The social technology behind empowering your fans
Empower Your Fans

By Jason Falls, founder and CEO of Social Media Explorer. Jason will be a keynote speaker at Foodservice Social Media Universe 2012.

Since the early days of social media marketing, which is to say for the last 10 years or so, the coveted Nirvana for brands has been to recruit, engage and empower its most loyal fans in hopes they’ll advocate on behalf of the product, service or company. Building an army of marketers you don’t have to pay drives word-of-mouth referrals and buzz, which is often cited as 10 or more times more effective than traditional advertising. Having a community of loyal advocates on your side is a powerful marketing weapon.

As the space evolved, we saw branded walled-gardens (like those built by Mzinga, Jive and others in the 2005-07 range) evolve to less formal (Facebook Groups, etc.) and the point of these communal areas shift from user communities/customer support units to “share our content” cattle calls. But the tools and technology are improving and there are an interesting array of software platforms and strategic approaches available to companies and brands now. We reviewed six such companies recently to uncover what software, strategic approaches and opportunities are out there to help you drive more fan-generated recommendations and referrals of your product or content.

Social Media Fan Advocacy and Loyalty Software

We reviewed six platforms that offer similar, but also distinctive feature sets and philosophical approaches to the social media fan advocacy market. Those platforms included:

Our focus was not just on the functionality of the software, but the use cases and applications of the platforms, what specific audiences and actions were best facilitated by each and how their approach to social media fan loyalty differed and offered marketers potential. We’ve touched on both GaggleAmp and SocialToaster on SME before, but approached these briefings with a clean slate perspective to hopefully eliminate any pre-conceptions about how they worked.

It is important to know, too, that SocialToaster is a Social Media Explorer client. However, our intent and focus with this review was to offer a third-party view of the options available in the industry. SocialToaster had no input on this content other than to be interviewed and provide a briefing to Social Media Explorer, as did the other five. Certainly, there exists a client relationship bias, but we’ve hopefully removed it for the purposes of this piece.

As we sifted through the offerings and perspectives, a few themes emerged marketing professionals should consider when building or supplementing social media fan groups.

Advocacy vs. Loyalty

The most obvious difference in these types of software emerges when you consider the strategic reason to use them. There are gamified reward approaches where fans who share your content or advocate for you in some way online get points, bonuses or other rewards for their behavior. Brandsforce, SocialToaster and 500Fans are built around this premise, though offer varying degrees of other functionality, too. The others certainly can offer reward and points variations, but have some core positioning differences. Zuberance, for instance, takes the stance that if your fans are promoting you for rewards, points, discounts and such, then they’re not true advocates. Zuberance attempts to find, energize and then measure the hard core fans who will spread the word about you for no tangible benefit other than to be helpful and share their experiences with friends. Certainly, its platform can be integrated with rewards programs and the like, but Rob Fuggetta, Zuberance’s CEO, told me their program revolves around the core Net Promoter Score premise of answering the question, “Would you recommend this brand?”

“We’ve studied and asked customers why they recommend products,” Fuggetta said. “The number one answer is they had a great experience and want to help others — over 50 percent of those surveyed said that. They want their friends to enjoy it.”

Fuggetta said only one percent of the respondents said they shared because they would get a coupon or a deal. “In our definition, they are not advocates,” he explained.

Content vs. Product

So Zuberance is more of a platform that drives product recommendation. The focal point of 500 Friends, Brandsforce, GaggleAmp and Social Toaster is driving company content online. Sure, some of that content can be related to product promotion and even direct calls-to-action, but they primarily help you give fans and followers the ability to plug in to your social content — Tweets, Facebook posts, etc., — and then share that content with their networks. The social actions fuel point tallies and rewards you determine, so you get amplification and reach of your social messaging but also tracking and analytics to drive rewards activity.

CrowdTwist incorporates what they say is a more of a true loyalty play for your customers. Adam Trisk, CrowdTwist’s marketing head told me platforms that focus mostly on social content sharing are driving engagement, but aren’t really playing on customer loyalty. “There’s no tangible value to the brand,” he said. CrowdTwist integrates with point-of-sale, e-commerce and other business systems to track purchase behavior as well as social activity. They also help clients build out true incentives based on brand engagement, rather than coupons and rewards. A recent program for the Miami Dolphins rewarded a fan who drove both social engagement and purchases with the chance to be a training camp reporter.

Trisk admits CrowdTwist is more appropriately suited for entertainment and sports brands, passion and lifestyle-driven consumer brands and retailers – as are each of the tools we reviewed. But the complexity of tracking both online brand engagement, social activity and reach along with purchase behavior makes the platform unique.

