Definitions are important. Language matters.
We know that all community have stratifications amongst their members. Some members are very active, some very passive…a plenty of shades in between. Beyond just members with “standard” activity levels, we think about the most active, most passionate, most influential members and how we can get them helping to drive our community, marketing, and business goals.
As we consider the best path forward for these sorts of engagement activities, it’s important to dial in our definitions in order to most effectively and most strategically engage.
Over the years, we’ve heard a great many terms to describe “Engaged Customers”… influencers, super users, super fans, advocates, and more. Each one of these terms define a very different type of Engaged Customer, so it’s important not to use them interchangeably.
Here’s how I’ve always talked about the various types of Engaged Customers.
Super Users (aka Super Fans) are volunteer community members who participate in a corporate sponsored environment at an outpaced level from “standard” users. They typically take great pride in being independent from the company and non-biased. They share their opinions about the company openly, positive and negative. Companies gain value from Super Users when they are the most active and the most authentic. Formal relationships with a company are problematic for the Super Users, and therefore all recognition happens after the fact.
The most effective Super User programs are those based on volunteer efforts. Recognition happens without expectation and after the volunteer activities have been completed. Super Users are motivated by passion,
nearly entirely. Quid pro quo compensation is not ever a part of the program, and recognition, even material recognition, is never an expectation or a guarantee. Super Users engage and invest their time because they love doing so, and are motivated nearly entirely by intrinsic motivations.
Super Users build a persona over time strongly based in the brand owned/branded community. Any ”influence” they may have comes solely in the context of the time they’ve spent on the brand owned community. Their “celebrity” is a function of their in-community participation.
Super Users drive conversations in communities across a wide variety of topics, and lead these social experiences. They don’t focus solely on marketing/sales issues, but instead deal with a broad ranges of on and off topic issues.
Influencers are members of Influence Marketing programs, a form of marketing in which focus is placed on influential people rather than the target market as a whole. It identifies the individuals that have influence over potential buyers, and orients marketing activities around them. The FTC is rightly concerned about companies paying these people to say positive things without properly disclosing and therefore convincing consumers to buy without proper information. Companies gain value from engaging/paying influencers to directly talk about their products.
An “influencer” is a celebrity, major or minor, with influence over a specific group of people. When an influencer speaks, their audience listens … and reacts.
Paid motivations – An influencer, in the influencer marketing context, is performing actions specifically because they are paid to do so. They have created an audience through their celebrity and are using that audience to push products they’re paid to push.
Short term Marketing oriented – The goal of a marketer working with an influencer is specifically to push a short term, product/service oriented agenda. They may or may not be members of your community beyond their Influence Marketing activities.
Instant on – Influencers are powerful because their audience has already been established, and their credibility with them takes place without the effort of the marketer. Simply writing a check to the influencer can “turn on” an influencer’s power, directed at the brand’s product
Off site activity – An influencer’s activities are inherently separated from the corporate sites/properties. They are posting their paid endorsements on their own properties or third party properties like Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Advocates fall somewhere between Influencers and Super Users. They are Engaged Customers, not unlike Super Users, but their activity is driven more by a desire to share their feedback on product usage experiences, than on social connection to like minded fans of a product/brand/service/idea.
Like Super Users, Advocates are enthusiastic supporters of the brand, and go out of their way to support the brand and help engage new customers. But Advocates (and advocate marketing programs) tend to focus more on an “if > then” relationship. “If you participate, share, review, post then you will get some reward.” These programs are not a quid pro quo relationship, per se. But they are certainly meant to drive specific outcomes.
When described this way, it may seem like Super Users are very similar to Advocates. And while there’s a great many similarities, especially in some of the methods of reward, the two function very differently.
Advocate marketing programs are a more proactive approach to activating Engaged (or potentially Engaged) Customers to do specific marketing/sales oriented activities. Imagine a program where Advocates are asked to refer 10 people to a new product launch signup page. In return, Advocates may get access to special perks like free event access, t-shirts, conversations with executives, and so on.
Super User programs are more reactive, where the program seeks to reward and recognize the most active members of a community for their prior work. Certainly we build Super User programs that help other community members level up to that status, but the community exists around a mission other than a proactive marketing/sales goal.