. Be willing to give them what they’re looking for.

Notice that receiving free products and other incentives rank at the top of their list. But deep satisfaction also comes from helping others make good decisions.


warningNot all advocates will be enticed by discounts and rewards. Some of them will even find it offensive and inauthentic. Word-of-mouth marketing expert Andy Sernovitz says that you shouldn’t mix love and incentives. Make sure your advocates don’t feel like you’re forcing them to praise you without having freedom to voice concerns and critiques.

#5: Advocates want to be known for their valuable insights

Advocates like helping people and getting free stuff, but they’re deeply motivated by recognition. In fact, they’re 150% more likely to value being seen as a reliable source of information.


Key takeaway: Find creative ways to recognize your most valuable contributors.

Social Media Examiner does this well through their Fan of the Week program.

sme fan of the week

#6: Advocates are most likely to use social media for sharing their opinions

Advocates are twice as likely to share product information on social networks than average web users. In fact, social media is their first choice for sharing their insights.


Key takeaway: Solicit feedback from your advocates where they’ve already built an audience. Don’t expect them to go somewhere else.

#7: Advocates have a broader reach

Here’s something that sets brand advocates apart from the crowd: advocates are 3 times more likely to share brand information with someone they don’t know.

Brand advocates love meeting people online. Given their desire to influence people and share information, it’s predictable that their messages will reach a much broader audience than the average web user.


#8: Advocates like talking about their product choices.

Advocates love to talk about their daily product and service decisions. Their top three topics to discuss are: food or dining, personal care products and household products.

How do these topics relate to your products or services? If your company’s deliverable is not on this list, you may need to work harder at giving advocates a reason to talk about you.


#9: Advocates are loyal to brands with which they have a relationship

Why do advocates do what they do? They appreciate the incentives and rewards, but at the end of the day, they want to be known as a trusted agent of the brand. The relationship is important to them.


Key takeaway: Advocates are your friends, not your employees. They want to know you value their friendship as a mutual exchange. Show them love in as many ways as you can and let them be themselves.

Should your company use brand advocates?

That obviously depends on your business. I would recommend you do two things:

  1. Look for people who are already talking openly and honestly about your brand. Invite them to help you build a program that will be meaningful for you and your future advocates.
  2. Think through carefully the costs and benefits of an advocacy program. Nichole Kelly wrote a helpful article recently helping you weigh the pros and cons of an advocacy program. Check it out.

What about you?

What do you think? If you have an advocacy program, we’d love to hear how your experience compares to this study. If you’re contemplating starting a program, what’s holding you back? Leave your comments in the box below.

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  •  well…. reasons are quite interesting! thanks for those tips…. kinda thought-provoking… thanks!

  • TheDaveCable

    Great article Phil, something I hope to use to persuade a client they need to do this – urgently! I have been telling them to do so and I hope this might just be the convincer! 

  • Nice information, thanks for taking the time to answer my question – Do you think that Advocates can work equally as effectively for B2B as well as B2C ?

  • Does it work in Malaysia?

  • Debra Gaynor

    Interesting survey.  My agency, Marina Maher Communications recently released a survey with similar findings but focused on what influences women’s buying decisions.  We found a similar group that we call Influence-Hers (some are officially brand advocates and some are not) has a profound impact on women’s buying decisions.  You can read more about the survey here.

  • I am now an advocate for Phil Mershon! Great post! Now the next question is how do we get these advocates?

  • I have tried various means to get customers involved on the site and on the luckyotta fan page. But using polls, forums, submit your opinion forms and comments…I have not had much luck getting Advocacy. Even. Critisms going. …any suggestions…

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  • Mercedes

    I would love to start such a program but unfortunately incentivating people to talk about our products by giving them gifts is not within our budget at the moment, we are also a new small business so there aren’t tons of people who can become advocates
    Can you give some suggestions to a small business that is just starting out?

  • Getting bloggers involved that do Reviews and Giveaways on their blog is a great start.  I am connecting with different brands and using social media to help further their campaigns.  if you would like additional resources I would be happy to share.

  • PhilMershon

    Thanks. Research certainly makes you think harder about why you do what you do.

