What is a Social Media Brand Ambassador and How to Leverage Them for Influencer Marketing

What is a Social Media Brand Ambassador and How to Leverage Them for Influencer Marketing

For many of us it seems like social media has two sides: our friends and family who cheerlead, and the people who are trying to sell something. However, it isn’t really that simple. With influencer marketing, the two distinctions become blurred. This is because influencers are everyday people who talk about the products and services they recommend. Let’s face it: we do this every day with our friends to some extent. Maybe we ask a friend who did their nails because it looks beautiful, or who detailed the car. Need a new barber or hair stylist? Just ask around. Influencer marketing is just like that, only it’s online and paid for by brands.

Here’s the thing: it’s possible to go beyond simple influencer campaigns. How about having a cheerleader for your brand? It’s like having a friend for your brand in cyberspace. Let’s take a look at how brand ambassadors work on social media.

What’s a Social Media Brand Ambassador?

Briefly, a social media brand ambassador is someone who really loves your brand-and isn’t afraid to say so on social media. While regular influencers talk about brands that they find useful, effective, or otherwise beneficial, ambassadors go farther. These ambassadorships aren’t a one-off influencer campaign. Rather the brand ambassador becomes, at least to some extent, the face of your brand. These people can be celebrities, everyday people, or anything in between.

Here’s a great example of a brand ambassador: Tiger Woods. With the best of his golf days likely behind him, Tiger Woods needs to make money in other ways. Since golfers tend to have some disposable income, he became a brand ambassador for Rolex watches. While the ad campaign started small, there are now all kinds of photos where Woods wears a beloved Rolex watch. Here’s the thing: he doesn’t wear watches while on the golf course. And maybe that’s a good thing: watches are heavy, and that’s a pretty valuable thing to have fly off of your wrist mid-swing.  However, off the green we all have to keep track of time, and that’s where Woods wears his watch.

While Tiger Woods is a great example of a brand ambassador in general, he isn’t such a great example of a social media ambassador. Why? Because much of his work is done in magazines and other platforms that aren’t social media. You might see a TV commercial or subway poster where he’s pitching watches. Instead, a social media brand ambassador is one that works mostly on social media. A good example of this for a major brand is Lululemon. They have a group of brand ambassadors who exclusively pitch their athletic clothing on Instagram and other social media networks. As a social media consumer, you can follow these people and see what adventures they’re getting into while wearing those clothes. Other brands like Red Bull do similar things in their industries. These campaigns are limited to social media, with the possible exception of reposting onto websites.

The Difference Between Influencers vs. Brand Ambassadors

Generally speaking, influencers are people that get hired to try and sell things. However, while most influencers like the products and services they help sell, they don’t have exclusive contracts. In practice, this means that they can (and sometimes do) endorse competing products. While it might not be two different spray hand sanitizers that they’re pushing, it might be a hand sanitizer from company A and lotion from company B. Here, company A makes lotion and B makes sanitizer. Some brands find that they can “share” the limelight in this way. For instance, beauty product companies have products that cater to different skin types. For makeup, there are foundations that “melt” on oily skin, but the same brand might have excellent matte face powders. An influencer with oily skin might say the powder is great, but endorse a competitor’s foundation that does better on her skin. Finally, influencers keep their personal brands separate from corporate brands.

Brand ambassadors are different. Rather than recommending the “best product” from a bunch of different product lines, they’ll stick to a single brand within an industry. For instance, there’s a program by Nike that helps young athletes showcase their talent by endorsing their products. While everyone knows about Michael Jordan and his famous Air sneakers, Nike likes to show that everyone can benefit from their products. These exclusive contracts create a win-win for athletes who are willing to leverage their influence.

Another difference between brand ambassadors and influencers is that your brand becomes part of their brand. Back to Michael Jordan: while he’s a famous basketball player as a result of his talent, he’s also known as the guy that always wears Nike sneakers. Here’s another example: Zane Grothe, who is a member of the US National swim team. His swimwear brand is called Dolfin, and it’s less famous than some of the other ones most of us are familiar with. Here’s the thing: just because your brand of swimwear (or anything else for that matter) is less famous doesn’t mean it is lesser quality. By using a brand ambassador, Dolfin is making that assertion. In turn, Grothe, who was slated to go to the Olympics in 2020, becomes the face of Dolfin.

Why Use Social Media Brand Ambassadors in Your Influencer Marketing

Now that we understand what a social media brand ambassador is, let’s talk about why they are important. Some of the reasons are similar to regular brand ambassadors and influencer marketing. However, this technique is a little bit different.

Using social media ambassadors increases your exposure.

Let’s look at Dolfin swimwear again. The 2020 Olympics were postponed until next year, so they’ll have to invest in Grothe a bit longer. However, if he wins a gold medal then it’ll make Dolfin a larger player in the swimwear game. Here’s an example from competing brand Speedo. Like Dolfin, it mostly sells swimwear rather than being a huge sports conglomerate, but it’s better known. Back in the early 2000’s, they signed a sponsorship deal with Michael Phelps. He went on to earn a ton of gold medals in more than one Olympic Games. Consequently, everyone wanted to have a Speedo swimsuit.

