Fans and advocates: Two concepts often confused in social media

Fans and advocates: Two concepts often confused in social media

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There is no denying the value to any brand of fans – people who are passionate about your brand and will take every opportunity to use and enjoy your services and products. There is also no denying the value of advocates – people who will tell others about your brand, their experiences with and tell stories on your behalf. The ideal is to find people who do both, but this does not need to be the case and is not always the case. When discussing influence in social media, fans and advocates are often confused. And that hinders real strategic thinking.

Being a fan is not an inherently social activity. I could be a fan of a particular service, shop or TV programme – using it religiously, spending time and money with them and being incredibly loyal. This is not a social act, but a very personal one. One between me and a brand that I may not choose to talk about.

Being an advocate is different. I may not be a brands biggest or best customer; the value I give them is not about the amount of money I spend with them but the value of my advocacy. The conversations I start, the people I talk to, the new clients I bring them. This may happen offline or may happen online, but is about true advocacy. I, for example, would count myself as an advocate of a certain restaurant in Paris. I’ve been there only a few times and am certainly not their best customer by a long way. But I tell everybody I know who visits the city to go there. I like to think that I send them new customers also every month.

The danger with many approaches to influence in social media is that these two very different types of people are confused. People look for fans and hope to turn them into advocates. This may happen but is not necessarily a linear progression. Some fans are advocates, some may become advocates, but others will just always be fans. Perhaps your best customer but just wanting to keep that more private than others.

So what does this mean for those working in social? Well looking for your fans may be a good place to start when you are looking at how you can work with influencers. But to think that all fans will become advocates is a mistake. Perhaps your most important influencers online (as offline) are not those who spend the most money or time with your brand, but those who spend the most time telling others about you. Fans are important to your business. Advocates are critical online.

I’ll be talking more about advocacy, fans and influencers in a Webinar on 20th June – find this and other chances to see me speak in person in Speaking and Events.