Truly Fan-Centric Brand Advocacy Lessons from Taylor Swift

Having had a privilege to work as a Global Brand Influencer Marketing Manager giving countless people their first taste of technology, showcasing thousands of stunning stories and celebrating a fantastic community of brand ambassadors, I am a strong believer that enabling customers to hold the image of a brand in their own hands.

By empowering them to turn a one-way marketing channel into multiple promotional conversations should be an established goal of social media strategy for businesses, and with good reason. Advocates are 50% more influential in driving sales than other customers, with some studies showing that 17.5% of sales are attributable to brand advocates.

One of the recent examples that comes into my mind when thinking about advocacy is the 25-year-old, 7-time Grammy Award-winning Taylor Swift that has superb vision of how to connect one-on-one with 100 million fans at a time and fuel social media branding to its fullest potential.

While Taylor is not everyone’s cup of tea in terms of music, she is someone we can all learn from and apply that knowledge to any brand-building efforts be it personal or product. A great advice from Taylor and a theme for this post:

Fans are my favorite thing in the world. I’ve never been the type of artist who has that line drawn between their friends and their fans. The line’s always been blurred for me. I’ll hang out with them after the show. I’ll hang out with them before the show. If I see them in the mall, I’ll stand there and talk to them for 10 minutes.

Taylor places a premium on having constant interaction with her fans and being as close to them as possible, without relying on too many short-lived, attention-seeking gimmicks. In the end of the day, it all comes down to how you relate to and understand those that look up to you.

Recently EngageSciences analyzed over 400 brands across multiple social networks with results showing that only a small fraction of customers are driving all of the talk about your brand.

The startling figure from our research was that typically only 4.7 percent of a brand’s fan base generates 100 percent of the social referrals.

So to put it another way, it is 4.7 percent of your social media following that generates all of the word of mouth results, and by results we mean conversions, not just reach. These are the advocates that can actually influence their friends to convert directly onto your campaigns, to connect with you as a brand or take up an offer.

Not that we are ignoring the other 95 percent, there is still plenty of value in this large segment. They’re connecting to you as a brand, the active fans are consuming your content and they are 20–30 percent more likely to buy from you as a result. But if we are looking at social media through the eyes of marketing and we want to improve our acquisition metrics, then it is the top 4.7 percent that generates all of the earned media results and organic growth.

Brands often spend millions on the 95% of its customers with a premium placed on marketing to new customers, customers that have little or no affinity toward their brand. At the same time, most brands do not look to actively engage their fans. While they are happy to have fans, the average brand leaves their fans alone, with the thinking being — let them keep doing what they are doing.

The problem is most brands don’t know who those 4.7 percent are and don’t have programs in place to work with this elite group of advocates. Marketers are often seduced by trying to pay for access to influencers — celebrities, bloggers and industry analysts. However everyone else is trying to do the same thing, which negates the value of this approach.

Taylor, on the other hand, understands that her brand ambassadors are the best salespeople she could wish for and thus she cultivates these relationships by applying a number of ways to learn more about, connect and empower them to acquire new customers for her. Taylor hunts down her most passionate fans on purpose, and creates experiences for them that are worth attention. She genuinely shows her brand ambassadors that she appreciates them by getting to know them better and learning more about what motivates them. Here are a few lessons in what Taylor is doing, the genius of it and why it works:

Understand the business value of your fans

Any business should start by understanding that the fans are the real stars, not the brand itself. Treat them as such. Focus on ways to increase interactions with your most passionate brand ambassadors. Build the stage for them.

We gravitate toward content in which we can see ourselves

Taylor’s music is beloved by her fans because they can see themselves being the person that Taylor is singing about. Similarly, this approach can inspire content ideas for any brand. Figure out why customers are buying your product, what are they using it for. For example, people buy cameras because they want to take better pictures. Their aim is not to have a camera with more megapixels, they want to be a better photographer and that is what matters most for them. Create content that addresses the reason why they want to buy your product — create content from the point of view of your intended audience. Don’t just share your content. Instead, take on a relatable persona and genuine brand persona and embrace the community by making things personal.

