A Guide to Employer Brand Advocacy

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

We’ve seen and read several posts about brand advocacy, brand loyalty and employee advocacy programmes. We’ve even featured some of them here on the Link Humans blog. Yet, a lot of these posts are based on the assumption that we all know who our advocates and detractors are, and what makes them so attached to (or detached from) our brand. That’s what I’m going to cover in this post. Why? Unless you understand the effect that your brand has on these people and the effect that they can have on others, there’s no way you can successfully run an advocacy programme, or nurture your advocates, or even see why you’re attracting so many positive and negative advocates (not all advocates are positive!). That’s like marketing your brand without knowing who you’re marketing to.
So, let’s have a look at the differences between brand loyalty and brand advocacy, and the consumers who revolve around these two factors.

Brand Loyalty vs. Brand Advocacy

While they’re often used interchangeably, brand loyalty and brand advocacy are not the same things. In fact, you can have people being loyal to your brand without advocating it (loyal consumers, 1st category), just as you can have people who advocate your brand but aren’t loyal to it (brand advocates, 2nd category).
Usually when we talk about “brand advocacy” the sentiment is positive: people who help spread the word about your brand, who help increase your share of voice and its positive sentiment. On the other hand, you also have negative advocates, or detractors (3rd category). These are people who will gladly talk negatively about your brand to get people away from you, or to discourage people from using any of your products and services. They have the same potential to increase your share of voice, albeit negatively. (That’s why when you check your share of voice you should always check whether it’s increasing positively or negatively and the reasons behind it.)
Then we have a fourth category: Brand ambassadors. These are in the sweet spot between brand loyalty and brand advocacy: they’re loyal to your brand and they’re positive advocates for it too.
These four types of consumers can have an influence on people who don’t know about you yet, or people who are considering to become your customer. That is one of the many reasons why we need to have a good understanding of these four categories.
So, let’s dive in to understand these four main groups of consumers who may advocate for you (or against you), how they differ, and how you can find them.

Category 1: Loyal Consumers

Who are they? These consumers are loyal to you in more ways than one. They are committed to your brand. You’ll often find them purchasing products from you, sometimes regardless of convenience or price. For example, a huge Apple fan may be so loyal to the Apple brand that they’ll happily upgrade to the latest phone as it gets released every year. That is in contrast with other Apple consumers who don’t have that same level of loyalty and would gladly wait until they’re ready to upgrade.
Why are they loyal? There are 3 main reasons why consumers are loyal to you:

  1. Likability: they like you as a brand or just your product.
  2. Necessity: they’ve chosen you because they don’t really have any other option. For example, a mobile network may have loyal customers who stay with it only because they live in areas where that network is the only viable option. Due to that, any upgrades or repeat purchases will be with that same network.
  3. Convenience: they’ve chosen you because you’re the easier option. For example, loyal customers of a store may want to make repeat purchases from that store only because it’s the closest one to them.

How do you find loyal consumers? You can’t force consumer commitment, but you can definitely encourage it. Initiatives like loyalty programmes are built with that target in mind. Take for instance the Starbucks Reward Programme, which offers you a free drink after a number of purchases. There’s also the British Airways AVIOS programme, which lets you collect points to spend on free flights or experiences.
These models aren’t new. So many retailers have their own variant, giving away free gifts, samples, exclusives, discounts… Whatever it is, it’s an exclusive that “regular consumers” won’t get, and it’s that sense of exclusivity that can help build loyalty in these consumers.
In your social listening tool, search for your brand name, your products, and words that express loyalty, like renew, upgrade, restart, buy again… Keep an eye on people with a history of buying from you: you may find it easier to do this with a social CRM or a social listening tool that lets you build segments/lists of people to track.

Category 2: Brand Advocates

Who are they? These consumers are advocating for you, spreading the word about you and your products – positively. People often see them as “go-to experts” for objective recommendations.
Why are the advocates? There are several reasons why people may be advocates. One of the main reason why an advocate isn’t always a loyal consumer may be down to strings: while a loyal consumer may feel committed to your brand, a brand advocate is happy to recommend you, share content about you and spread the word about you, even if they’re not a current customer. That advocacy doesn’t need to be attached to any commitment, and it’s that “no strings attached” advocacy that often makes advocates an unbiased source of information about you. It may even get to a point where people will start going to these advocates for the latest news about you.
There are other reasons why these advocates share content about you, and it can be pointed down to the reasons why people share content online. In this interesting study conducted by The New York Times, we find what motivates people to share content online:

  1. To bring valuable and entertaining content to one another,
  2. To define themselves to others,
  3. To grow and nourish relationships,
  4. For self-fulfilment,
  5. To get the word out about causes they care about.

Those 5 points apply to advocates too, in these ways:

  1. Value: a brand advocate will share content about you to bring value to conversations. For instance, if the advocate’s friends/followers are asking for recommendations, or if they’re talking about your industry, he/she may join the conversation to add value to it by recommending your brand and its products.
  2. Definition: an advocate may want to be seen as the go-to person for all things pertaining to what you provide. This has a lot to do with who the advocates are (or better yet, who they want to be). So, if you’re an airline brand, this advocate may share the latest deals and exclusive discounts that you offer. That will help them define themselves as the “experts” in that subject area.
  3. Nourish: advocates may share information about you because it enables them to stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with. Just think of the last time you shared an article with someone online saying “hey, I read this and it reminded me of you!”, or a link to a video saying “wow, we should do this sometime!”. Advocates will do the same using your brand as shareable content.
  4. Self-fulfilment: an advocate may share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world, or in their world. A marketer who’s an advocate for a social vendor may share the latest news about that vendor to feel and show that they’re involved in the industry they’re working in or the industry they’re interested in.
  5. Support: advocates may share content as a way to support causes or issues they care about. A Microsoft advocate may share the latest social initiatives from the company as a way to show support.

