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We caught up with SocialToaster founder Brian Razzaque this week to talk about the role that social media plays in influencing consumer purchasing decisions. An expert in social media and brand ambassador programs, Brian shared some truly useful tips and insights.

We caught up with SocialToaster founder Brian Razzaque this week to talk about the role that social media plays in influencing consumer purchasing decisions. An expert in social media and brand ambassador programs, Brian shared some truly useful tips and insights.

Can you comment on recent Gallup results, which noted that people do not flock to social media for purchasing considerations?

A lot of people interpreted this result as conflicting with previous studies that indicated that people are highly influenced by their friends on social media when making purchasing decisions. I don’t think that these two surveys are incompatible. The Gallup results are speaking specifically to how people are influenced by brands on social media, not whether or not their purchasing decisions are influenced by their peers on social media. The results are still the same: people absolutely still indicate that their trusted peers, their friends, are highly influential over their purchasing decisions. But when it comes to looking to brands directly, social media are less reliable. I think that Gallup’s results actually support the earlier studies, they just clarify whether people are looking to their friends or looking to the brands directly.

What do these results mean for brands trying to reach consumers directly?

We believe that this reinforces the need for brands to incorporate a strategy that leverages brand ambassadors to act as word of mouth advocates on behalf of the brand in order to help more effectively influence consumer buying behavior

What makes brand ambassadors of greater value than the general audience?

Core to this is a belief that these ambassadors are really passionate about your brand, which is one of the reasons they are willing to engage in the program. As a result, you have a captive audience where you have a deeper relationship, where they are inclined to be potentially more honest with you about what they are seeing and about what’s exciting to them. You have an opportunity to have a candid conversation with them to find out things that the general population either isn’t going to be honest about or isn’t going to respond about. You need to make sure you take advantage of that type of relationship in order to have those conversations regularly.

What should brands do to activate fans to influence their friends?

In general, fan activation requires a framework for two things: first, recruiting those fans into a program that has rules and guidelines; and second, a communications plan to activate them on an ongoing basis and to make sure they are effective on behalf of the brand consistently. SocialToaster offers such a framework and provides a tool to make it so that people can opt in and be enlisted to help share.

You can have programs that are successful in terms of activating fans without SocialToaster, you just need to spend the time and energy addressing those concerns. You need to make sure people have a clear understanding of what they are being recruited for, what they are being asked to do, and what the benefit is for them. Then you need to have a process in place for actually activating them. Without that framework, brands will struggle to put something effective into place.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about big data. How do you best use data when approaching targeting?

With data we want to first look at the traditional demographic profile, which most people are familiar with: age, gender, geography, education, and the like. But this concept around big data goes much deeper than that. It is the idea of the psychographic profile, which, aside from the traditional data points, is what actually motivates a person. What are they truly interested in? What are they actually buying? Understanding their likes and their behavior in a more comprehensive way gives you a better understanding of an individual and how he or she is motivated. That gives you a better ability to create messaging that will resonate with them and a better ability to reach them in a way where they are more likely to take action.

How do the demographics of different industries affect the recruitment process?

This idea of the psychographic profile is really important because it’s more than just age and gender. It’s what truly motivates and interests consumers. When you are creating an advocate program there are actually two different targets: first is the person we want to become an advocate. What motivates them and drives them to be vocal on our behalf is potentially different from the psychographic profile of the second target, the end consumer. I would argue that an active advocate is a subset of your larger consumer profile. An active advocate is very likely also a consumer, but the things that drive the active advocate to join a program are not necessarily the same as the things that would appeal to the larger consumer base.

When constructing your program you need to have that understanding. You want to create incentives that will speak to advocates. You want to promote it in channels that will reach advocates more effectively. Then, once you get them in the program, you need to remember that the content you are asking them to promote may be slightly different. It is targeting your general consumer. Understanding the distinction is very important.

Want to learn more? Vote for Brian to speak at SXSW Interactive 2015