Social media marketing is increasingly popular among businesses in most niches. Its many benefits include being direct, cost-effective and timely. Unlike many other common marketing avenues available today, social media messages can also easily be shared, and they present you with the opportunity for two-way communication with your customers.

To maximize the benefits of social media marketing, you must convert your customers to advocate on behalf of your brand via social media. This often includes promoting or sharing your content, website or profile page directly with their own social media contacts. This type of brand-product advocacy is today’s version of word-of-mouth marketing, so it is essential that you learn how to master it.

Plan Ahead and Set Goals First

Rather than rush out and post various social media messages randomly, it is important to pause and consider what you want to accomplish. More than that, you need to have a strategic plan for how you will achieve your goal. There are several strategies that may be available to you, but a closer review and analysis may reveal that only some of these options are well-suited for your specific target audience or brand.

As is the case with other marketing goals that you have created up to this point, your goals should fall in line with the SMART principle. This means that your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. To begin, write down your specific goals in detail. Then, ensure that they are SMART in every way. You may wonder how you can possibly measure the attainability of your social media marketing goals. You know that you have achieved success when you notice your customers sharing your links and speaking positively about your company and your products or services.

As you create your SMART program for social media marketing and brand advocacy, follow these steps:

1.    Prepare a Customer Advocacy Program

You cannot expect your customers to go out of their way to advocate for you if your products are not exceptional and if your company is not known for delivering great customer service. Customers generally only spread the word about companies if they are certain that their own friends, family members, and other contacts may have an amazing experience or may benefit profoundly. An increasing number of companies puts emphasis on having a customer advocacy program – in 2017, 67% had one in place.

2.    Engage Your Fans and Followers

A unique feature that sets social media marketing apart from other marketing avenues is that it enables two-way communication. This communication is public, which means that each time you interact with a customer or follower, their other followers may learn more about your company and its products or services. Therefore, direct and active engagement is an essential step to promote a social media brand advocacy program.

3.    Identify and Educate Brand Advocates

In order for your followers or fans to actively and productively advocate on your behalf, you must keep them informed. You need to find an effective way to regularly communicate with them so that they learn about new features, special promotions and more. An intelligent way to accomplish this goal efficiently is to use automation software. Modern automation software helps you to regularly and easily keep in touch with your contacts without sacrificing a substantial amount of time and effort doing so. You will also be able to track their engagement through analytics.

4.    Track Performance

Because automation software helps you connect with your followers and contacts efficiently and to analyze the result of your efforts, you can use this type of software to track performance and engagement, to look for ways to improve going forward. For example, you can review stats to see which customers advocated most significantly and effectively for you. This is essential because it leads to the next step, which is to create a loyalty program.

5.    Set Up a Loyalty Program

When your customers go out of their way to advocate on your behalf, you understandably need to honor or thank those individuals. There are many ways to show your appreciation to these advocates, such as by asking them to participate in beta testing or product testing. Another idea is to give them promo codes for savings on future purchases or to give them exclusive offers that are not available to others.

Social media platforms give you an incredible opportunity to take advantage of modern word-of-mouth referrals, but you will need to follow effective steps to maximize this benefit. As you look for ways to take your marketing efforts to the next level, ensure that you leverage the power of brand advocacy.

Jen McKenzie is an independent business consultant from New York.