Participating in a conversation changes that conversation

Have the humility to really listen and respond. Too many corporations still treat social media channels merely as additional pipes pushing their message and then walking away before they can hear what their customers want to say in return. Yet, the best thing a brand can do is to understand who is already engaged with it, who is really passionate and why, and build relationships with those individuals. Taylor tweeted

Taylor’s Twitter feed is full of retweets of undiscovered artists covering her songs, of wedding videos using her songs and lots of fan collages doing what fans do. Her Twitter is full of very personal shout-outs and love-note replies to fans.

On Tumblr, she comments constantly on her fans’ posts. She has also been well-known to lurk around and randomly comment on people’s Instagram posts providing the type of advice that a friend would do.

Taylor’s online communication truly feels like a dialogue with fans. For instance, look at how Taylor responded to a fan who had been troubled by bullies at school with a touching Instagram message. Best of all, Taylor re-posts images of her fans buying her CD in-store and holding up their own Polaroids — her customers transform themselves into Taylor’s content collaborators.

This gesture suggests how a micro-connection with a handful of fans, amplified a million times over through social channels, provided Taylor with macro benefits.

Do even more for your fans

Nothing demonstrates Taylor’s ability to transform small groups of ambassadors into a multi-million strong community than the triumph of her Secret Sessions event campaign. For a sneak preview of “1989,” Swift invited 89 fans to each of her five homes — where fans erupted with shock, surprise and joy as Taylor herself walked into the parties. During the Secret Sessions events, Taylor herself hugged and fed her brand ambassadors with her home-baked cookies. Inevitably, Taylor posted the behind-the-scenes video of these preview parties on YouTube for the tens of millions who couldn’t join her personally, which sparked an avalanche of fan love.

Aside from that, watch how Taylor surprised one of her brand ambassadors by showing up unannounced at her bridal shower. On top of that, this past Christmas she sought out lucky fans and randomly sent gifts. Her team selected a group of fans and then Taylor delivered personalized Christmas gifts to them, eventually surprising one fan by visiting and handing gifts by herself.

Surprise and delight never, ever gets old. How could your brand interact with a handful of your most beloved customers and then equip them to talk about you to the thousands of your customers who couldn’t attend? How are you bringing surprises into your brand relationship with your brand ambassadors?

Embrace the mass intimacy!

Taylor masters social media with her open and honest relationship approach with her brand ambassadors. It builds familiarity and trust. Yet, it’s not just that she’s dedicated to these channels. It’s her tone of voice. She feels real. Namely, she does not act like the biggest pop star in the world. She acts like a friend, someone who gets you, someone who you can talk to. Marketers can learn from this tone, as brand equity is built through familiarity and trust; it is a tenet of brand growth. On social media your brand needs to feel approachable.

Fortune 500 companies often market as if being a thought leader means exuding Greek God-level certainty — displaying unshakeable confidence that no one could possibly know their industry/product better than themselves. In contrast, Taylor’s messaging revels in endearing humility. For instance, Taylor’s success on Tumblr is not just because she’s a 20-something like many of her followers, or because she already has a huge fan base. It is because she encapsulates everything that a typical Tumblr user is: open, funny, personable, interactive and willing to share her interests with the world. Here’s what Taylor did (and continues to do) — she asks for help. When Taylor ventured into the world of Tumblr, she did not just start posting her own content. She sent a message out to her fans that read:

I’m locking myself in my room and not leaving until I figure out how to use my Tumblr. Well, I might leave for a second to get a snack or something, but that is IT. I am FOCUSED.”

You can read more about how Taylor rocks Tumblr right here.

The point is, rather than pronouncing definitive answers from your company experts, have the humility to invite answers from the people who may know your products and services best — your customers.

Keep in mind that your brand ambassadors are different. While some of your less involved customers has little to no interest in helping you spread your marketing message, your brand ambassadors are actively looking for ways to help you grow your brand. They want to help you, work with them to make that happen. Ask them for feedback. Ask them what they think about your brand, and ask them what they are hearing from other customers they talk to. Specifically, ask them what reasons other customers are giving them for why they do not want to buy from your brand. This is incredibly valuable feedback that you need to seek out. Once you learn why some customers don’t want to buy from your brand, you can work to correct those issues, and drive your sales.

As marketers, ask yourselves when was the last time a brand, any brand, made you feel that you were their favorite thing in the world?