Brands that have a roster of influencers they work with regularly know how effective influencers can be at raising brand awareness, increasing engagement and growing sales.
Employing social media leaders on one-off campaigns fills important and specific marketing needs. But turning those who organically love your brand and have an online following into brand ambassadors, not randomly but through a structured program, will allow you to reap the benefits of their influence and affinity.
Brand ambassadorships work. According to a TapInfluence study, 70 percent of brands think that ongoing ambassadorships are an effective form of influencer marketing—at times more effective than targeted campaigns including sponsored content, product reviews or brand mentions. Yet influencers report that only about half of brands want to utilize them for ambassador programs. For brands that want to differentiate themselves from their competitors, ambassador programs can be a highly effective marketing strategy.
Benefits of Building an Army
The idea of setting up a brand ambassador program may seem daunting from both a budget and time perspective. You must think of it as a long-term play, where its value will become more evident over time. In fact, if done right, it may be able to replace costlier marketing tactics that aren’t proving as effective.
Here are some reasons why you should consider building an army of influencers:
• Exposure: If you work in marketing, then you probably know about the “Rule of 7”—a potential customer needs to be exposed to your brand message a total of seven times before they take an action. If your brand ambassadors are singing the praises of your products or services across social media channels, those who follow them will potentially reach that frequency threshold much more quickly than they would through other channels.
• Deeper relationships = deeper brand loyalty: The more you can engage your brand ambassadors and make them a part of your brand’s conversation, the more likely they are to advocate for you in an authentic way, even beyond your basic asks. This translates to increased trust from their audience and naturally generated exposure for your brand.
• Win/win for you and the influencers: Your brand will establish more credibility by having an ongoing relationship with an influencer in your space. Likewise, your ambassadors receive a credibility boost by being aligned with a brand that their followers have a positive view of, endearing them even more to your brand.
It’s important to remember that building and maintaining an army of influencers isn’t right for every brand. You may not have the budget or resources to do it well, or maybe it just doesn’t make sense for the product or service you offer. It’s important to make sure you embark on a new marketing channel because it fits with your brand strategy—not just because it’s the latest hot marketing approach.
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How to Build an Army
Once you’ve decided to build an influencer army, the first step isn’t to hop on an influencer platform and find people based on social following alone. No, the first step is to clearly define your criteria for a brand ambassador. That criteria looks different for every brand, but may include the following, in addition to the number of social media followers:
• Expertise: Finding influencers who have experience or credentials in your industry can help to boost credibility.
• Personality: Look for influencers who have a complementary persona and image to your brand. If your brand attributes are friendliness, boldness or upbeat nature, for example, you’ll want to find an influencer who portrays the same.
• Brand Value Alignment: Is your brand conservative? Altruistic? Find advocates that align with your brand’s mission and values.
Once you have your influencer criteria laid out, it’s time to start researching. This is the hard part, but the positive aspect is that you probably already have brand ambassadors. There may be influencers who already follow your brand on social media, or engage with you through likes and comments. Influencers may have already reached out to you via various channels to praise your brand or product. Use social listening tools to search for your brand, and you’ll likely see that there are influencers out there who are already talking about your product or service. Bringing those people into your influencer army will be much easier and authentic than recruiting those who aren’t familiar with your brand.
An often-overlooked way to search for influencers is to look at who is working for other companies in adjacent categories to yours. You don’t want to try to poach your competitors’ influencers, of course—that could backfire. Focus on influencers for complementary brands. For example, a Lululemon ambassador may be a good fit for a healthy skincare or organic meal kit brand.
Lastly, utilize influencer search platforms to find influencers in your vertical who match your criteria. Combining results from all of these avenues should provide you with more than enough potential brand ambassadors.
The importance of vetting
While influencer marketing is an effective channel for brands, it has faced heavy backlash due to fraud. Fake followers and engagement have plagued the industry, making many marketers wary. Luckily, there are myriad technologies for tracking an influencer’s follower growth and engagement rates, helping you to discover who is artificially inflating their influence.
There’s another side to vetting, and that’s making sure that an influencer has never said or done anything that can damage your brand. This means looking through their past social media, website content and comments by frequent followers. Look for negative mentions of your brand, industry or competitors, or anything that can be considered problematic from a political, religious or social standpoint. Technology cannot do this level of scrutiny so be sure you have the resources to support in the final vetting stage. Better safe than sorry.
Engagement: The Key to a Successful Ambassador Program
Before signing up your ambassadors, it’s important to clearly lay out your expectations for influencers, and the rewards they will receive in return. You are probably not the only one in your industry pursuing these individuals. The value in working with you must be clear if you want them to advocate effectively for your brand.
Like any relationship, an ambassador/brand relationship requires ongoing attention. Unless you’re a huge brand, you likely won’t have the resources to pay advocates much (or at all). If you want to keep influencers talking about your brand, you need to give them incentives to do so. Offering them free products, services or exclusive discounts, asking them to give their input on new product ideas, including periodic gifts in mailings, etc. are all good ways to keep ambassadors engaged.
Sephora’s program, #SephoraSquad pays its ambassadors, but also offers networking events, professional coaching and new product testing. H&M’s program The League offers ambassadors trips to spring and summer music festivals to showcase fashion, allowing customers to purchase influencer outfits through Instagram. And, Hoostuite’s ambassadors get to beta test new products and receive social media training. These companies have all found a way to make brand advocacy worth it to influencers.
Measuring the Effectiveness of an Ambassador Program
Determining the ROI of ambassador relationships can be a challenge. Instead of looking at metrics for a single campaign with a specific goal, like awareness, lead generation or sales, you have to evaluate the value of a long-term relationship. Determine upfront which parameters you will use to evaluate the success of the program and be realistic about expectations. Here are some examples of metrics to consider:
• Brand awareness growth
• Elevated engagement in the social ecosystem
• Growth of your brand’s social following and community
• Sales (if you are able to track properly)
• Earned media value
Use the right tools for campaign measurement depending on those metrics. There are tools that will provide analytics reports for many aspects of the ambassadorships. Find something in your budget, and most importantly, one that offers integrations with the tools you currently use.
In-House vs. Agency Support for Brand Ambassador Programs
While technology can help to streamline the process, the set up, deployment, management and measurement, an ambassador program can be very labor intensive and time-consuming. If you don’t have the internal resources to pull it off, it will be imperative to hire an outside influencer marketing agency. Look for one that really knows influencer marketing, rather than one who offers it as a side competency. There are likely agencies either solely devoted to or with extensive experience in your industry—these folks probably already work with many influencers in your space and will be able to recommend ones with no conflicts that are a good fit for your brand.
The most important aspect of a good brand ambassador program is giving influencers a reason to sing your praises. That goes beyond delivering a good product or service—it means keeping the promises you make to them, providing them with additional value besides a paycheck, and ensuring they maintain a positive association with your brand. On the other hand, a poorly managed program can hurt your brand and foster negative posts and comments on social media. Making sure you have the right resources—whether internally or through a trusted agency—is vital to the success of your program.
In the right hands, brand ambassadors can be an effective influencer army. Happy advocates will work for your brand because they believe in the value of the relationship. Over time, that will translate to their followers viewing your brand in a positive light, too.
Karen Koslow is CEO at Wellness Amplified, an influencer marketing agency focused on the health + wellness verticals. She can be reached at email@example.com.