  • PhilMershon

    Thanks, Dave. Its nice to be able to point to something that’s a bit more objective. You might direct them to Timex in addition to the examples I listed in the article.

  • PhilMershon

    You’re welcome. Thanks for reading!

  • PhilMershon

    If you have an online business that has products to sell, I think it can work anywhere. Probably has less to do with geography and more the nature of your product and market. Are your customers online? Do you have customers who are talking about your brand to their friends and peers? If so, I think it will help–at least, it’s worth a measured attempt.

  • Very interesting concept, I know BzzAgent has been around for a long time, which might say something about the staying power of harnessing brand advocates as voices of a company.

  • PhilMershon

    Thanks for sharing that study. That provides a nice balance to this research. Finding and nurturing this group seems to be very key.

  • PhilMershon

    Nice. Thanks, Benjamin. The answer to your question will depend a lot on your market, but I would start by watching and listening. See who freely talks about you anyway. You may need to invite those conversations, if they aren’t happening already.

  • PhilMershon

    I would think that your best initial advocates will be those winning customers. Get them to share their stories, at least telling their friends that they won. I might even make that a requirement for winning is that they agree to post and/or tweet about their prize.

    That might not get you long-term advocates, but that’s a group of people to start nurturing. Watch what they say to their friends. Some of them will be more verbose. Watch how their friends engage. If you see a high level of engagement from their post and/or tweet, you may have a potential advocate. Invite them to talk more.

    As a side note, you may want to fix the typos on your page. That might help your presentation a bit. 🙂

    All my best,

  • PhilMershon

    I’d welcome input from other readers here…

    That said, I would think about what you do have that is basically free (information, know-how and access to experts). How could you reward customers and advocates with access to the things that you take for granted, but are very valuable to others. Again, I don’t know your business or industry, but I know you have something that others would value.

  • PhilMershon

    Great idea, April!

  • PhilMershon

    That could be true. I think their motivation in this study was to help their clients (and potential clients) understand the value of brand advocacy in this new media age. Thanks, Clark!

  • Great information, thank you! I had never heard of brand advocates before this, but it makes so much sense.

    I have a question that others who manage smaller companies might have. I just started managing the social media of a quarterly magazine (and yes, I will shamelessly plug it– :), and although it’s small right now, it’s been steadily growing since I’ve taken over. Do you think it’s too early to try and recruit brand advocates? Should I grow the fan base a little more first?

    Thank you! 🙂

  • Morgan

    There’s no doubt that advocates are an absolute necessity. If you hear something fantastic about a brand through the eyes of a consumer, rather than through the company, it can actually have a much greater impact. 

    Finding and keeping a hold of brand advocates isn’t necessarily difficult, either. It’s about staying engaged and acknowledging those who are enthusiastic about the brand, even giving them free stuff (or service) to show your appreciation. 

    I myself am a brand advocate for many brands and I know first hand that it works. 

    Love this post! Brand advocates are extremely powerful. 🙂

  • Thanks for covering our study Phil. I found these comments and the other resources you included in the post very informative. If you are interested, we created a cool infographic of the study here on our blog:    

    – Brian Cavoli, BzzAgent

  • Ian Roe

    What if you are not selling a product? I work with a government agency that is looking to build an advocacy network with the the silent majority of people who we know support immunization. We always seem to hear about those that don’t support vaccinations especially online. We are looking for ideas on how to best engage a group like this and how to support them.

  • I agree that having advocates for your brand is wonderful.  From a blogger perspective,  I take exception to your “FREE” emphasis.  Bloggers  who are trying or have made this their profession (and can often advocate the loudest) need to be compensated in some manner.  For example via the Giveaway/Review process or Ambassadorships.  For a long term relationship, both sides must experience gains. 

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  • What about for a non-profit?

  • PhilMershon

    Lindsey, that’s a great question. Conventional wisdom seems to be that you should get 500 to 1000 fans as a “tipping point”, but you may find that you have some people that can help you get there. I would suggest that you not look at it as an A then B, but A + B. If you have some people ready to talk up your article, engage them. In a brief scan, I saw several names that show up multiple times. Find out why they like your site (and magazine) and what would entice them to share it with their friends.