This type of business relationship can increase traffic to your website.

In this case, it’s often because people are curious about your products. Think about it this way: when a respected influencer is pushing a whole line of products all of a sudden, they’ll want to know what makes it so special. So, they log on and check out their website. However, you’ll want to make sure that their audience is the kind you’re targeting. Here’s an example. One of the services I provide for select brands I love is brand ambassadorships, and one of my past clients is All Nippon Airways. I’m also a major fan of Agorapulse software. What do these brands have in common? They provide services I need on a regular basis. Since I have clients in Japan, hopping a flight with ANA makes sense. Likewise, for my marketing business I’m always concerned about managing social media. Agorapulse is my favorite tool. My audience is primarily marketers, so I’ll drive traffic to that kind of site. In addition, we marketers travel a lot, so travel companies make sense.

They’ll grow with your brand.

Unlike influencers who often are interested in making a quick buck, brand ambassadors want to grow their career along with your brand. Think about it this way: with ambassador relationships, your brands become at least somewhat intertwined. They appear in your ads, and stuff gets sold. However, this relationship goes beyond the sale, both for the ambassador and the brand. For instance, people think about Michael Jordan and Nike immediately comes to mind. Moreover, this is true for more than one generation, because the mutually beneficial relationship is still intact. Children of the eighties and nineties make the connection, and so do teenagers. It could even be argued that Jordan is still famous in part because of his relationship with Nike. After all, many professional athletes fade away after retirement, but Jordan’s brand has endured.

Types of Social Media Brand Ambassador Programs

Working with social media brand ambassadors can take a variety of different forms. Since brands and people are unique, there is no one size fits all solution. Key to any program, therefore, is a way to incentivize brand ambassadors in such a way that they are willing to participate. Moreover, you want them to be loyal to you for the long term. Here are some types of ambassador programs.

Employee ambassadors

This one is surprisingly obvious, but underutilized. Here, the idea is to encourage your employees to advocate for your company. It gives the company a human face, which can help edge out the competition. Employees know about your products and services like nobody else, and they don’t hide their knowledge behind marketing mumbo-jumbo. In addition, using employees as ambassadors helps to recruit new employees: if your employees love you, it makes potential recruits think they would, as well. Encourage your employees to talk about how happy they are at your company, and how they are taken care of.

Affiliate ambassadors

Here, you’ll make an agreement with someone who runs a website to feature your products. At the same time, the site owner will associate an affiliate link with the content. Then, the agreement runs like any other affiliate marketing arrangement. For affiliate ambassadors, it’s mainly an issue of how they get paid and how long they promote your products. You’ll generally have a long term business relationship, and you’ll want an exclusivity contract.

Expert ambassadors

An expert ambassador is someone who is well known in their field. Generally, they’ll become ambassadors for brands they use regularly, rather than just looking for a random opportunity within their niche. These are valuable ambassadors because they are so well respected.

How to Create a Social Media Brand Ambassador Strategy/Program

Your first step is to define your program.

Ask yourself what goals you have for your ambassador program, how you’ll compensate ambassadors, and how you’ll monitor success. You’ll also need to know what kind of person you’re looking for to serve as an ambassador. Do you want a subject matter expert? An affiliate? A celebrity? There’s a saying: failure to plan is a plan to fail.

Look for the right people.

Depending on your chosen social media platform, it’s a similar process as for influencer marketing. However, in this case you’ll need to look for the type of person who is interested in a long-term relationship. Ask yourself if an influencer in your industry is the type of person you want to use for the ambassador program. Then, consider if their audience is the one you’re targeting. Ensuring a good match is critical for the success of your program.

Work with the people you’ve chosen.

This step has several aspects, and is ongoing. For one thing, you need to convince them to sign on with your brand. If they’re already using your product or service (or are an employee), this is probably easy. Just make sure you can come up with a great compensation program as needed. Let them do their magic, whether that involves your content or theirs, or a combination thereof. Most importantly, let the ambassador know that you value their loyalty. Nothing is worse for ambassadors than feeling like they’re being taken advantage of or “used.” Worse, they might terminate the relationship under these circumstances. Money isn’t everything. In the case of employees, that could mean quitting, and for others, it could result in their going to the competition.

Conclusion

Working with brand ambassadors on social media is a hybrid of influencer marketing and traditional ambassador programs. Like with influencers, the platform is social media, but they’re exclusive to your brand. Finally, brand ambassadors on social media are like the ones used elsewhere in that they build their brand alongside yours. Overall, they’re an important technique to consider. And converting all of the influencers you work with, regardless of current brand affinity, should be the goal for any influencer marketing program.

Hero photo by Kristian Egelund on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.
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