The Influencer Vs Advocate Debate

The Influencer Vs Advocate debate is an old one and today I’d like to dispel any misperceptions around these two very confusing terms.

Over the past 5 years or so I’ve encountered many different marketing professionals – all of whom seem to have their own version of what it means to be an ‘influencer’ or an ‘advocate’….however I’d like to put forward our approach at Contagious Agency. After directly creating and managing hundreds of Word of Mouth marketing (WoMM) campaigns that involve both influencers and advocates, let me tell you we have invested a lot of brainpower getting to the bottom of this!

To start with here is our definition of an influencer:

“An Individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others based on their (real or perceived) authority, knowledge, position, or relationship.”

So – it’s really about the potential of an individual (via WOM) to affect others when it comes to purchasing. To clarify – here are a few common misperceptions concerning influencers:

  • There is only one type of influencer – e.g. the ones who have thousands of friends on facebook. WRONG – pretty much anyone can be influential (pending the product, category and what’s required to ‘influence’) and we identify influence based on detailed mining techniques across category, social networks, behaviour and propensity to share.
  • To be an influencer you need to be a long-term customer of the product or service you’re recommending. WRONG – influencers do not necessarily need to be long-term customers, they simply need to fit the right criteria as above.
  • Influencers must be given cash as an incentive. WRONG – cash should NEVER ever be used to incentivise anyone to spread the word about a brand or product. This is a highly unethical practice with many horror stories attached. The key is finding ‘fit for task’ influencers who will genuinely enjoy an experience with a particular brand.

Now that we’ve got a few things straight here is our definition of an advocate:

“A highly satisfied customer whose passion about a brand results in genuine recommendations to others”

Advocates are a ‘customer loyalty’ proposition. To be an advocate you must tick the following boxes:

  • Advocates must be existing customers of the brand or product they are recommending.
  • Advocates must have had more than one positive experience with the brand or product that they are recommending.
  • Advocates must be long-term customers with a genuine interest and passion for the brand & product that they are supporting.
  • Advocates willingly engage with brands on a long term basis (through multiple touch points).

So, in our experience brands may start by engaging a group or team of influencers in a WoMM campaign. The objective of this campaign will usually be to increase on & offline conversations and to ‘influence’ potential customers to try the brand. What’s exciting is that at the end of such campaigns there is often the opportunity to convert these influencers into brand advocates – and this is where long term advocacy becomes a viable goal to aim for.

Too often people want advocates from scratch – when it’s just not possible. How can someone be a genuine advocate of your brand if they haven’t experienced it enough times to know what they really love about it and why they then would recommend it?

I see a role for both the influencer and the advocate – and really the two are inextricably linked. Think of the influencer as the initial contact. They are a resource with untapped potential – and a great starting point for brands when it comes to engaging in WoMM activity.

Advocates however are a longer-term approach – they may have started off as influencers but through continuous positive brand experiences they naturally progress to become advocates (there are obvious financial savings by leveraging an initial influencer campaign too, but I won’t go into that now).

So in a nutshell:

Pretty much all people have the potential to influence and all influencers have the potential to become advocates

That said it’s important to note that the path to advocacy varies, depending on factors such as brand category, existing customer loyalty levels and how much the brand or product naturally lends itself to WoM.

If you’d like to explore our thinking further, we offer a no charge WoMM education session which goes into detail regarding the influencer / advocate debate and the natural path to advocacy. Simply email


Zoe Boalch

About Zoe Boalch

Zoë Boalch is co-founder of Contagious Agency. Zoë likes: hot chili, yoga, learning new stuff, positive people, taking risks Zoë dislikes: naysayers, grumpy people, rather large egos
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