The Facebook Factor Part Two: Brand Advocacy

In a crowded media world, word-of-mouth marketing is one of few highly trusted influence methods remaining. Nielsen reports that 90% of customers trust word-of-mouth marketing.  However, only 33% of customers trust online ads.  In Part One of the Facebook Factor we looked at the compelling data showing the increased rates of purchase, consideration, and referrals by Facebook fans.  That report highlighted data on four companies: Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Research in Motion, and Coca Cola, but in order to fully understand the value of Facebook fandom we need to consider the buying patterns of hospitality customers.

In the Facebook factor, Forrester highlighted three companies with high rates of purchase repetition. For example, purchases of Coke products or visits to Wal-Mart are likely to occur on a daily or weekly basis.  Only a few hotels and restaurants benefit from this level of repeat buying.  This means that a customer’s likelihood to recommend your business is the key benefit to Facebook fandom.  Turning fans into brand advocates will allow hotels and restaurants to leverage fans as a powerful marketing tool.

The concept of a brand advocate is not new to marketing.  However, social media works like rocket fuel to the brand advocate’s ability to drive business for you.  With HMSAI reporting that 67% of travelers say that they get guidance from co-workers who have visited the area when planning travel, brand advocates are a valuable marketing resource that is often untapped.

The Value of Brand Advocates

The social media marketing firm, Zuberance estimates that a brand advocate is worth five times more than a regular customer and they tend to spend twice as much with your business.  Regardless of your online goals, fostering brand advocacy can be a very effective way to obtain them.  If your goal is to stimulate positive word-of-mouth, brand advocates are your most valuable weapon.  If your goal is to increase ratings through reviews, fostering brand advocate reviews is a great way to organically improve review trends.  In fact, HMSAI tells us that a full service hotel asked its advocates to write reviews. The average star rating for reviews written by the hotel’s advocates is 4.5 out 5 stars. This higher rating increased the average star ratings for the property on travel sites from 3 to 4.25 stars in less than one month.

Consider “refer a friend” programs that motivate loyal customers to talk about you and advocate booking your hotel or restaurant.  HMSAI reports a case where a hotel chain put a referral program in place for two hotels.  Brand advocates shared a unique offer ($50 credit) 50 times with their social networks, yielding new bookings at both hotels and more fans. Forrester Research understands brand advocate value well.  They report that the average post on the social web by a brand advocate reaches 150 people.  Knowing this, consider the brand advocate value equation for just 100 fans…

Brand Advocate Value                  

100 Fans x 150 friends = 15,000 positive word-of-mouth impressions

Nielsen says 90% of word-of-mouth impressions are believed so…

Brand Advocate Reach =13,500 potential customers from 100 Fans

Understanding your Brand Advocates

With brand advocates wielding considerable power to influence sales through positive word-of-mouth, it is important to find them and learn how to energize them.  Surveys are a wonderful way to locate influential brand advocates.  When a customer answers a 9 or 10 to the question “How likely are you to recommend our hotel or restaurant?” they are a potential brand advocate!  Ask fans and customers this question regularly to garner insights into your performance and sway with brand advocates.  Consider follow-up emails to guests just after their stay or meal.  Post tweets and status updates on your fan pages asking fans to rate their experience with you.  The ones who respond with raves should be noted and treated differently.  Offline, you can seek out brand advocates via tent cards at hotel registration, in restaurants, the spa, etc. Convert these customers to online brand advocacy by integrating social media into your post stay/dine survey and communications process.  Once you convert happy customers to fans, a good social media manager can begin to foster a personal relationship with brand advocates to harness the influence and power of their recommendations.

Caring for your Brand Advocates

With brand advocates, attention makes the heart grow stronger!  Engage with them where they spend time online.  Consider their lifestyle, age, preferences, and online patterns.  “Look for them on social networks where they’re posting reviews, publishing videos, voting and checking in. Listen, engage, invite feedback and interact with dialog that empowers their voice.” (HMSAI, 2012) Remember that brand advocates want to be listened to, valued and appreciated.  Engaging with brand advocates in a way that lets them feel as if they influence your operations is a great way to keep them loyal.  Ask your advocates about new menu items, new décor decisions etc.  If they feel their opinions are important they will be invested in your success and more likely to recommend you to others.  It is important to make them feel special to your business both online and offline.

Leveraging Word-of-Mouth

When maximizing the value of brand advocates, subtlety, tact, and bespoke requests are the best way to motivate rather than alienate.  Repetitive direct requests for referrals and reviews is the social media equivalent of shouting in a brand advocates’ face.  Instead, build value through engagement that adds value for your brand advocate.

Positive Reviews

Nielsen reports that the number one factor in buying decisions after friends and family is reading reviews from the social media space.  Rather than asking advocates to post reviews directly, consider integrating tools for them to post reviews to booking sites directly from your webpage or Facebook page.  Making it easy for them to do what you want is the best way to subtlely leverage their value.   Never offer to pay for reviews through money or services and never coach reviewers on what to say.  Doing so violates the word-of-mouth marketing association’s ethics code and can jeopardize your entire online reputation.  If that doesn’t convince you, then consider the FTC penalty for purchasing reviews is $250,000.


Storytelling is a great way to let your brand advocates share their personal experiences with your property or restaurant. Testimonials are different from reviews because they drive emotion in past and future customers.  This emotion makes customers more loyal and prospects more interested in becoming a customer and fan.  Make storytelling a central goal to your engagement with brand advocates.  Create tools for them to be able to share stories through text, video, or images.  Ask brand advocates to share their stories relating to special events, area happenings, or why they love your business.  Evocative testimonials can be created by simple questions like these.

  • Tell us about your favorite entrée and wine paring.
  • How did our hotel make your business trip a success?
  • What is your most romantic memory of your trip to our city?

Rewarding Loyalty

Authentic advocacy cannot be bought, but it is good to let your brand advocates know how much you value them from time to time.  Consider supplying them with exclusive content such as being the first to hear about new menu items, new special offers, and grand openings.  Think about hosting events for your brand advocates with your General Manager, Executive Chef or other VIPs.  Offer them an elite way to make reservations, request specific tables, or book a special room.

Brand Advocates and the Velvet Rope

Think of your business like an elite nightclub with a velvet rope line.  Your brand advocates are the ones who should have the ability to walk up to the front of the line and gain immediate access.  The customers in the line will want to be like these VIPs thus increasing their desire to become customers and fans.  The brand advocates will relish this feeling of importance and keep coming back.  Welcoming brand advocates to jump your online velvet rope at anytime will ensure they feel valued and will value you in return. And behind them, a wave of eager new customers will follow.

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