Consumers vs. Other Stakeholders

And then there’s the actual audience you’re trying to empower that can be a differentiator here. GaggleAmp is less geared to build a group of customers or fans to promote your social content (though it can certainly be used for such) and more focused on allowing companies to empower their employees to share company messages. Or, to put a slightly different spin on it, giving companies the ability to leverage employee social accounts to drive individual engagement focused on lead generation or sales. For example, a 20-person sales team all has individual LinkedIn accounts, but only a few have the ability or inclination to actively post status updates to share content, ask questions of their connections and the like. So the company produces, then pushes content to each sales rep they can then post without having to create it themselves.

“You’ve got tremendous assets your not tapping into right now that have a higher affinity for you and your brand,” said Glen Gaudette, GaggleAmp’s CEO, referring to a company’s employees. “Don’t forget those asset groups.”

Why Use Them?

From growing your online fan base to expanding the reach of your messaging and from inventing and rewarding current customers to driving word-of-mouth referrals for your product or service, there are a number of reasons to use social media fan loyalty platforms. The trick is finding the reason, context and parameters with which to work. Just assigning point values for social activity without some well-though rewards system or structure and just asking fans or employees to share your social content without some intend of what you want that content to do and their networks to do with it won’t help you use these tools wisely.

Think about a group of stakeholders you could incent to take social actions — shares, comments, likes, etc., — or you could connect with point-of-sale and CRM systems to better define their level of loyalty and value to the organization. Ask yourself what you can give to them that provides either content or consideration that you can then measure the result of and trace back to sales, revenues and cost savings. Then review the tools here (as well as others on the market) for the best fit for your needs and budget.

Who Should Use Them?

Passion brands are going to be the most appropriate fit in almost all of these solutions, but there are always use cases in other industries. But think about it — do you have a stakeholder group, either inside or outside the organization, that would readily share you social content? Develop content focused on being so useful they want to tell others. Use one of these types of tools to drive adoption, simplify the sharing and track the results. Do you have a customer or fan base that you can drive to a closer connection with the brand through premium or loyalty programs? Can you develop implementations that track and reward purchase behavior and frequency? If so, these platforms are worth considering.

What Do They Cost?

CrowdTwist and the Loyalty Plus platform from 500 Friends are enterprise offerings that start around $1500 per month. Brandsforce, SocialToaster and GaggleAmp all have sufficient price points for small and medium businesses as well. Zuberance is going to go for around $2500 per month. The key elements to consider here is what value you place on either the loyalty/reward/advocacy efforts or programs focused on increasing reach or fan/follower counts. Can you connect those efforts — especially social content sharing — to sales or revenue? If so, the cost-value determination is easier. If not, you’ve got to put a value on it and decide on whether the value of your soft returns is worth the cost.

The No B.S. Bottom Line

For driving reach and expanding your online fan footprint, Brandsforce, SocialToaster, 500 Friends and GaggleAmp are solid options. Each have slight variations in focus, ideal audience and functionality. For fueling loyalty and reward programs within stakeholder groups, Brandsforce, SocialToaster, 500 Friends and CrowdTwist would be our top picks to consider. For integrating social activity with purchase history and other customer data, CrowdTwist stands out, but the others have integration points for certain CRM programs. And for taking a bit of a moral high road and focusing on pure advocacy rather than incentivized rewards, Zuberance is where we’d start.

Platform – What each is best at accomplishing

  • 500 Friends – Drive reach, expand fans & followers, fuel loyalty or reward programs
  • Brandsforce – Drive reach, expand fans & followers, fuel loyalty or reward programs
  • GaggleAmp – Drive reach, expand fans & followers, power employee social channels
  • SocialToaster – Drive reach, expand fans & followers, fuel loyalty or reward programs
  • CrowdTwist – Integrate social activity and purchase/customer data, fuel loyalty or reward programs
  • Zuberance – Drive recommendations

Each of the six platforms are commendable, as are sedans from Ford, Dodge, Volkswagen, Chevy, Toyota and Honda. Picking which is right for you only takes some research and perhaps a test drive.

Now it’s your turn. Do you use any of the platforms, or even others we didn’t mention? What do they help you accomplish? How easy or hard are they to use? What do you wish yours did that it doesn’t? The comments, as always, are yours.

Jason   Falls  Jason Falls is is a leading thinker, educator, speaker and strategist in the world of social media marketing, public relations, digital marketing and communications. Jason is the founder of SocialMediaExplorer.com and co-author of No BS Social Media: The All-Business No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing.

Jason will be a keynote speaker at Foodservice Social Media Universe 2012, Sept. 16-18, in Chicago. Register now.

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