In my last article How to Move People from Advocates to Customers, I explored the difference between a customer, a fan and a brand advocate. Something I feel we are at particular risk of, in our current culture, is making decisions in an effort to appease fans at the expense of the advocates we ultimately built our brands to serve. It’s not just a branding problem. Real-life relationships brush up against this all the time.
We see it in the glazed over eyes of someone obsessed with how many likes they got on their Instagram photo from strangers at the expense of time spent with people who like them in the real world. We see this with churches whose leaders who care more about how the culture perceives their importance at the expense of investing in the needs of the community in which they serve.
It’s easy to understand how fans think because we too are fans of something. We can empathize with them because a piece of us resonates with who they are. We have a shared cultural belief that numbers equal impact. We all like to be noticed by entities that have a perceived value in the world. And we know that, to get attention, all you have to do is yell the loudest. None of that seems particularly lethal to a brand or a relationship. Perhaps annoying, needy or a little superficial, but certainly not catastrophic.
None of that seems particularly lethal to a brand or a relationship. We can empathize with them because a piece of us resonates with who they are. We have a shared belief that numbers equal impact. And who doesn’t want to make efforts to turn down the volume so they can have some room to gain clarity and focus?
I’ll tell you why.
They like the idea of you but aren’t in a position to speak from authority about the experience you provide because you’re the only one who cares to work on the relationship.
Fans are difficult to distinguish from advocates in the social media age because they will talk about you and associate with you when it’s convenient. But if you look at the investment they’ve made in the relationship, they’re likely not the ones keeping your brand in business.
Fan culture hopes that by simply associating with you or being in your general vicinity, it will elevate their status. They aren’t investing consistently in your brand experience. They often don’t even share the same mission, vision, or values If they did, they would be investing in your brand experience because it would be a natural extension of behaviors they already embody.Their interest can only be held when you’re right in front of them or passing through their Instagram feed.
Ironically, they are easiest to disappoint. When they don’t have the access to you they feel they deserve, they move instantly to the next person, product or experience that sparks their attention.
It’s because of this that I believe we have an opportunity to recalibrate.
It’s easy to focus on pleasing fans because numbers are exciting. It’s also easy to focus on coddling a fan because they coddle back (and who doesn’t love that?). If you’ve ever been in a healthy relationship or built a successful brand, my guess is that the tenants of its success didn’t include coddling, codependency and a room full of ‘yes’ people.
If the majority of your time is spent making sure your fans are happy, you’re the one who stands to be hurt the most. Well, you and the people who have tirelessly advocated for your brand while you were off refreshing your feed to track the love of people who haven’t. haven’t ever been to your church, let alone contributed to serve the people of your community.
If you’re frustrated that your million followers doesn’t seem to be translating into an increase in the bottom line, my suggestion is that you focus more on the employee experience and the promise you’ve made to your customers and brand advocates. They’re the ones who are paying for you to even have a platform to be the idea all those fans are so enamored with. If you don’t, people will eventually discover that you built a brand to serve yourself, not the God you claim to serve.
Shifting from a fan culture to a culture that breeds advocates, follow these 3 steps:
1. Focus on building an authentic relationship with customers so that you earn the trust required to turn them into advocates.
2. Personalize the investment you make with brand advocates by requiring that each employee and volunteer approaches their role in the organization as if it actually has a direct impact the brand experience.
3. Strictly enforce boundaries with your employees to spend only a fraction of their time on the fan base.
Make these steps a part of how you operate and in 6 months, assess what happens to your bottom as a result of embracing these habits.
We’re all fans of something because we can’t possibly advocate for every brand we interact with. Your fans aren’t stupid or lazy or even flippant. They’re just not into you enough to invest their time and resources into building a real relationship. Pretending they aren’t capable of being advocates is naive and condescending. They are fully capable of being brand advocates because, while they’re in your fan club, they’re actively leveraging their purchasing power for a brand they already have a committed relationship with.
For churches, your fans are likely members of other churches. It’s irresponsible to invest in their spiritual development before consistently addressing the needs of the people in your own community with care and the highest quality. If you can remember that fans are making a choice to stay in the fan zone, it will be easier to turn down the volume on the noise they produce so you can hear the rational, honest voices of the people who have chosen to advocate for you, serve with you, and volunteer their time and resources to advance the mission.
Krysta Masciale is the Chief Marketing Officer at LumaForge.