Advocates In Bloom Lauren Shimek, PH.D.

Creating consumer connections by engaging advocates

People used to largely rely on expert opinion to inform their decisions: industry norms, government standards, academic research. But channels like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and blogs are giving us the opportunity to have our decisions influenced by a new breed of self-proclaimed experts.

An emerging group of advocates is connecting with people at a very personal level, and many of these individuals have amassed an extensive following. The result is a collective of informed, passionate, and influential people who sway others to buy or not buy, to engage or disengage, or simply to take a second look at what’s happening in the world.

Companies that have learned to tap into the mojo of these advocates are drawing in new consumers and tightening their relationship with existing ones. Those that can convert this voice into action can create new markets, or even new movements.

The Evidence — Stories from around the globe

Expert fans

To say Danny is passionate about gaming is an understatement. From his small town in Indiana, Danny founded a website and podcast dedicated to the Madden NFL video game. The show gained such notoriety that NFL players and reps from the gaming company EA Sports came on as guests.

To learn from advocates like Danny, EA Sports developed a Community Leaders Program to invite individuals from the gaming community to interact with developers, preview early versions of games, and offer feedback about new releases. Danny is proud of the EA Sports jersey he received at one of these events and displays it prominently in his home.

In April 2009, EA Sports brought eight expert fans together for a day of feedback. They stayed up until 4 am suggesting changes and sharing reactions to new features. The results of the marathon collaboration were posted on a public EA Sports blog.

How might you engage your most influential advocates to create a lasting drumbeat for your products and your brand?

Hyper-local fresh eggs

Thomas Kriese decided to raise chickens in his suburban backyard after reading a newspaper article about the trend. From there, he started, a blog offering tips for raising the birds.

Nikki, an avid blogger herself, came across Urbanchickens, and in a few months, she was overseeing the construction of her backyard chicken coop. Several chick eggs later, she celebrated the beginning of her own bird family. Now, she is active in the urban chicken blogosphere and has joined a “chicken-sitting” community, to help watch over birds home alone.

Thomas is one of many who are spreading the news about urban chickens and the opportunity for the freshest, most local eggs. Since his blog was featured in Plenty magazine, he has been focusing his efforts on legislation to legalize chicken husbandry in urban and suburban areas. In the meantime, chicken rearing is slowly but surely becoming a movement.

How can you build a grassroots experience into a mass offering?

Keep it clean

While working for a nonprofit and looking for frozen lunches on a budget, Abi Jones was inspired to launch, a website that reviews convenience foods. The website lets readers sort reviews by ratings, dietary needs, ingredients, and brands.

As Abi’s website has grown in popularity, she has had to make difficult choices. After experimenting with paid posts, she decided not to accept money or free products from manufacturers. “I felt a little dirty,” she explained. Her policy resonated with readers, who overwhelmingly approved.

However, there is a business side to HeatEatReview. Abi uses BlogHerAds, which independently chooses advertising for the site, and reviewers are paid for each written post. As for interacting with food companies, Abi does appreciate when manufacturers alert her to new products.

She takes her position very seriously, considering both the reader and manufacturer: “Product reviewing involves people’s livelihoods. There’s a lot of responsibility.”

How can you support authentic product champions without overtly selling your message to them?

Gadget guru

Alton is an expert when it comes to consumer electronics. Although he graduated from high school only two years ago, friends, family, amateurs, and expert peers turn to him for advice, which he doles out on Facebook and tech-related forums.

People come to Alton with a list of specs, and he directs them to the most appropriate option. His word (or post) is gospel to many who don’t have the time or the know-how to feel confident about what to buy.

How might businesses identify and leverage emerging “experts”?

Penny for your thoughts

As blogs, social media sites, and viral marketing continue to grow, some have raised questions about the role of corporate sponsorship. Companies like PayPerPost, which connects bloggers to paid posting opportunities, have sparked a debate within the blogging community about the potential impact of sponsored posts about unbiased content. The Federal Trade Commission will soon update its “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” exploring guidelines around paid endorsements on blogs and other social media.

What opportunities exist for companies and advocates to define and communicate their relationship?

Building a bridge

Lauren Luke is a 27-year-old single mother with a lifelong passion for makeup. On July 22, 2007, she posted her first make-up lesson on YouTube. It has now had more than 40 million views and is the most subscribed YouTube site in the UK.

Now, two years later, Lauren has her own line, featuring handpicked color palettes and kits with exclusive video tutorials. The launch featured a training session with Sephora Pros and a tour of a new Sephora store in New York City.

How might you enable brand-building initiatives from the ground up, one subscriber at a time?


Nathan Scripps

February 2, 2010

RE: Take action steps ...

Step 1) Spot on… This is social media, you have to let the people say whatever they want.  The Honda Crosstour Facebook Fan Page is a prime example of unexpected results… but also a great opportunity to better understand what features brand loyalists look for to continue the Honda tradition.  The key thing is to listen and engage your audience, even if its tough love.

Step 2) Honesty is the ONLY policy in social.  Bloggers should declare any monetary benefit or association to a brand within their post; any brand should be up front with their relation to bloggers (take a note from Wal-Mart… it will come to light if you try to hide it).

Step 3) You already have influencers backing your brand, you just need to find them.  In a small fan base, it might become obvious who the key folks are (monitor Facebook’s new impression tracking on your Fan Page, or scroll through profiles of fans).  For bigger brands with larger customer bases, check out Rapleaf to get a snapshot of social influence at scale.

Step 4) It is all about experience, online or off.  Creating experiences gives your influencers something to talk about.  Ford has two great offline examples in their Fiesta and Fusion 41 campaigns, putting connected folks behind the wheels of their cars.  Involver is a company helping create more engaging online experiences via Fan Pages.  In either case, the goal is more conversation leading to more content leading to more fans/ brand exposure.

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July 6, 2010

Wow, really good stuff here. I think it’s crucial for the church to engage the arts with the same gusto and intention that they seem to engage business, education, etc. I think too often the aloof artists are overlooked in the conversation when their sphere reaches out and affects so many other spheres of influence.

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July 6, 2010

Jonathan, please keep up this series. I think this is one of the most practical and original things you’ve done with this blog. There’s plenty of concept and theory out there regarding it, and a fraction of the wisdom that is needed from people who are actually putting it into practice.

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August 9, 2010

In this digital age, it seems like a lot of these blog / social media related success stories are very hit or miss, or extremely lucky,  in terms of the reasons for their impact. I think that not too much emphasis should be put on the ease of these movements being started, as a lot of that is due to luck - - for every one of these stories, there are sure to be much more who didn’t have the same impact.

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August 10, 2010

Appreciated Building A Bridge, it was inspiring.  I have been a life long what we used to call arts and crafts.  I however, think of myself more as an artist in textiles. I have tried numerous times in my life to make this art my mission in life.  But back in the day there was no Youtube or such. I too raised little ones on a single income and being able to stay home and create would have been ideal. Thanks for the story on Lauren.

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August 25, 2010

Allowing people to connect and respecting the natural process of these conversations offers compelling direction that otherwise would be missed.

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Andrea Hildreth

September 5, 2010

Thank you for this reminder of how important YouTube has been in empowering the individual. 

We no longer need an advertising agency to spread the word about our work, our passions, ourselves.

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