Most people use the terms interchangeable, but I think they are two separate types of people. In my mind, fans have a higher level of passion and sense of ownership over a brand. Both brand advocates and fans want to see their favorite brands succeed, but I think the difference is that fans will work with the brand to make that happen.
And to be clear, in this context fans are much rarer than brand advocates. Their level of devotion and passion for the brand also makes them far more special. In Think Like a Rock Star, the underlying focus of the entire book is to help your brand create a process and framework for connecting with your fans. And I constantly stress that your brand shouldn’t get hung up on how many (or typically how few) fans you have. The people that will Like your Facebook page aren’t typically your ‘fans’.
For example, if you join Maker’s Mark’s brand ambassador program, the brand views it as if you are accepting a job. Your new job is to promote the product to other customers, as well as talk to bars and restaurants and either encourage them to carry it if they are not, and to thank them for carrying it, if they do. Your job is to be a raving fan of Maker’s Mark. Now a true fan of the brand will jump at the chance, and the brand’s program has been extremely popular from its onset over a decade ago.
But if you were to look at everyone that Liked your Facebook page or that followed you on Twitter and made them a similar ‘job’ offer, how many would take you up on that offer? Probably not many. So if you are a brand, you need to understand that your true fans are pretty rare customers, there’s probably not a lot of them out there.
Still, it’s incredibly powerful to connect with them, because the thing about your fans is:
1 – They have extremely high levels of loyalty. So high that they will go out and recruit new fans among your existing customers, and attempt to acquire new customers for you.
2 – They have a high sense of ownership over your brand. For example they will tell you what’s wrong with your brand, then work alongside you to correct it.
3 – They are your best source of marketing. Your fans can more effectively connect with customers than your brand can because your fans are speaking in a voice that the customer can relate to: Their own.
So don’t get caught up in the numbers game, and don’t fret if your brand doesn’t have 50,000 fans, it may only have 50. The point is to connect with the fans you do have. If you need the roadmap to get you started identifying who your fans are and how you can connect with them, now it’s available.
PS: Here’s a freebie from the book: One way to help identify your fans is by looking for ‘hand-raisers’. Remember that since your fans feel a sense of ownership over your brand, they will often reach out to you and initiate contact. Look for people that are emailing you, that are contacting you on Twitter and Facebook, or even writing letters. If you are a blogger, the reader that emailed you last week to let you know that they loved your latest post and that it resonated with you, they are likely a fan. They want to connect with you and thank you for what you do. Your fans have the motivation to connect with you that your ‘brand advocates’ may not.
Becky McCray says
And yet we see many brands expecting everyone who likes them to get out and spread the word for them. We hear about “harnessing brand advocates” and “leveraging fans,” etc. At some point, it starts to sound like someone wants the customers to do the staff’s job.
Remembering that real people are involved is primary. And understanding that people will have a wide spectrum of beliefs about your brand is next. Not everyone wants to get out and work for you. Cherish and support the few who really do. Don’t put excessive expectations on everyone else.
Mack Collier says
Becky like I said on Twitter the other night, hearing ‘activate your brand advocates’ makes me slighty nauseous! I agree completely, there is such a misunderstanding about fans and people that are loyal customers. Some are happy to mention you positively in conversation if it comes up, and no more. Others go out of their way to promote you to other customers. Some want to do more and will reach out to the brand to try to find ways they can work with them.
There’s so many different subsets of every brand’s customer base and so many differing levels of loyalty and commitment to that brand. When a brand throws a blanket term like ‘advocates’ over all or most of their customers, they are doing a huge disservice to those customers, as well as the brand itself.
Aaron Pearson says
Thanks Mack. Clearly there are tiers of fans and advocates or whatever. I’d suggest that both your “fanatic” fans and your brand advocates, to use your terminology, are tremendously valuable but your expectations for their behavior on your behalf are different. They are engaged at different levels. One other thing – I wouldn’t want readers to forget that one of the most important things they can do is to nurture new fans and advocates. Just because you only have 50 doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way.
Mack Collier says
Aaron you are exactly right, it all goes back to understanding your customers. A big focus of the book is to create processes that help the brand become more connected to its customers, especially its fans. Because that helps facilitate understanding. Which leads to trust, which leads to advocacy.
Ari Herzog says
Jeff Hurt wrote on his blog two years ago that people like your Facebook page because they identify with you. They may or not be a customer, they may or not even like you in the spirit of that word — but they do identify with something you stand for or a product you make or how your updates appear compared to other page updates.
Companies need to ask themselves if people who take a fraction of a second to click the Facebook like button are brand advocates, fans, or just people who decided to click like.