    Remember that advocates are your friends, so you’re definitely not too small to have friends! 🙂

  • PhilMershon

    Thanks, Morgan. Would love it if you shared your thoughts with any of the questions above.

  • PhilMershon

    Thanks, Brian. I liked that infographic, but wanted to give people a treasure to find when they looked at your article!

  • PhilMershon

    That’s a great question, Ian. Issues like yours tend to bring out the vocal dissenters. You may need to find something that the majority support that redefines the conversation. Instead of making it about immunization, maybe its about childhood health. When people are content with their decision, you have to given them a reason to speak up. You’ll figure it out.

  • PhilMershon

    You bring out a good distinction. There are many situations where companies do compensate bloggers and people of influence, but that is not the thrust of the brand advocacy programs that I was reviewing. Your role as a blogger is a bit more as an authoritative voice than the typical brand advocate.

    I’d welcome your further clarification for other readers who are seeking to understand this. Thanks!

  • PhilMershon

    That’s a really good question. I’ve spent most of my career in the non-profit world. At one level you could say that everyone who gets behind a non-profit is an advocate. We support non-profits because we believe in their mission (be it arts, ending poverty or whatever). But I do think there is a place for empowering people to advocate for you. In fundraising we do this by giving recognition to those who raise more money (or contribute). I’ve seen regional advocates work well. This can work like the political community organizer or a local alumni director for a university. These people receive insider info and access as well as recognition. I think it depends on your non-profit for how this might work, but I could see an army of advocates being very valuable to your cause.

  • I have been a brand advocate and have sought them out…it happens all the time when I have to choose between brands that I don’t know, I often turn to Twitter/FB or Google in search of someone who is passionate about one.

  • Thank you Phil, I started doing Brand Ambassador work off line and had fun, now I am online building my work as an Online Ambassador, I LOVE IT 🙂

  • Hey Lindsey, the Website looks great, Phil is on the money 🙂 I have some big Blogging events coming up in the next few weeks which can get you facebook/Twitter fans and lower your Alexa numbers to start with.  I have a foodie/Giveaway Review Blog.  If you would like to send me an email at Facebook I would be happy to give you some of my ideas and Sponsoring information 🙂

  • I Second That! 🙂

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  • Phil
    Thanks so much for the input. Yes . we do ask the winners to let us post the
    news of their good luck on facebook and twitter . Surprisingly , that hasnt
    brought much response that we have noticed from their friends . We will keep
    working on that angle though, that was the original marketing idea . I thought
    it would be a natural word of mouth spreader. Thanks also for the heads up on
    typos …I have had numerous people check it over for me and I guess they still
    get missed.
    best to you.

    tony bordonaro
    Latest tweet: do you love this ? …Napa Soap Co…
    Follow @tonybordonaro Reply Retweet 16:39 Jun-12 Get this email app!
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  • Phil:  Any thoughts and data to support equal application in B2B or B2B2C vs. consumer marketing?  

  • Natascha Thomson

    I think there is no question that advocates are useful, the question is, how do you engage them most effectively. Especially for B2B, I’d love to see some examples on how to motivate these advocates to be spokes people :-).

  • PhilMershon

    Good question. I don’t have any data to differentiate. I can surmise from the data on what advocates like to talk about that B2B might be more of a stretch, depending on your market. But, remember this. Your audience for B2B or B2B2C is still people–people who work for these companies and who use your services or products. If they like what you do or provide, get them talking about it. Quicken has done a great job with that with accountants. People with special knowledge like to be recognized. I think you can find a way to do that, but you may have to think hard about the profile of those who talk openly about your company. What motivates them? If you don’t know, ask them. Surveys of the right audience can be your best tool.

  • PhilMershon

    Natascha. As I mentioned above, I would check out successful programs like Quicken’s. Microsoft has done that with their developers community.

  • LucidGal

    So how might this unpaid advocacy “program” look like an how might it work (unpaid meaning no compensation of any kind…no money, no products, no winning anything)?

