While advocates have long been a holy grail of marketers, the social tools that have come with the Internet— customer review sites and social media, to name a couple—have dominated the conversation. This has persisted to the point that online social has practically become synonymous with brand advocacy. But the winds of change are blowing once more around the subject of advocates.

Marketers are beginning to look to other tactics for harnessing advocates, but why? Because, for all the marketing dollars spent on social initiatives, their results have come up short, often leaving marketers wishing for the best and begging for budget when they had expected a slam dunk. Social advocacy, with its loyalty programs and better tracking, has not closed the distance between advocates and brands.

In trying to understand why this effort has failed, a couple major problems with social advocacy stand out as the main culprits.

Ecommerce customer reviews are too generic and too easy to manipulate.

To say it plainly, product and customer reviews are usually very generic in nature—a thumbs-up or thumbs-down approach—and this makes them a bad fit for shoppers, who are looking for answers to very specific, personalized questions. Of course, this flaw would be easy to ignore if it weren’t for a much greater issue.

The fatal flaw of product reviews is the ease with which they can be manipulated. A recent Just as the title of the Forbes article suggests, “Amazon’s Fake Review Problem Is Now Worse Than Ever.” As Amazon tries to fix the problem, more and more people are gaming the system. There is a huge uptick in fraudulent reviews.

With these and many more reviews made by users who are unqualified to make such judgments fouling up review sites, how can shoppers filter out the phony reviews from the reviews of knowledgeable experts and advocates?

Marketers can’t make a bulletproof business case for social media.

Many a marketer has lamented the difficulty in trying to measure and form a business case for social media-based initiatives, but it bears repeating here. In forming its business model, social networks touted the ability to let brands see for the first time what the public was saying about them. Implied in that was the ability to track and follow the conversations of advocates and they spread the word.

The good news is, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have largely delivered on this promise. The bad news: marketers still can’t see complete conversations or tie those conversations directly to revenue. This inability to track ROI from social media initiatives has triggered a frustrated rebellion against Facebook and other social sites.

The shift to just-in-time advocacy marketing

These major points of frustration for online marketers are prompting an exodus away from social tools, but where will they go to finally tap into the full power of advocates? Even as Amazon and Microsoft are turning to real-time video chat on their tablets, online marketers will turn to placing non-brand employee advocates on their sites via live chat—which approach Gartner has coined “just-in-time” advocacy marketing.

This approach is already proving its ability to rebuild trust with shoppers and directly move the needle on conversion rates and average order values. Most importantly, it puts advocates in their native environment: helping people solve their product questions one on one.

To see the results companies are seeing from this shift to just-in-time advocacy marketing, visit www.needle.com.

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