Cultivating Word-Of-Mouth

Finding Your Advocates To Spread The Word

So far we have looked at creating a framework for your word-of-mouth program, and identifying a cheerleader and team. In this instalment we will consider ways of identifying your advocates.

DEEPENING THE RELATIONSHIP

First, we need to deal with a challenge. At the risk of over generalizing, I sometimes think we, as leaders of performing arts organizations, have an awkward relationship with our stakeholders. A large part of the relationship is based on extracting money for tickets, donations and sponsorship. Granted there is value in return, such as a performance, a tax receipt and public profile, but this commercial-based focus gives us a deep-seated sense of indebtedness, which we are loath to disturb.

Customer advocacy shifts the relationship transaction to the currencies of goodwill and word-of-mouth. We need the courage to go beyond feeling beholden to patrons, donors and sponsors, and to recognize the depth, power and influence of their caring and support. After all, we would not enjoy their support if they did not value our work and desire our success.

GOOD-WILL HUNTING

Looking at your ticket buyers will be an obvious starting place when considering your potential advocates. Hopefully you have a number of patrons who have a long and regular attendance history, and have therefore demonstrated a deep and lasting connection.

Don’t discount your recently acquired ticket buyers. Their connections may be fresh, yet they just might possess an infectious eagerness and enthusiasm.

Likewise, consider your younger patrons, whose motivations and interests are different, as are their connections and circles.

If you don’t have a good ticket-buyer database, or you are less familiar with your patron names, walk through the lobbies at intermission and talk with theatre goers. Get to know the people who attend your performances, and discover their interests and motivations.

Also take time to talk with the ushers and box office staff, as they have a special relationship with your audiences.

Using a similar process, have a look at your donor list. There is likely to be a significant crossover with your ticket buyers, but you may also have donors who are no longer attending performances. Don’t overlook people who contribute smaller amounts, as their capacity to give should not be equated with the degree of their enthusiasm.

If you are interested in expanding your business connections, consider approaching sponsors to be part of your customer advocacy team. They may be happy to provide you with recommendations and introductions to their suppliers and clients, as well as to their colleagues in their sector and business improvement area.

Don’t forget your volunteers, who are already embedded in your organization. You may be blessed with a dedicated core of diehard volunteers who are just waiting to be asked to assist in new ways.

Finally, review your social media to see who is sharing and commenting, and examine your electronic communications to find out who is opening your newsletter and clicking on the links.

ADVOCACY ACTIVATION

So, now you have compiled a list of candidates and it is time to review their names with your word-of-mouth cheerleader and team.

Be honest, be realistic, and be specific with what you want. You need quality over quantity, and you want motivated and engaged people who will follow through with what is asked of them.

Depending on your word-of-mouth mandate and goals, and the number of potential advocates, you may want to consider two or three small groups, each with a different focus. This way you are not asking someone who has never donated to help with fund raising. (Approach this one judiciously and don’t over-extend your program and your ability to manage it.)

Consider who will approach the people on your shortlist and the format of the ‘ask’. In this important relationship-building step, express to people what you want to accomplish, why they have been chosen for your team, and what they mean to your success. They will want to know what is expected of them, which we will explore in the next section, and the time commitment.

This is not an easy phase, but I hope this has illustrated that there are number of sources available to you in identifying your advocates. Remember, you are not looking for a large group. It is much better to start your campaign with one or two advocates than not to start at all.

THE ARTS TAKEAWAY:

When considering your word-of-mouth advocates, go beyond the usual suspects and brainstorm ideas with your staff. You have more choice than you might think. Keeping in mind your mandate and goals, shortlist your candidates and let them know what they mean to your success. With a well-considered approach and a well-designed program, you will likely find your advocates’ loyalty, dedication and enthusiasm increases with their involvement in your word-of-mouth program.