The old adage "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" might sound cliche, but over the past couple of years, I've learned that it actually does hold some weight -- especially when we're talking about the power of true influence and brand advocacy.

The sentiment rings true for me personally time and again with a brand I can't say enough good things about: Southwest Airlines. Pretty much every time I fly Southwest, I end up singing the praises of yet another employee who's gone out of his or her way to be helpful.

While this rewards the person whose work made my life a little simpler, it also strengthens the bond I have with the Southwest brand: a brand so noteworthy, in fact, that it saved my hide last year when I showed up at the wrong airport for my flight. True story. It did everything in its power to help me after I'd completely embarrassed myself (honestly, I still don't quite know how it happened). Without its last-minute, above-and-beyond service, I wouldn't have made it to my conference on time.

So yes, Southwest Airlines boasts strong customer service, but it also recognized me as somewhat of an influencer -- one who works well with its team and advocates for its brand among other leaders in my industry and engaged audiences online. Southwest was there for me in part because of our relationship; the back-scratching was organic, symbiotic, and simultaneous.

This example is from my own experience, but I'm not the only person out there who this could happen to. You never know whether someone you just connected with is an industry influencer with a column in a well-known publication or whether he or she has an impressive following on social media. The possibilities (and connections) are endless.

Here's how to form brand advocacy by prioritizing customer service and interactions with your audience:

1. Behold the hidden power of influencers.

You might consider influencers these mega-powerful people with huge followings who your brand can hire to help promote your company, boost your reach, increase engagement, improve your image, etc. But remember, influencers are real people who also share messages that brands don't pay them to say -- think me and Southwest.

So regardless of whether you've asked them to, they can easily share their views of your brand to their followers -- potentially hundreds of thousands of them. Your customer service can affect how they share their thoughts.

Take Stephen Colbert, for example. It turns out the TV personality absolutely adores his Tesla -- he even spent six minutes of airtime gushing over it to Tesla Motors' CEO, Elon Musk. While Colbert isn't getting paid to advocate Musk's brand, he did advocate for it on his late-night show. Consider how different the conversation would have been if his Tesla were junk, Musk were a jerk, or Colbert's experience with either of them had been bad.

2. Acknowledge the social media megaphone.

This isn't to say you should neglect non-influencers in favor of people with greater influence; that's not going to get you very far. If your brand is truly worth advocating for, you'll treat people well regardless. Still, be mindful that influencers do interact with brands they aren't hired to work with, and thanks to the internet and social media, everyone's reach is expanded.

Social media gives everyone and his brother a megaphone to share ideas with the world. Your brand may have been able to get away with a bad day in the past, but now, if a customer or client has a bad experience with your brand, that experience is shared with everyone that person shares it with, so it continues like a Russian nesting doll.

3. Actively manage your brand and your image.

Your brand; your image; and how you treat your clients, customers, and partners are more important now than ever. And if your audience is on social (and they're talking about your brand), it's probably a good idea for your brand to be there, too. You can share positive messages from customers and brand advocates, manage your reputation, and deal with negative advocates in a public way. Being present and visible on social media, especially, tells your audience that your brand is available and transparent.

Marketing consultant and influencer Jay Baer, one of our clients, mentions this idea in his book "Hug Your Haters," and it's a trend in PR I've written about before, as well. Customer service is a spectator sport. To win, your brand has to play the customer service game on the field where your customers are.

So with all of this in mind, it's time to break out the old back scratcher you've stored away. Now, you can use it to your advantage (and the advantage of your brand or someone else's). You might be surprised by the relationships it can help you build.