As noted in Part 1 of this blog post, USAA has earned a high level of advocacy from its members, but what is the recipe for producing advocacy such as this? If you listen to social media pros, you might think that advocacy was some recently discovered "secret sauce" that required Facebook, Twitter and online communities as a key ingredient. At this year's sxsw conference, for example, more than 20 sessions included the terms "advocacy" and "advocates" in the title or description.
Engaging with people on Facebook and responding to member requests on Twitter contribute to USAA's overall customer satisfaction, but that isn't where the company's advocacy starts. Nor is it created with great products and services; while that is an unavoidable piece of the advocacy puzzle for any enterprise, it is an effect rather than a cause. Instead, consumer advocacy starts with corporate culture--who is hired, how employees are trained and rewarded, the understanding of and commitment to customer needs, the priorities and tone set by leaders and the constant reinforcement of company mission. Those are the building blocks of brand advocacy.
If social media is only a contributing factor to customer advocacy, why do social media professionals so often talk about it? There are multiple answers to this question that run the gamut from justifiable to not.
A legitimate reason for social media pros to focus on advocacy is that social channels are a place where strong customer affinity can be leveraged to produce better business results. A happy customer telling a friend is a good thing, but a happy customer telling 100 friends (and 500 strangers) is even better. Tapping and multiplying existing customer sentiment is a key benefit of smart social media strategies.
But there can also be a tendency by some social media gurus to overstate their role in producing advocacy. Because sentiment is so easily (if unscientifically) measured in social channels, some social media professionals crow about increases in positive sentiment for their brands as if no one else in the organization produces communications, speaks with customers or contributes in ways that touch consumers. Even worse, I've seen social media pros and agencies pay for fans and friends by offering giveaways and discounts and then brag about how they increased "advocacy." As my friends at Zuberance often say, there is a big difference between a Facebook fan, a loyal customer and an advocate.
I'm not suggesting that what social media professionals do isn't important to fostering advocacy, but if they are the only ones talking about advocacy within the four walls of an enterprise, the company has a serious problem that cannot be solved solely with externally-facing social media strategies. Social media strategists are miners and jewelry designers, not alchemists--we explore social venues for existing veins of advocacy gold and then turn it into something even more functional and beautiful, but we cannot manufacture gold where none is found.
My team and I are working on ways to foster more advocacy in social channels, but I know our primary job is to amplify the advocacy created by so many others within USAA. I'll never stop appreciating the contribution of every employee within the organization, from the leaders who keep the focus on the mission to the MSRs (Member Service Reps) who make the mission real in every customer contact. The positive sentiment we measure in social channels isn't the product of the dozens of people who contribute to USAA's social media efforts but the thousands who staff phones, answer emails or contribute in other ways. Social media advocacy is everyone's job!