As its owner, you are your small business’s best brand advocate. Unfortunately, the way human nature works, your customers will probably be more influenced to buy from you if they find out about your business on their own, rather than via straightforward, in-their-face advertising. In fact, of the distrustful and skeptical 79 million Millennials, only 6 percent consider online advertising to be credible. And while most people don’t trust brands, they do trust their friends: According to Social Chorus, 91 percent of consumers would trust a recommendation from a friend.

So how can you find these brand advocates, the ones who hold the future sales of your business in their powerful hands? And how can you use their influence to help grow your brand?

You probably have some great loyal customers who are already acting as your brand advocates—and you may not even know it. The key is to recognize and reward these customers so their brand advocacy continues. Review records and website analytics to see who your frequent buyers are. Reach out to offer them membership in a loyalty program that gives them rewards for buying. You can also ask loyal customers to refer their friends, family and colleagues to your business. Offering some type of incentive, such as a gift or discount, for a referral that leads to a sale can help turn loyal customers into strong brand advocates.

Have you made it clear how customers can complain if they have an issue with your product or service? If you can quickly identify and remedy a complaint, you may have just created a brand advocate out of the complainer. Make sure you or someone on your staff is monitoring your website, email, social media and online review sites to respond to problems and find solutions. Regularly check your business website and any online directories in which you’re listed to ensure your contact information is up to date so people can contact you.

You can also find potential brand advocates on social media platforms. Start with your own followers and reach out to those who frequently interact with your posts. Encourage them to advocate for your brand by asking them to share photos or posts of themselves using your product on social media, or to share your posts with their connections.

Next, reach beyond your immediate social circle to larger influencers who can become brand advocates. Search on hashtags or keywords about your business, product, service, or industry and see who’s talking and what they’re saying. Look for bloggers, YouTubers and other social media stars with big followings that match your target market. Klout, SumAll and Buzzsumo are three good tools for quantifying someone’s social media influence.

Once you identify potential brand advocates, you need to get on their radar. You don’t want to be too pushy, but you do want to forge a relationship. Start by going through their posts carefully, liking and commenting, as well as suggesting other interesting tidbits to check out. Get to know what kind of content the person creates and where they are represented the most.

If you feel you’re ready to make contact, be straightforward about a possible relationship. Influencers know they are influencers and usually have some sort of expectation as to what they want from you in exchange for their influences.

Some options for promoting your business via brand advocates include:

  • Send the influencer free samples of your products for review or for contest giveaways to their followers or fans.
  • Offer to trade guest posts.
  • Offer to host a guest webinar or ask to interview them.
  • Ask to hold a joint promotion.
  • Ask to have a tweetchat or video chat to talk about the market

After you’ve done some joint marketing with your brand advocate, be sure to track the results. Use Web and social media analytics tools to see how many new visitors each brand advocate has driven to your website or your social media accounts. Use in-store codes to track the number of visitors to your physical location as a result of the brand advocate.

Give your brand advocates the respect and attention they require, and you can build a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship that will strengthen your brand. 

Finding and Using Brand Advocates to Grow Your Brand