It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who immortalized Paul Revere’s famous Midnight Ride in poetry, but it was Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point that shed some significant light on just why Revere’s ride was so successful.
In the book, Gladwell told the little-known story of another man—William Dawes—who took a ride through different communities in the Boston area the same night as Revere. He carried the same message, “The British are coming,” with practically no effect. Gladwell asserts that Revere succeeded where Dawes failed because of his savvy use of his established social structures. Revere was a connector—he not only knew a lot of people, he knew how to connect with the right people. In today’s social media jargon, we call these people brand advocates. From a crisis perspective, a solid social media advocacy strategy is bedrock to every business and organization on a daily basis, not just as a firebell when crisis strikes. Having an army of advocates to go to bat for you in a crisis can keep a crisis at bay just like it did that night in 1775.
We wouldn’t classify Revere as an influencer necessarily, because we know that one of the differences between influencers and advocates is their ability to get people to act, not just their ability to reach many. Much has been written about social media lessons from Paul Revere’s ride, but let’s take a look at three ways Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem eloquently describes how Revere used social media advocacy to help the colonies thwart the crisis of the British invasion.
- Partner with people in key sectors to help carry your message by giving them a call to action that fits their skills and passion. Revere had a friend that knew his way around the local gossip and real-time news circles. He enlisted that friend to listen for key messages and then gave him an important task as a reward—climb to the North Church tower and give him a signal to spread the message:
“Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.”
Are you arming your brand advocates with a mission they can embrace? How are you rewarding them for helping you carry your message?
- 2. Be attentively listening and watching your social media advocates so you can take advantage of their calls-to-action on your behalf. Advocacy programs aren’t just about empowering people and giving them rewards. They are propelled when you are present, when you give kudos, when you enter the conversation, when you say thank you. And you cannot take advantage of their action unless you are listening and watching, just as Revere did that night waiting for his friend in the church tower.
“Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.”
Today, companies that are present in the conversations about them not only grab golden opportunities to shine (think Oreo at the Super Bowl), but their engagement is seen by fans as a signal that they are listening. Companies that aren’t present when others talk about them lose valuable reputation points and become fodder for social media scandals. Advocacy is a shield in crisis.
- 3. Empower your advocates to be proactive, not passive. It’s not enough just to get your message out. Powerful advocates call others to action as well. Here is Longfellow’s emotional description of those that heard Revere’s message:
“So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.”
There’s a huge difference between just having fans and having advocates. In Rob Fugetta’s book Brand Advocates he writes, “your advocates will evangelize you without payments or points, coupons or cash. You can’t buy advocates.” Every brand already has advocates. All you have to do is identify and empower them. They will be the army that helps you thwart the invasion of a negative event.