Welcome to the ‘50s: How to Build Brand Advocacy on Social Media with Old-School Methods

As a social media expert and someone who has built several online communities for brands, I’m going to make a semi-controversial statement:

Humans forgot how to connect.

And it’s not just my opinion. Others, like Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, says we are connected, but alone. In her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, she argues that electronic communication is replacing human connection, and more importantly, what it means to be a human.

As social media professionals, we want to believe that all those tweets, likes, favorites, etc. matter to our brand base. We want to believe that we can build an army based solely on likes.

Call me old-fashioned. We can’t.

We need to realize this painful truth:

If we want to build brand advocacy, we have to do things to get out from behind the computer screen.

Here are some ways to bring old-fashioned relationship building into your social media tactics:

Handwritten notes and cards go a long way

As most of my friends know, Hallmark makes a profit from me. A black line on their revenue reports reads “Stephanie St. Martin”–and it goes up each year. Anytime I have the opportunity to send “snail mail” to others, I’ll include a handwritten note. In my current role, we’ve had to order more notecards six times in two years. And the results are clear:

Would this person have sent this LinkedIn message without my note? Maybe. But he was impressed enough to send it. And, even more so, he’s now a customer because of the relationship that we built.

So the next time you have a trivia contest, a volunteer appreciation gift, or even Giving Tuesday, take a minute to add a handwritten thought.


Newsflash: It’s not all about you, or your brand.

WiiFT (What’s in it For Them?) should always drive your marketing and professional strategy.

  • What does my audience care about?
  • What is important to this donor?
  • What does this alumni group need?

Just like our Twitter feeds shouldn’t be our avatar and nothing else, we should also be considerate of how many favors we ask of our followers. Like this! Donate now! Share this!

If your ambassadors are sorting through your constant requests, they are going to leave.

We push out messages and schedule posts to “keep them engaged” rather than actually engaging with them.

When’s the last time you shared something that matters to them? Or sent a direct message offering to connect them to another person who is also in their industry? Next time you’re at your desk ready to start your day, ask yourself:

What can I do for my followers today?

Get Offline

I still firmly believe that in order for true relationships to exist, you need to meet people. (And this goes for romantic relationships too. Those folks on Match.com actually want to meet you in person. It’s nuts!) A social media manager for a larger brand doesn’t always have the opportunity to go out and meet the people. Luckily, in the world of higher education, the opportunities are endless.

Find reunions, concerts, sporting events, etc. and use them as a time to make authentic connections with contacts. If they know who is behind the accounts, they will be more likely to engage.

Take it a step further: if there is a story about something they are interested in (they were a history major, and look at the cool news from the History Department), tag them in the post. Give them a shout out. They’ll appreciate that you thought of them.

Appreciate the Heck Out of Your Followers

While I was at Boston College, the account I managed (@BCAlumni) was the “new kid in town.” The main Twitter handles (@BostonCollege, @BCEagles, etc.) were already established. I needed to give folks a reason to follow the alumni account.

My goal was to always appreciate any followers who engaged with me. Direct messages became the easiest way to say thank you. During the holiday season, I mailed BC ornaments to those followers who were constant all-stars to my accounts. And yes, I included a handwritten note.

If I ran into them, I gave specific examples of the tweets or posts I saw that they liked. And I always asked what I could do better.

I still feel butterflies in my stomach when I see a letter–an actual card!–in the mail because,

  1. Hey, it’s not a bill! and

2. Someone took the time to send me something. And paid the 49 cents to do it.

My appreciation for that person goes up. Exponentially.

I think about an acquaintance who asks for an update about the car I mentioned I was buying when we last spoke. I was floored she remembered, and those connections matter more to me than her liking something on my wall.

Your followers and fans are the same way. If you want to build a strong ambassador program, take time to authentically connect with them.

By Stephanie St. Martin, Brand Awareness Manager, The Ariel Group.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephStMartin.