What is Advocacy?


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Here is another chess puzzle, white to move and mate in 2!

Last week at the social CRM summit in Georgia those in attendance were tasked with an interesting exercise around understanding advocacy. We were to imagine that we worked for Direct T.V. (or as Paul likes to say Drek) and were told to come up with answers to the following questions:

  1. How do you do define advocacy for Direct T.V?
  2. How do you reward advocacy for Direct T.V?
  3. What do you need to do to actually make all of this work from an operational standpoint?

I thought this was a great exercise that really made everyone in attendance think about what advocacy is. Assuming we aren’t talking about any specific company, what does advocacy look like to you? We came up with various thoughts and ideas around this such as an advocate is someone who:

  • invests their time and money into your brand by continuously providing feedback and purchasing your products
  • is willing to put their reputation on the link to recommend the company
  • talks about your company publicly in a positive light
  • is willing to recommend your products and/or services

However, after looking back on all of this I realized that we were missing a few things. Esteban actually presented his groups’ completed exercise to the class and made some very good points, namely that an advocate doesn’t have to own the product or service that they are advocating (as Esteban often does with the Ipad).

When we think of advocacy or an advocate we inherently think we know what or “who” that is, however when you really start to break things down it’s actually not that simple.

What if you have someone who continuously gives constructive criticism to the company yet doesn’t promote it? Meaning this person is investing their time to help the organization improve (publicly and privately) by providing feedback yet doesn’t tell his or her friends about any products or services that are offered. Is this person an advocate? Again, there is no yes or no answer to this question because it depends on a few other things but the point is that advocacy is not THAT simple and might mean something different for various organizations. Take frequent flyer programs that airlines offer, are those advocacy programs? What about discounts you get from shopping at the same store or the foursquare badges you get from frequenting the same establishment? Are any of these things tied directly to advocacy? Are advocacy and loyalty the same thing? Can you have someone be a loyal customer that isn’t an advocate or vice versa? Does advocacy imply an emotional attachment?

Again not so simple yet it’s something that every organization really needs to think through and understand. Why? Because this is a foundation of SCRM and any efforts to engage and build relationships with customers need to take these things into consideration.

So back to Direct T.V. Keep in mind I don’t know too much about Direct T.V. The point of the exercise is just to get you to think about what advocacy can look and how you would support it. Of course a lot more would need to go into this before actually developing a program. Having said all of that, here is how I would answer the above questions from a conceptual high level.

How do you define advocacy?
  • Someone willing to recommend your products and services to other people (net promoter score)
  • Someone who actually recommends your products and services to other people
  • Someone who speaks positively about your company publicly
How do you reward advocacy for Direct T.V?
  • Give your advocates some sort of a status
  • Provide for behind the scenes access so that your advocates can really connect with the organization
  • Allow your advocates to have some sort of influence or “say” over how products and services are developed and offered to the market
  • Provide for priority support for your advocates (as most times the issue with service providers is support)
  • Show public recognition for your advocates
  • Give the advocates some sort of a VIP treatment that gives them an EMOTIONAL experience
  • Give your advocates the time and resources to come up with their own ideas, to create something on behalf of the organization. Get out of their way.
  • Allow advocates to actually attends some of the events that they watch or the filming of some of their favorite shows
What do you to actually make this happen?
  • Link television viewership with social data so advocates (or general audience) can “like” or “tweet” about programs from their screens during shows
  • Develop an acknowledgment and action process workflow for your advocates so that they know their ideas are being heard and some acted upon
  • Foster a corporate culture that will support the engagement and inclusion of advocates
  • Develop a community platform for advocates to interact with each other and with other customers, give advocates their own private area for direct communication with the organization.
  • Segment advocates based on viewership and interaction to allow for better advocacy programs, not all advocates are the same
  • Provide for training to both the advocates and to those employees assigned to support the program

Are these all of or even the best ideas? No, probably not. But the point is to really to get you to think about what advocacy is. You can even throw some other questions into the mix such as how you will measure the effectiveness of your advocacy programs.

Do yourself and your organization a favor and break down what advocacy means and come up with a list of crucial questions that you need to answer (starting with the 3 listed above), and answer them. Then you can start looking at the differences between loyalty and advocacy and what the characteristics and drivers are of each, because they are not the same.

So, what do you think about all of this? Would love to hear your thoughts on how you understand or define advocacy.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jacob Morgan
I'm a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and futurist who explores what the future of work is going to look like and how to create great experiences so that employees actually want to show up to work. I've written three best-selling books which are: The Employee Experience Advantage (2017), The Future of Work (2014), and The Collaborative Organization (2012).


  1. Hi Jacob

    Interesting post.

    Advocacy, like loyalty is a much misunderstood thing. Whilst it is no doubt good to have lots of true advocates, companies must be careful how they develop them. Develop them the wrong way and they can introduce costly, unintended consequences.

    The right way to develop advocates is by providing barnstormingly great products, services and experiences for customers. Ones so good that customers and non-customers alike feel compelled to tell others how fantastic they are. As a recent study by Bain & Co found out, most companies are light years away from doing that.

    Developing advocacy worthy products is hard work and expensive. So many companies resort to a cheaper route involving ‘gimmicks’ like loyalty programmes, rather than developing great products. As Liljander & Roos point out in a paper on True vs Spurious Loyalty, customers who advocate these programmes usually do so because there is an economic rationale to do so, not because they are emotionally committed to them.

    But does this really matter?

    We have been led to believe that having lots of advocates leads to increased profitability. But does it? As Kumar points out in a paper on Customer Referral Value, of those customers who say they intend to advocate for a company, only a small proprtion actually do so, which leads to an even smaller number of new customers being acquired, of which the majority are not actually profitable. Like so many things, the devil is in the detail.

    Rather than blindly pushing for more advocates (as the seriously flawed NPS score does), companies need to understand where the best return can be had on their money. It might be that the best return is in creating the barnstorming products that lead to true advocacy. Like Virgin Atlantic Airlines has done. It might be in developing loyalty programmes that create spurious advocacy, but which can become more profitable than the core business. As Air Canada found out when it floated its Aeroplan frequent flyer programme. It might be in developing low-loyalty customers to spend a little more money on the company, as an award winning study on relationship dynamics at Stanford GSB found.

    At the end of the day, most companies will be more successful by ruthlessly going where the money is, rather than by folowing a hopeful strategy based on developing advocates. We should leave the audacity of hope to politicians.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.


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