Online marketers have a dirty little secret. They've got no idea what to do once they've hit their initial quantitative social media goals. Sure, they've got (a million) Facebook "likes," they've engaged their legions of Twitter followers, and they've created more custom content than Wikipedia. But now what?
No matter your marketing objectives—increasing sales, gathering leads, gaining word-of-mouth exposure, boosting brand awareness, or otherwise— social media provides a breeding ground for authentic, real-world advocates.

But although brands and customers are engaging on a more intimate and frequent level than ever, relative bottom-line results are still up for debate. Converting "good feelings" into real-world recommendations and sales—whether online or offline–requires being able to influence action. That ultimately leads to the question, Once you have an engaged and loyal audience, how do you mobilize it into an active army of influencers?

The following five steps will not only give marketers what they need to convert their loyal audiences into active brand advocates but also help them answer the nagging question, Now what?

  1. Distinguish between passive fans and active advocates

    To mobilize loyal influencers into a brand army, you first need to isolate your strongest soldiers. Those are going to be your active hand-raisers, your social butterflies, and those who are willing to go the extra mile to show their dedication. The good news is that they're easy to spot thanks to their active participation in your conversations and their tendency to spread the word to their own audiences.

    Though passive fans legitimately like your brand, their affection simply doesn't translate into much more than following you on Twitter, "liking" your Facebook page, and clicking on your links every now and then. Those great endorsements are by no means to be undervalued, because they allow you to get to know your audience and generate awareness; but they're just the beginning of what active advocates will do on your brand's behalf.
  2. Identify key online influencers by creating meaningful tasks

    If your influencers aren't as easy to spot as you'd hoped they'd be, you can bring them out of the woodwork by offering some type of reward initiative, such as a prize giveaway or other exclusive opportunity.

    Ask your audience to pursue rewards by creating and sharing relevant videos, photos, blog entries, or other types of user-generated content. The true influencers will easily rise to the top of your priority list for segmentation purposes, and you'll gain a wealth of social media- and brand-friendly content in the process.
  3. Segment influencers by relevance to your efforts

    Once you identify your key online influencers, it's time to get down to business and segment them according to your ultimate audience goals.

    Are you targeting specific regions? Personality types? Demographics? People with specific interests? Or just anyone with a big audience? That's up to you to decide, but once you do you'll be able to easily determine which of your influencers are influencing the right people.
  4. Create a memorable in-person experience

    The goal of creating a fond memory isn't to merely produce basic positive associations; it's to create nostalgia. And doing that requires an engaging real-life experience.

    Print ads, TV commercials, and other traditional types of advertising have always tried to create lasting mental imprints via tactics such as comedy and shock. Though they are often successful in doing so, those channels won't create memories that have the active, visceral effect of an in-person experience.

    The difference is that an in-person experience borrows from environmental stimuli and stimulates multiple senses by making the customer a key component in the creation of the memorable event, rather than being a mere witnesses to it.

    A positive setting—such as being among family or friends or in a festive environment—is also crucial to creating a memory that will become the impetus for product recommendations, leaving your brand on the tip of customers' tongues for months after engagement.

    According to metrics by House Party, my company, an effective branded event will result in 82% of attendees' still talking about the brands and products positively six months later. On average, you can also expect the following lifts in brand metrics: 21% increase in familiarity, 35% increase in favorability, 34% in advocacy intent, and 31% in purchase intent.
  5. Continue to engage remaining fans

    When offline campaigns are limited to include only a portion of your fans and influencers, you can (and should) still continue engaging all others online. You can always find a way to make them feel special, encourage engagement, and continue increasing loyalty.

    Offer positive public reinforcement to those who engage their own audiences with updates about your brand (perhaps by writing a blog post or posting relevant user-generated content to their social media profiles).

    Make a point of highlighting their efforts on your brand blog, website, or social media channels. That will let them and others know that you monitor and appreciate their efforts, and will therefore perpetuate similar activity. You can also create giveaways, contests, quizzes, and other opportunities for engagement that will drive otherwise passive influencers to action. Then, the next time you need to identify your key online influencers, you'll have an even bigger pool to choose from. 

* * *

Though these five steps are specific to mobilizing current audiences, it's important to note that such activity will attract new followers and fans. That doesn't just mean more "likes." It means more database opt-ins, more viral activity, and more opportunity to drive the real-world results we're all after: product recommendations and sales.

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Life After 'Like': How to Mobilize Your Loyal Audience Into an Army of Active Influencers

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Michael Perry is the CEO of House Party, where he's responsible for overall company vision, business diversification, development, and management.