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Community Building for Startups: 10 Ways to Leverage Your Superfans

At Ember, we take superfans and turn them into advocates for your business. We don’t normally work with clients who have less than 5,000 customers, so here are ten things you can do in the DIY world of advocates to plant the seeds yourself, early.

ONE: Provide excellent customer care

At the heart of every good advocate program is a desire to do right by your customer. You’re not a push-over, but you provide excellent customer care through transparent and clear messaging that builds trust. You’re quick to apologize when you make a mistake and even quicker to see it righted. Your customers (even if there are only five of them!) trust that you will deliver and that they will be treated like a human in the process.

TWO: Name your values

When you establish the values of your brand and communicate them to your customers, you create trust. The more specific and disputable your values, the easier it is for your superfan to self-identify. Your values should push someone to the edge to identify themselves - don’t water it down. Vague and vanilla values created with the intention of appealing to everyone appeal to no one. Craft a narrative or even an image for each value and have fun with it! What does that value feel like? How will your customer know it when they see it? What would your company look or feel like if you didn’t have that value?

Watered down: "We value diversity."

Specific + heartfelt: "We know what it feels like to not be offered a seat at the table because you're 'different.' Which is why we’re _________. At our company, you’ll hear ________, you’ll see ________, and you’ll know that we believe our differences always make us stronger.

THREE: Name your best customers (the ones who stand above the rest)

If you have less than 100 customers, you can probably rattle them off by heart. Pick up the list of customers and write a star next to any names that stand out. These could be people who got your product for every teacher at their school last year, or the woman who asked the grocery store for your product so many times, they finally called you to get an order. They are exceptional and stand out from the crowd, not because of order volume, but because you know they love you and/or your product.

FOUR: Tell them you see them

Before you even start to think about asking them to do something, send them a personal thank-you card. Tell them why you appreciate their dedication to helping your business succeed. Tell them which values they embody and why. Get specific and fill up the entire thank you card (bonus points for having to go on the back).

FIVE: Invite them to partner more with you

Here we go, the part where it gets fun! Here is where you invite your superfan to partner with you. Pick a name for these superfans - you can start with "Advocate" and change it later if you're not sure. In your communication, be super clear on what you are inviting them into. If you want them to “share about your brand” you are not setting them up for success. If you want them to “tell 1-5 friends a week about our product” now you gave them something specific and disputable that they can get on board with (or not, which is also good). Be humble to recognize their time and energy is valuable and you while you can’t promise them fame or riches or world domination, you want to reward them for their efforts with commission on sales.

If you're close to your customers that you could text them, we recommend using the “text, call, text.”

Text them saying that you have a new idea for your business and you want them to be involved, could you call them and share more of the details with them?

On the call, follow a pre-scripted outline of the things you want to share with them. Let them know you want them to think about it and ask if you can follow up in 24 hours to see if they are interested.

Follow up 24 hours later with a text asking if they're ready to partner with you.

SIX: Set them up as an advocate

When they’re ready, there’s some simple things you can do to set someone up as an advocate without investing in any crazy fancy tools. Set up a custom coupon code that doesn’t expire for your advocate. It can give free shipping or $5 off or 10% off (we do recommend starting with some sort of special deal, but eventually move away from this). After the month closes, take the total revenue generated through that coupon (minus any discounts, shipping and taxes) and send a PayPal payment to your advocate for 20% commission on that total.

If you get emails for each order placed (or can enable this), then set up a manual gmail filter to forward any order confirmation that contains their code. That way they get a little burst of good feelings each time an order is placed with them and they can follow up with their customer to thank them and make sure they have a good experience.

SEVEN: Give them resources + ideas for sharing

Don’t leave your new and energized advocates hanging out to dry. They could have all the enthusiasm in the world, but have no idea how to go about telling their friends. This can be as simple as sharing a google drive folder with imagery of your product with them. Share a google doc with “words to say” for them to know how to talk about your brand. Include 1-3 sentences of who your brand is and what their role is as an advocate. Be explicit on what you hope they’ll do - “text five friends each week” or “host a Tasting of our product and invite 30 friends to try it.” Be explicit on what the effect of their actions - even if it’s just helping you get things off the ground. Every little bit helps.

EIGHT: Give them a heads up when you have a promotion

In addition to giving your advocates the tools they need to get started, keep them alert to every and any reason they could talk about your product. If it’s going on sale, tell them the day before (don’t tell them too far in advance though). If you are having a father’s day special, give them images to share. If you’re launching a new SKU, give them the language to share why it’s awesome.

NINE: Recognize them for their achievements

The number one motivator, year after year in the direct sales industry is recognition. Beyond pay, beyond perks, recognition will always mean more. We love sprinkling in some good perks and bonuses, but how are you recognizing your advocate’s efforts? Can they get a shout-out on IG? In your monthly newsletter? A personal email thanking them when a big order comes in? A post on their FB wall bragging on them?

TEN: Invite them to duplicate

If you have 10 advocates, likely about 50% have generated at least one sale and one is rising above the others. Be clear from the very beginning that should they find another person like themselves to join as an advocate, there is a reward in store for them. Awesome attracts awesome. So as soon as you find that awesome someone, help them partner with you to bring in more of it.

Photo credit: Jeremy Bishop on unsplash.


About the Author

Bri Leever is Chief Community Architect at Ember, a splasher of water, and lover of books doing life in an ever-changing migration pattern ✈️


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