Third-party endorsements mean a great deal when they come from experienced consumers with a unique ability to create authentic content. Many brands are learning that they can increase influencer authenticity by taking their program to the next level using brand ambassadorships.
Influencer vs. Brand Ambassador – What’s the difference?
It is true that some influencers are brand ambassadors and vice versa. But when brands use either term, they often have a particular individual and set of goals in mind.
How are influencers and brand ambassadors similar?
There is a reason why the terms influencer and brand ambassador are often used interchangeably – both include social media power users with a keen ability to connect with fellow consumers online.
Many marketers would concede that a brand ambassador is a type of influencer. Here are a few of the many similarities between the two:
- Both are consistent content creators on social media, personal blogs, or a combination of the two.
- Both know how to integrate brand shoutouts organically throughout their content.
- Both are engagement experts that know how to nurture online communities.
- Both often demonstrate a certain level of authority within an industry or lifestyle.
How are influencers and brand ambassadors different?
As a general rule, brand ambassadors are more deeply connected with the brands that they partner with than are influencers. As such, they act as true customer advocates.
“Ambassadors will promote brands they love without being asked, and they’ve spent a lot of time getting to know that brand before they promote it.” – GRIN, Ambassador Programs vs Influencer Programs
Here are some other key differences between influencers and brand ambassadors:
- Brand ambassadors are committed brand fans, as well as social media power users. Influencers may or may not feel as strongly about the brands that they choose to partner with.
- Brand ambassadors form long-term relationships with brands. Influencers may only partner with brands on a short-term (or “one-off” basis), such as special events or seasonal promotions.
- Brand ambassadors can still be effective with follower counts of less than 1,000. Influencers usually have a minimum of 1,000 followers on their preferred channel.
- Brand ambassadors form stronger connections with members of their audience. Many influencers grow so popular that it is impossible for them to maintain deep connections with all or most of their engaged followers.
How to Create a Successful Brand Ambassador Program
Set your program objectives.
First things first – you need to sit down and figure out what you want your ambassador program to accomplish. If you already have an influencer or affiliate program, it’s important to distinguish your ambassador goals from your other program goals, even if there is overlap.
Brand ambassadors usually give you a deeper connection and more personal engagements with niche audiences. By deciding how you want to leverage those connections, you’ll be able to set reliable performance goals and track ROI.
Some common brand ambassador objectives are:
- Increase brand awareness
- Increase conversions
- Increase user-generated content and brand sentiment
- Build social proof
- Drive website traffic
Define the kind of ambassador that you want to partner with.
To find the best brand ambassadors, you’ll want to connect with true brand fans. Doing so might mean that you look less at follower counts and more closely at the ways in which that person likes to promote your brand.
Additionally, you’ll need to decide what post frequency will be most effective and authentic for your audience.
Next, brands that use ambassadors well look closely at that ambassador’s audience, as well as the relationship that exists between the ambassador and members of their audience. Most brand ambassadors do their best to engage follower comments and questions in a timely manner.
Lastly, you’ll want to think carefully about what sets your brand ambassadors apart from your influencers and affiliates. Your ambassadors should be an elite group of brand promoters that do what your other customer advocates cannot.
Break your program objectives down into ambassador KPIs.
Based on your program objectives and ideal ambassador profile, you can break down your objectives into measurable key performance indicators (KPIs).
For example, your program KPIs might include the following target metrics:
- # posts (pieces of content) per month
- # many views/impressions per month
- # many link clicks per month
- # many conversions per month
Take a look at your fan base and active influencers.
Before you begin recruiting ambassadors, you might take stock of your social media fan base. If you already have an influencer program, this is also a great place to start.
Ideally, you want your brand ambassadors to love your brand so much that you don’t have to incentivize them to promote your products and services. By taking a look at those fans that tag your brand or genuinely love your products/services, you’re more likely to target the best brand ambassador candidates.
Create an ambassador program page.
Many ambassador candidates will come to you without you having to seek them out. Because of this, it’s always a good idea to have a brand ambassador page that tells candidates what you are looking for and how they can apply.
Invite prospects to join your ambassador program for the long-term.
When approaching prospective ambassadors, you should make it known that you are looking for long-term partnerships. At the beginning of your program, you’ll most likely be doing the outreach.
It’s perfectly acceptable to utilize direct messaging on the social media platform where the individual likes to posts (Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook). If the influencer or social media user has a collaboration email address on their profile, you can reach out to them through email.
You should try to keep your outreach email concise and to the point. A great ice breaker is to offer them some free products.
“Hello [first name], thank you for the shout out! We enjoy your content and would like to send you some free products. Does this interest you?”
Before you accept someone into your ambassador program, it’s important that you know that they love your products. That’s why product gifting is such a great way to launch your ambassador outreach.
Set ambassador expectations using your program KPIs.
Using the KPIs that you established early on, you can onboard your ambassadors by letting them know what your expectations are of them as they begin promoting your brand.
It’s also critical to let your ambassadors know what is or isn’t allowed, as well as some general guidelines for achieving best results. While you don’t want to micromanage your brand ambassadors, you should have an agreement that members sign before they officially join your program.
Decide on a compensation package.
With any customer advocacy program, you’ll need to decide how to compensate your ambassadors for their promotional content.
