Most organizations, regardless of industry or size, struggle to come up with compelling ways to tell their brand’s story. Oftentimes, this inability to resonate with consumers results from a lack of trust or willingness to relinquish control.

But by partnering with advocates (both within and outside your organization), your brand can actually add a great deal of dimension as well as authenticity to its overall narrative.

Social media provides the perfect place to start. Guest contributors not only bring in diverse perspectives, but they also elevate your brand’s thought leadership through more meaningful dialogue.

If you’re ready to test the waters by opening up your social channels to outsiders, here’s what you need to know.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

First, know what you, your partners and your audience want to get out of your advocacy program. While most brands across all industries are publishing 3.2 promotional messages for every 1 reply, that doesn’t mean you should use your advocates to pump out overly scripted messages.

Instead, establish flexible guidelines that address each step of the social management process. Guidelines should aim to prevent any missteps and make it easier for your partners to provide content with a distinct voice—without restricting them too much.

Below are a few key considerations to take into account when building out your advocacy guidelines:

  • Create a style guide: Define where your brand stands, and map out how this positioning should be conveyed across all social channels. A style guide should offer insight on the direction of takeovers and specify rules account owners should follow, such as how often they are expected to publish, what type of content is permitted and what is deemed completely inappropriate.
  • Establish a timeline: Decide on which social channels each person will be responsible for, and determine how long they will provide content for that channel.
  • Define account access and ownership: Clarify which department should train account owners, oversee administrative duties and measure the program’s success.
  • Budget accordingly: Allocate resources for additional content creation or distribution costs associated with your social media takeovers.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT BRAND ADVOCATES

It’s true that giving someone else ownership of your social accounts will add depth to your brand’s overall online presence. But you also want to choose an account owner who accurately represents your organization, thereby alleviating any internal concerns.

Objectives, goals and results will vary based on who you enlist to manage your social accounts. Influencers can provide high-quality photo assets at a fraction of a studio’s cost, while staff members can help support your organization’s HR initiatives. Depending on the partnership, there are a variety of factors to consider.

AMPLIFY YOUR STORY WITH CONTRIBUTORS

Influencer-focused campaigns require a good amount of attention. At the same time, they can quickly increase engagement on social by tapping into a large, established audience. High-profile brands recognize the potential of influencer-led social takeovers and are constantly handing over their accounts.

In anticipation of his return to Old Trafford, Manchester United gave David Beckham control of its Instagram account and promoted the takeover on Facebook.

MTV meanwhile has had Azealia Banks, Tyler Posey, Victoria Justice and other celebrities take over its Snapchat.

Similarly, Capital One used Instagram influencers to increase engagement and boost ad recall across multiple demographics. The bank handed its Instagram account over to three influencers for five consecutive weeks, instructing participants to share personal stories about what was in their wallets, using the hashtag #walletstories.

Photos were published on Capital One's Instagram as well as each influencer's personal account. The brand used nine of the submitted photos as paid Instagram advertisements and tested how the photos performed. Ad recall increased by 25% for Instagram users ages 45 and up. And between 21- and 24-year-olds, brand favorability grew by 3%.

Benefits of an influencer-focused social media takeover include:

  • The ability to reach a large demographic on specific social channels
  • Relevancy to your most loyal audience
  • Familiarity with social best practices

ESTABLISH A CULTURE OF EXCLUSIVITY

If your brand isn't quite ready to hand over its social accounts to an influencer, you can use the talents of your staff members instead. Dividing up content creation among multiple staff members should reduce your team's workload and bring your company’s culture to life.

Community Outreach Manager Sarah Nagel, for example, takes over the @SproutSocial Twitter account once a week to host a special #SproutChat for industry professionals wanting to tackle topics related to social media management.

These weekly chats have not only built up Sprout’s Twitter community, but they have also inspired an entire advocates program that spans a wide range of marketing channels.

Birchbox leverages its employees in a similar way. Each morning, a different team member—from HR to PR—takes over the beauty brand’s Snapchat account to give followers a behind-the-scenes look into life at the company’s NYC headquarters.

 
 

With staff members sharing whatever they want, content on the Birchbox channel is constantly changing. And while each employee is unique, collectively, all the content tells a unified and interesting story about workplace culture.

Teen Vogue encourages internal reporters and editors to take ownership of its Snapchat account as well, showcasing a raw and authentic side to the often refined and polished fashion industry.

 
 

Your brand can do the same by highlighting product reviews, office footage and glimpses into life outside of work across your social channels. Empowering your staff members to participate in these ways will:

  • Build morale
  • Position your employees as industry experts
  • Save your company time and money
  • Strengthen your brand voice

BUILD BRAND LOYALISTS

You also should give your customers a chance to impact your content strategy.

In an effort to drive tourism, the Swedish Institute launched Curators of Sweden. Someone who is either living in Sweden or a Swedish citizen living abroad controls the @sweden Twitter account for one week. To encourage free speech and candor, participant guidelines are purposely kept loose.

When the account was owned for a week by Emelie, a teenager who runs her own YouTube channel, Tweets focused on playful facts about Swedes, anti-Trump sentiments and personal photos of her dogs.

Eric, a 28-year-old comedian, used the platform to share a wide range of Tweets, from humorous Vines depicting his workday to more serious topics on gender equality and feminism.

According to the organization's website, Tweets are only deleted if they violate Swedish law, pose a security threat or promote a commercial brand. That means the campaign has at times been outright offensive—with one Twede of the week waxing poetic about Hitler’s name and making light of AIDS victims.

That’s not to say the overall campaign hasn't been successful. Since 2011, the Swedish account has gained more than 88,000 followers, attracted a ton of free media and won numerous awards. From Iceland to Ireland, a host of other countries have since followed suit.

Of course, as a brand, you may be less comfortable handing over your social accounts so freely. As an alternative, you might consider hiring a photojournalist to go out and capture compelling customer stories. AARP has done this by investing in a separate Instagram account dedicated to highlighting its members in a human interest sort of way.

When identifying potential customer partnerships, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Choose customers with a proven commitment to your brand.
  • Identify customers who have distinct personalities.
  • Remember that a customer is meant to serve as an organic endorsement—a large social following shouldn't be a requirement.
  • Again, manage expectations by clearly communicating exactly what the partnership will entail.

Choose partners who fit with the long-term goals of your organization. Keep your initial partnership program manageable by implementing a short timeframe with a small number of participants. Use a social media management tool such as Sprout Social to measure the results of your efforts—from outbound Instagram hashtag performance to Twitter content and engagement habits—and use that data to build out your initiatives and make more informed decisions for the future.

 

THE NEXT CHAPTER OF ENGAGEMENT

A compelling brand story will set your organization apart from your competitors and keep your social community engaged. Brand storytellers are an accessible extension of your organization. With the proper partnerships in place, your brand can transform its social presence from a broadcast channel to a dynamic content hub.


ABOUT OUR GUEST CONTRIBUTOR:

Erin Nederbo is a Content Specialist at Sprout Social, a leading provider of social media engagement, advocacy and analytics software solutions for more than 16,000 agencies and brands worldwide.

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