  • PhilMershon

    Never said there was “no” compensation. There has to be something in it for the advocate. I just meant no financial compensation (you’re paying them to speak on your behalf). You are rewarding them with discounts or maybe even free products or access to information, events or speakers. I encourage you to check out some of the programs I referenced in the article for examples of how it might look.

    Thanks! 🙂

  • Nice write up Phil. Small business need these people in order to make our brand get going and there is no doubt that these
    people can change the way we are going to build our brand.

  • Does it work in Poland?

  • Web Element

    Really very useful and informative article. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • PhilMershon


  • PhilMershon

    You’re welcome. Thanks for reading.

  • LucidGal

    Don’t think paid blogging/advocacy has any more credibility than paid advertising.

  • PhilMershon

    For those looking for an example of another great ambassador program, I commend to you Makers Mark. I’m not a whiskey drinker, but this program might entice me. They’ve figured out how to make people feel like they’re part of the family (a true insider). That will breed commitment. They also aren’t afraid to spend some money on this program, but its minimal compared to the gain. Check it out: (you must be 18 to enter the site)

  • Jsilverman

    No doubt about it. We’re activating this strategy now for B2B clients.

  • I’d love to get brand advocates for ShopAnthropy (technology that turns online shopping into online gifting for non-profits and it’s free) but with a new brand and little awareness, how do you get advocates?

  • Advocates in undeniably useful for any business,  and so I agree with you that they deserved to be compensated for their “Power to advocate”. A must read article indeed!

  • David Epstein

    Phil, In the article you talk about what advocates are and how useful they can be. We can see from the questions that what we readers now want to know is “how to find, approach and best motivate them.” Perhaps  the next article you could do a step by step about this. Nice workl

  • We have had tremendous success with our ambassador program. Ours is very informal and involves building strong offline relationships to influence online behavior. A year ago we were responding to 90% of negative posts online. Since the inception of our program, we have seen a decrease in posts that require company response as our brand advocates have taken over the conversations. Last quarter we only had to respond to 35% of negative posts.

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  • Fantastic, thanks so much for the tips and encouragement! 🙂

  • Just shot you a message! Thanks so much April!

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  • Very interesting article. You know, this is one part of business that I think is becoming more and more popular and based on my observations, it seems that because of the thriving social media interactions, it’s evolving into something more useful and important than the usual business strategies. 

  • Some nice stats regarding Brand Advocates as key influencers…

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  • You might want to read about the R.I.D.E. framework for building a brand advocate program

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  • Dragan Mestrovic

    With the tremendous global reach of social media, companies MUST work to earn brand advocates.
    This kind of influence can’t be bought though marketing budget only through trust, credibility and authenticity.
    Each and every company which goal is to be successful and not to be left behind has to embrace this opportunity of customer good will and cultivate it to sustain in the long-term.

  • Shivani

    Hi Phil! 
    Great article. It helped me a lot in understanding the process and intricacies. Can you, however, give me some examples of companies which use this pretty frequently? It would give us laymen some idea of what they do.
    Thanks a lot!

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  • AllThingsMusic

    @41c5bd4e0f9d059de3fdef2fe79e865e:disqus I’ve been looking around for companies that offer to take control of the brand advocacy of our small business (and yes, I’m aware some think of it as something that one doesn’t have to pay for, but by offering special deals, etc and spending a fair amount of time following up on online conversations, we felt it was worth the while to pay for such a service). A couple of days ago, I came across a company called Brandvocates (brandvocates(dot)net) and from what I’ve seen on their site, they’ve worked with Tracfone extensively, as well as (quote) “major PR agencies in Washington DC,leading creative and media agencies in New York, travel marketers in Miami and entertainment marketers in Los Angeles.”  
    If you go to their site, they do speak a bit about what it is they do. We will possibly be approaching them ourselves, so will keep you posted in the months to come. Hope this helps.    

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  • Very useful article as I embark on a programme for a national clothing brand — thank you! (Must re-read Gladwell)

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  • Keely

    How do we make our employees brand advocates?

  • Taxportunity

    bzzagent campaigns start at 50K. do you have any similar services for smaller marketing budgets?