Is it worth auditioning authentic, independent brand advocates? The Marketing Society Forum

Supermarkets are reportedly becoming jealous of the coverage given to Morrisons by independent blogger Steve Dresser.

NO - JIM SLATER, MANAGING DIRECTOR, COSTA ENTERPRISES

Brand advocates are the best friends your brand can hope for. These frequent, high-spending disciples vociferate their love for a brand and then leave a bubbling froth of positive sentiment in their wake.

The idea of auditioning for an 'independent' judge of a brand is absurd - anathema to the freedom of consumer speech and the protocol of social media.

It is difficult to believe that, once such an advocate is on the payroll (either literally or metaphorically), they will have anything like the same appeal to people craving an intelligent, independent view.

Focus on great product and great service, and let the chattering classes generate your buzz.

YES - TOM KNOX, JOINT CHIEF EXECUTIVE, DLKW LOWE

Yes, but it comes with a big caveat. 'Audition' rings lots of alarm bells. Steve Dresser's blog prominently states it is 'in no way affiliated with Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc or indeed any other entity'.

Other supermarkets must ensure that any 'superfan' they identify remains truly independent. As long as retailers are transparent about the process and don't try to edit the content, it's definitely a good idea.

In the same way that a good PR department will keep friendly journalists on-side, brands today need to cultivate the blogosphere and facilitate advocacy. A great example of this is the way Ford has created an asset hub specifically for car bloggers.

YES - GILES IVEY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, EMEA AND APAC, SAY MEDIA

The key criteria for a brand advocate should be existing reach and influence, as well as what value they bring to brand conversations. The authenticity comes from the advocate's background, credibility and independence, not necessarily from brand alignment.

Whether you can hold 'auditions' to find an advocate depends on the objectives and one main question: do you work with the fifth-most influential person because they are a fan or have the biggest community of influence?

If, like Morrisons, you have an established blogger and fan such as Steve Dresser, the decision is easy. However, to try to feign brand-affinity from a high-profile influencer could easily backfire.

YES - GAVIN WHEELER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, WDMP

Bloggers love the themes they write about. Turning an influential blogger into a brand advocate, though, is not a given. It's about developing a relationship and having value exchange - offer them exclusives, such as being the first to try a new product.

You have to be prepared for them to say negative things. The value of independent advocacy over paid-for endorsement makes the risks worthwhile - and at least you're involved in the dialogue.

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