Should You Pay Brand Advocates? (Part 1)

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Recent months have seen a surge of interest in the marketing world on the subject of collaborating with brand advocates. Whether they are influencers who are key tastemakers in their category, or fans of the brand who want to get more involved, the idea is to impel them to take action, to encourage them to recommend the brand to their own audiences. This sounds easy enough, right?

But wait – what’s in it for them? Why would a person want to be a brand advocate? Does it make sense for a marketer to offer incentives for brand advocacy? If so, what should those incentives be? Are we talking cold hard cash, or something else? These are all key questions that need to be addressed by any brand marketer who hopes to work with brand advocates.

We at Dynamic Signal have some strong opinions on the subject of incentivizing brand advocates. I’ll discuss these viewpoints in turn.

Brand advocates deserve our respect, our consideration, and our recognition that they are busy people who must contend with a variety of often-competing needs. I know this might sound a little sappy – too much like “brand advocates are people too”. But it’s tempting to view brand advocacy purely through the lens of campaign performance and ROI maximization, and to start seeing these advocates solely as a means to a marketing end. If we as marketers succumb to that temptation, we can’t expect to be able to hide our intentions. Brand advocates will immediately sense how we see them, and we’ll lose the privilege of working with them.

Brand advocates are looking for relationships, not transactions. This is a controversial statement in our industry. In fact, it flies in the face of entire business models used by companies who help brands work with advocates. These companies provide “marketplaces” where advocates and brands connect in order to engage in “transactions”. Anyone can sign up to be an advocate in one of these marketplaces, regardless of one’s brand affinities, and regardless of one’s level of influence.

The marketplaces work like this: a brand determines a “task” that they’d like advocates to perform, such as sending a tweet that says something positive about the brand. The task is released out to all advocates in the marketplace, and there is a cash price attached to it. (The more sophisticated marketplaces vary the cash price according to how influential the advocate is.) If the price for a particular task looks good to an advocate, the advocate agrees to perform that task. The mentality that these marketplaces create among advocates is “I’ll auction my favor off to the highest bidder. I’ll say nice things about whatever brand pays me the most, regardless of whether I genuinely like the brand.”

We think that this mentality ultimately destroys value for the brand, the advocate, and the advocate’s audience. It results in advocates spamming their friends and followers with a barrage of messages from a slew of different brands. Each of these messages lacks authenticity, and can diminish audiences’ trust in a brand, rather than building it.

Our many conversations with advocates suggest that advocates don’t want this transactional marketplace approach anyway! The smartest, most influential advocates are looking to build deep, lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships with brands they genuinely like, and are proud to be affiliated with. Advocates don’t want one-off, impersonal transactions with brands any more than brands want advocates to be motivated purely by money.
In Part 2 of this piece, I’ll continue to lay out the Dynamic Signal stance on advocate incentives and rewards. Expect to see more opinions that directly contradict what you may have heard some social media experts say, including the often-repeated dogma “You shouldn’t pay brand advocates.”

Post Author

Jim Larrison

Jim Larrison is the Co-Founder & General Manager at Dynamic Signal. He is responsible for overseeing the company’s direction, product innovation, and market strategy to become a global provider of SaaS based advocate and social marketing enterprise solutions for leading Global 2K brands. Jim lives in the Chicago area with his wife and two sons. Jim is an influential movie fanatic, local politico, blogger, and photographer. On weekends, you can catch him on the sidelines of his sons' football or lacrosse games with a few Nikon cameras around his neck.