How do you find brand advocates? In your social listening tool, search for your brand name, your products, and words that express advocacy (recommend, suggest), as well as expressions like “you should try…”, “give this a shot…”, “If I were you, I would go for…”. Once you’ve identified them, note the reasons why advocates recommend you. Most of your loyal consumers have chosen you due to personal preference or circumstance, but most brand advocates have chosen to spread the word about you for a specific reason which is often not subjective. Whether it’s a specific feature, or the pricing, or your diverse range of products, these brand advocates will happily share their reasons with their community. Take note of what they share, like, retweet about you. Go beyond keywords and take note of these advocates when they share content from your site as well: sometimes a link can speak a thousand words.

Category 3: Brand Detractors

Who are they? Brand detractors are the polar opposites of positive brand advocates. A detractor’s goal is to draw away your existing customers and potential customers. Some detractors are more vocal than others. You have those who post content against you or criticise your brand and its products. You also have those who aren’t as vocal but they may tell their audience not to go for your brand if the subject comes up.
There are two types of brand detractors: subjective detractors and objective detractors. The subjective type will try and get people away from you almost based on impulse. That may be due to negative perception, or a negative experience that they (or someone close to them) have gone through. The objective type means to take people away from you while listing the reasons why they should. The subjective type reacts based on personal opinions and emotions. The objective type reacts based on facts and data that they can use in their argument against you.
The subjective type has a bigger influence within their own circle of friends and followers, but their feedback might not be as effective outside of their circle. The objective type can have influence within and outside of their circle, including total strangers. Think of the many times you’ve been put off buying an item online or booking a hotel due to a well-constructed, negative review from a total stranger.
Why are they detractors? You may have learnt to see them as your primary enemies, but by doing so you’re building yourself two huge stumbling blocks:

  1. You’re just seeing them as “trolls” ignoring their reasons for being a detractor;
  2. You’re missing out on opportunities to turn your detractors from advocates.

Remember: your brand advocates can also become the brand detractors of your competitors too, so you should study your detractors in the same way that you would study your positive advocates.
How do you find detractors? Yup, you’ve read that right – you do need to find your detractors. There’s a lot that you can learn from them. While a lot of detractors will come from a subjective place, objective detractors will almost always come out with a valid reason why people shouldn’t choose you, backed by facts and other data. This kind of feedback is constructive, and it often contains actionable insights that you can feedback. Not all negative feedback is meant to detract people away from you: don’t mistake a disgruntled customer from a detractor. The difference between the two is in the intent: the main goal of angry customers is to get a resolution to their problem. Someone joining in the conversation in their defence is just a bonus, but honestly what they want is for someone to fix what’s broken. The aim of the detractor, however, is to get people away from you.
In your social listening tool, search for your brand name, your products, and negative words that express dissatisfaction and dislike. Search for expressions meant to discourage people away from you (stay away from…, never use…, I’ll never recommend…).

Category 4: Brand Ambassadors

Who are they? Brand ambassadors are both positive advocates and loyal, although they’re not necessarily your consumer. They’re often meant to represent your corporate identity, whether they’re sponsors or your top fan within their own community. What sets them apart from brand advocates is their level of loyalty (which isn’t necessary for brand advocates) and their dedication to you and your brand.
Why are they brand ambassadors? Remember the three main reasons why someone might be loyal to you? We have likability, necessity and convenience. Out of those three factors, people who are loyal to you due to likability are more likely to become brand ambassadors. Likability comes from a stronger preference towards you despite your competitors. If nurtured properly and continuously, it can lead to brand ambassadors.
How do you find brand ambassadors? More often than not, brand ambassadors will find you first. As positive advocates and consumers, they’re very likely to join your online community. That may be on a social network or on your own platforms, like a community forum, a discussion board, or a company blog. They’re likely to engage with you in the same way that they’ll engage other people about you. Other brand ambassadors need a bit of guidance before they join your online community. That may be for a few reasons: they might already have their own audience and community to nurture. Perhaps they’re in the last place that a lot of companies look for – within the company. Think of the number of employees who use your products and talk positively about your brand. Sadly, employees are often the least looked at category as they’re seen as the “obvious advocates”. Advocacy goes both ways: don’t assume that someone who works for you will automatically advocate for your brand.

What next?

Now that you’ve identified these 4 categories of consumers, you can run your marketing campaigns much more effectively.
Monitor these categories: not only will you find new people, but you may also find consumers moving from one category to another. You may find, for example, an advocate finally becoming a brand ambassador. You may also find a loyal consumer becoming a detractor. Find what causes those changes and learn from those triggers. Identify trends between advocates and detractors: have you done something recently to attract a lot of advocates? Have you suffered from a PR disaster that has created a lot of detractors for you?.
If you have a social CRM or similar functionality in your social listening tool, save these four categories in separate segments. You can target them, market to them, track their conversations, advertise to them, but not all in the same way. Approach each category differently: you can’t approach a detractor in the same way that you would approach a brand ambassador.
This is a continuous job, you’ll never stop doing this as long as you keep marketing for your brand. However, by doing this exercise you’ll know that you’re not marketing blindly anymore, but with a better understanding of who you’re marketing to.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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