MEMBER CELEBRITIES PART II: Real World Examples of Brand Advocacy Evolved

I was in Houston two weeks ago meeting with clients and speaking at the Houston Social Media Club Breakfast. I was reading USA Today (under the hotel door addition) the morning before my speech and I saw an article that perfectly validates the impact and importance of Member Celebrities. With that in mind, I wrote this to serve as an addendum to my previous Member Celebrity post.

Two weeks ago the New Jersey Devils stole a term from NASA (and Gatorade) and launched what they are calling Mission Control. Mission Control is a “social media hub” within the team’s headquarters in the Prudential Center. This social media hub is really a state-of-the-art media room that will serve as the nerve center for team related social media creation. The coolest thing about this story isn’t Mission Control, but rather the fact that the Devils have literally given the keys to this room to 25 of their biggest fans. So the duality of Mission Control is that it’s serving as a social media hub and the ultimate reward for some very lucky Member Celebrities (the Devils call them Army Generals). Below is a step-by-step guide to creating and promoting successful Member Celebrities who are impactful to your brand.

Step 1. Identify your biggest fans:

With the right tools and strategy, this is the easy part – The Devils do it by holding a contest. Essentially the team is looking for a way to hone in on fans who are brand advocates and very active in the social space.  The Devils’ goal was to choose 7-10 people, but they ended up with 25 due to the sheer volume of quality entries. These fans are what I call Member Celebrities and they are the evolution of brand advocates (see my previous blog post for a more detailed explanation).

Step 2. Provide a platform:

Your Member Celebrities need an official platform that they can leverage for content creation and distribution. Giving Member Celebrities admin rights to a Facebook page doesn’t count. If you are using Facebook you need to enable Member Celebs with the right tools such as community functionality built into a Facebook tab or community tools on the homepage of your brand’s domain site. These Member Celebs are responsible for content creation on the brand’s behalf and the brand is responsible for content curation.  (Brand as the curator is becoming a very en voue topic as of late – if you don’t believe me – Google it or check out the BeanCast – you’re welcome Bob)

Step 3. Communicate content creation plan:

One thing that differentiates Member Celebrities from brand advocates is that the brand is in direct communication with a Member Celebrity and the brand develops a content creation plan that the Member Celeb is trained to follow (the Devils have daily meetings at Mission Control). The idea here isn’t to detract from the authenticity of the content, but rather to provide the Member Celebrities with a set of guidelines and to set expectations. Most Member Celebrities aren’t professional writers, bloggers, marketers or advertisers, although they are socially savvy, they aren’t necessarily brand savvy, so this is a way to educate them on the brand’s voice as well as general marketing principles to ensure they stay on-brand.

Step 4. Broadcast UGC to key social and digital touchpoints:

Another key differentiator between brand advocates and Member Celebrities is that a Member Celebrity’s content is broadcast outside the community. Brand advocate conversation is featured in a community such as Kraftfirsttaste.com but you can’t find it on any affiliate sites or the social web. This is a mistake. This is exactly the kind of content that should be featured on affiliate or partner sites. From Facebook and Twitter, to ad banners and even at offline events like the Prudential Center Jumbo-tron, broadcast your Member Celebs.

Step 5. Reward Participation:

The last step involves rewards. True: many fans would consider just being a Member Celebrity reward enough, but it’s important to build a level of exclusivity. You want other fans to covet the role of the Member Celebrity. Other fans can publish team or brand related content, they just aren’t doing it from an official platform, account, handle etc. In other words, you need to give Member Celebrities a little something extra to set them apart from the average fan. In the case of the Devil Member Celebs, it’s access to team facilities, locker rooms, players, iPads, plus free tickets and box seats for certain events.

Just one month after introducing Mission Control and Member Celebrities, fan growth along with interaction and engagement on Facebook, Twitter and the Devils’ community, has grown in double digits. The Member Celebs even took it upon themselves to organize an unofficial Tweetup that 50 people attended. The Devils will officially sponsor this event in the future and it is sure to draw more fans, but the key takeaway here is that this serves as a great proofpoint for Mission Control and the Success of Member Celebrities. Whether you are building a new community or doing an audit of your current community, consider how you can use Member Celebrities to elevate advocacy and drive engagement. Make your community members your biggest asset. They will thank you for it.

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Member Celebrities Are The New Brand Advocates

Recognizing the key influencers in your community in order to promote brand advocacy and evangelism isn’t a new concept. In fact, many social campaigns start out with similar goals. That said, why is it so hard to create a social campaign that, at its core, inspires members to act as advocates or evangelists?

In order to answer this, it makes sense to take more of a sociological approach and look at the types of people who are engaging with a specific campaign. If the campaign appeals to a group that’s naturally composed of what Malcolm Gladwell would call mavens, then the campaign has a greater chance of becoming viral. If the group is composed of people who may engage but not necessarily share, then viral value is not impacted.

Q: With this in mind, how can we increase viral value regardless of the type of people engaging with the campaign?

A: We do this by creating Member Celebrities.

Where an advocate spreads brand messaging via word-of-mouth and an evangelist converts via word of mouth, a Member Celebrity is featured via a platform provided by the brand. Forms of media created by advocates, evangelists and Member Celebrities are similar in that they include positive ratings, reviews, testimonials, comments, videos etc., however, Member Celebrities are different in that the brand is in direct communication with them and the brand sets expectations when it comes to content creation. The kicker is that the brand will then broadcast this content on domain, the social web and ad banners. Then similar to real celebrities, the brand will provide some form of compensation.

According to a Zuberance study, advocates are worth 5x more than average customers and provide a 10x return on advocacy so it makes sense to proactively target these people, incentivize them to produce content and then broadcast that content to key social and digital touch points.

As an example, let’s look at the Phoenix Suns who have one of the most active sports communities and frequently feature Member Celebrities. Two years ago the Suns found 4 Australian superfans who met on the Suns community and decided to take a month off to come to the US and follow the Suns. The Suns recognized the tremendous marketing and PR opportunity and contacted the fans to ask them to record their experience via blog posts, pictures and videos. The Suns then heavily promoted this trip, even branding it  “Destination Phoenix.” By the time the fans were in the last leg of the trip to see a series of Suns home games, they were so popular and well recognized, that other fans bombarded them before they even entered the arena.

For the last few home games, the Suns showed their appreciation for the fans and their contributions to the community by going the extra mile to rollout the red carpet. The Suns VP of operations chauffeured them to the game, they met players of past and present along with the GM and announcer, they got complete behind the scenes tours and received all kinds of autographs, paraphernalia, plus a ton of other swag.

By prominently featuring the superfans and giving them the platform to display all the incredible UGC they compiled along their journey, the Suns created Member Celebrities that were bigger brand advocates with more authentic messages than any paid celebrity could provide. The buzz within the Suns community was immense. There was a positive outcry from fans asking how they could receive the same kind of treatment. Traffic and engagement increased along with a steep rise in positive sentiment.

Featuring Member Celebrities as the stars of a branded community lets brands take advantage of the UGC opportunities driven by the Member Celebs and enables brands to broadcast a more authentic message. The goal is to leverage Member Celebs to inspire more advocacy and evangelism in an organic way; for a fraction of the price it would cost to employ paid celebrity endorsers.