On this point, marketers don’t always see eye-to-eye. Some marketers insist that you shouldn’t pay commissions to ambassadors. Instead, they feel that to keep your program authentic, you should only use product seeding (free products and services).
Other brands do offer their ambassadors commissions for their conversion efforts. A perfect example of a successful commission structure for ambassadors is Tubby Todd’s ambassador program.
Nutpods decided to set up both an affiliate program and an ambassador program. For ambassadors, they only give free products in exchange for promotional content. But if someone wanted to receive commissions, they could opt to join Nutpods’ affiliate program instead.
Choosing the best compensation package for your program will often come down to what is most important to your top performers, to include gifts, perks, and cash payments. That said, transactional relationships nearly always result in less authenticity. The true test of a good compensation package is a balance of program success and authenticity.
Track ambassador content and performance.
Once you’ve created an ambassador team, you’ll need to track posts and performance. At the beginning, you can manually track your program using the appropriate social media platform and spreadsheets.
Among the most important metrics to track are:
- Post frequency
- Engagement (reactions, comments, shares, etc.)
- Link clicks
Once you have several ambassadors and an established program, you’ll need a more robust platform to save time and track these metrics more accurately.
Use current and past performance to screen future ambassadors.
If you track post metrics and KPIs closely, you’ll quickly see where you can tweak your program to achieve a higher ROI. More importantly, you can use these metrics to improve how you screen your ambassadors.
Creating Long-term Relationships with Your Brand Ambassadors
Because your ambassador partnerships should be long-term relationships, you’ll achieve better results if you can find ways to stay connected with your ambassador team.
Keep ambassadors informed.
First, consider how you will keep your ambassadors informed. For example, your ambassadors need to know if you’re launching a new product line or a sitewide promotion. Some simple ways to keep your team informed are to send ambassador newsletters over email or social media DMs.
Nurture a sense of community.
Next, you should think of ways to nurture a sense of community among your ambassadors. You can accomplish this by creating live virtual events or inviting people to join monthly or quarterly webinars where you feature one or more top performers.
Keep ambassadors engaged.
It’s essential that you find ways to keep your ambassadors engaged. Contests, new perks, and ambassador events are just a few techniques that brands use to increase engagement within their ambassador team.
Seek consumer feedback.
Lastly, it’s critical that you seek regular feedback from your ambassadors. No other source will be able to give your brand the insights that it needs to personalize its product and services to stay competitive.
Hosting virtual team meetings that involve members from marketing, customer service, and product development can help you put ambassador feedback into action. Also, you can send out ambassador surveys on occasion to solicit additional feedback that will improve your products and brand message.
How to Convert Influencers into Brand Ambassadors
Many brand ambassadors are also popular social media influencers. In fact, some of the most successful ambassador programs make extensive use of influencers.
Influencers are social media power users that have mastered compelling content and curated an online community based on a particular lifestyle or set of values.
That said, not every influencer will make a great brand ambassador. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Think of your ambassador program as a step up from your influencer program.
Members of your influencer community may or may not be a good fit for “evergreen content” (that is, promotional content that is year-round and consistent). Some influencers may prefer short-term or one-off campaigns so that they can focus on their other brand partnerships or content.
However, many influencers have favorite brands for whom they are more than happy to become full-time ambassadors. If you have any influencers you feel match this description, you can send them an invite to join, along with an explanation of what it means to become a brand ambassador.
Influencers in your ambassador program must be able to engage their followers on a more personal level.
Many influencers are so popular that it is impossible for them to maintain a personal connection with their audience. What you need are ambassadors that know how to respond to follower comments and questions individually.
Image via Impact Plus
That said, no influencer can be “best friends” with their entire online community. But many influencers – particularly Nano and Micro influencers – are diligent to keep up with engagement on their posts. These influencers will make great candidates for your ambassador program.
How to Convert Customers into Brand Ambassadors
Many brand ambassadors aren’t professional influencers, but they do maintain a sizable social media following and genuinely love your products.
How do you approach a customer about joining your ambassador program?
If this customer is a follower of one of your branded social media pages, you can reach out to them via direct message and offer them a free sample.
Before you send a free sample, confirm the following:
- That the individual is a paying customer; and,
- That the individual has freely given your brand a shout-out in the past.
At first, you can ask the customer to try the product sample, and if they like it, to give you a brand mention in an original post. After a few initial posts, you’ll be able to see if this customer is a good fit for your program.
To be a true ambassador candidate, the individual should be able to post compelling content, generate meaningful engagement from their followers, and feel authentic excitement about your brand.
Generating Inbound Requests to Join Your Ambassador Program
Once your ambassador program is up and running, you can promote your ambassador page publicly among your most engaged customers. For example, your biggest brand fans will also follow you on social media, or join an email or SMS subscriber list.
You can announce the launch of your ambassador program and invite enthusiastic customers to apply. From those that apply, you can vet candidates and onboard only those that are a good fit.
Conclusion: Leveraging customer advocacy could be your most lucrative move in 2021.
Influencers and brand ambassadors are prolific members of a subgroup known as customer advocates. As customer advocates, these individuals help brands enhance their credibility and social proof among consumers.
Third-party mentions will help your brand work smarter (not harder) when it comes to customer acquisition. Furthermore, brand ambassadorships give your biggest fans the opportunity to enjoy special privileges, which will in turn drive customer loyalty among fan followers.