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Power Struggles Of The Advocate Age

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 30th January 2012

Last week a few of us popped over the Soho Hotel for the launch of “The Social Media MBA: Your Competitive Edge in Social Media Strategy Development and Delivery”. It was a particularly proud moment for us all here at EML Wildfire as one of our colleagues Max Tatton-Brown is one of the 15 authors that contribute a chapter in the book on a different aspect of social media.

The book is edited by Sky News blogger Christer Holloman and is available to buy from Amazon. So go and buy it!

Here’s a short extract from Max’s chapter, entitled Power Struggles Of The Advocate Age. I’m sure it’s not the last we’ll see of him in print (or ebook ink at least…!)


For as long as networks of social connections have existed, online and off, some have always been naturally linked into larger communities than others. The strength and number of these connections offer the fundamental synapses through which messages spread on social networks. Therefore,  those with more connections can pose both a greater threat if a critic or greater asset as an advocate.

But when it comes to strategy, we need something a bit more detailed and nuanced than this to go on. We already know that users behave in different ways so how do we classify them to help prioritise and nurture a community of advocates.


The first group we’ll be looking at has the most conventional label – probably because they’re closest to what brands have embraced through other channels over the years.

They’re not the guy with a pocket full of business cards, schmoozing the room as you might expect but the ones you remember without the card because they knew things and could tell a good story. More than that though, they also make a strong and stimulating connection with people.

This group will tend to create and inject content into the echo chamber of the networks. They may blog. They may publish YouTube videos. Perhaps they even do something in real life which means they are a primary source of content or information in that area i.e. game developer, TV show creator or washed up Hollywood actor.

This aspect, in which they stand apart from the other groups, is actually quite traditional. Since the dawn of society, reputation has spread from those who create. It’s just that now the creation can be anything from a thought provoking blog to a video of a cat dressed like a ninja. It’ll never be true that everyone gets their 60 seconds of fame but the barriers to entry have certainly drooped.

Brands and VIIPs

So how does this powerful group co-exist with brands and fit into an advocate program? Can you tame potential giant-killers?

The real question here is how best to redress the balance of power. Influencing this group isn’t easy. The ball is very much in their court and it’s staying there. This isn’t a flash in the pan, it’s the new paradigm and as time goes on, they will realise their power more fully.

Bear in mind that often, one of the origins of their reputation is integrity. Any attempt to suggest they compromise in that area is a surefire shortcut to disaster. That means no bribing bloggers.

Instead, ask not what your advocate can do for you but what you can do for your advocate. In the B2B space, again remember the value of reputation. Can you create some kind of program to recognise their authority and reward them accordingly? Keep them close and keep them happy.

In doing so, the relationship becomes more symbiotic. Any kind of scheme like this includes an implicit acceptance of the other’s power. Of course, the trick is to make sure that there’s sufficient incentive on the table for these most influential advocates to submit to this agreement. Would they be better off going it alone?

Stimulate your VIIPs

The other vital consideration with this group of content creators is to provide them with interesting stimuli to inspire further input into their network. Remember, they’ll often bring together elements from offline and other channels to create something for their social followers.

This means more than telling them about the wonderful new expensive advertising campaigns you’re about to kick off. Show that you have considered them properly rather than as an afterthought in your strategy. They are not coverage-monkeys who will dance to your whim every time you release a YouTube video.

This brings us to an interesting point – can brands also be members of this group on social networks? The answer is of course yes. This is the Holy Grail – become worth following because of independent value and a world of new doors open up to you.

Again, this offers opportunities to shift the power differential. Consider inviting influencers to write on your blog or participate in a Q&A to build their own reputation. Once you have influence to distribute, you gain an asset which will grow and grow IF you forge the right associations. Here, continuity across channels becomes important. Know who visits which and what they expect to find there. Don’t duplicate.

So, that’s the first group which brands need to be aware of, the number one priority, the most important and the most broadly and powerfully influential. Over time, expect more and more to enter its membership and be prepared to share power with them as a sort of coalition.

When I say pay them attention, I mean it almost literally. In return, you will receive the maximum return for your investment in social and over time, careful skill will help these relationships grow and further increase in value.

And the best bit? It’s cheap. The difficulty is a shift in mind and philosophy. Once that hurdle is overtaken, all you’re giving up is time to gain one of the most powerful tools in modern business.

Oh, and their name? Let’s keep it simple. These are your VIIPs – Very Important and Influential People. Roll out the red carpet.

Danny Whatmough