by Dalene Heck and Stephanie Yoder
“Brand Ambassador” is one of those buzzy terms that you’ve probably seen everywhere but perhaps haven’t had time to examine very closely. What makes a brand ambassador different from a regular influencer? How do you find one and what do you do with them?
This post will give you a brief overview of Brand Ambassador programs, why they are useful, and how to start thinking about one for your own brand.
What is a Brand Ambassador?
A brand ambassador is an influencer who has entered an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship with a brand that they strongly believe in and promote. Companies employ brand ambassadors because audiences see their commitment and ongoing relationship as a sign of trust and genuine endorsement.
Ongoing advocacy of a place or product conveys a more powerful message than a one-off campaign.
What do Ambassadors do?
The actual mechanics of an ambassador program can vary significantly depending on the goals and strengths of an organization. Companies use their ambassadors in all sorts of different ways, from employing them for speaking engagements to having them lead tours, create videos and other content, or simply engage for social media promotion. Some companies choose to work with dozens of influencers, whereas others only work with one or two carefully chosen people.
As an example, consider the travel app Trover. In 2019, HMI helped them launch their Travel Ambassador Program. Over the course of 2019, the six carefully appointed influencers committed to monthly promotions of the brand. They also had the opportunity to apply for the “Trover Ambassador Grant” program which allowed any or all of them to pursue creative projects that incorporated using the app. After years of working with influencers on a one-off basis, this consistent and steady promotion created great value for the brand. The full results can be seen in the case study.
Dos and Don’ts for Brand Ambassador Programs
An ambassador program is something you need to consider very carefully to make sure it fits in well with your social media strategy and your long-term goals.
When done right, Ambassador programs can help brands to build long-term relationships with influencers while increasing their trustworthiness and visibility. If done incorrectly they can look like an opportunistic social media grab.
As a general rule, only start a long-term program like this if you are prepared to approach it thoughtfully, with the goal of building real, mutually beneficial long-term relationships with carefully chosen influencers.
DO: Pick Your Ambassadors Very Carefully
You want to put a lot of research and care into any influencer you work with, to make sure they are a good fit for your brand. But because you will be working with these people long-term, it’s extra important to make sure you choose wisely. These people will literally be the face of your brand. You want their “voice” to be aligned with yours, you want them to reach the people you want to reach, and you want to be proud to have them talking about you!
The ideal brand ambassador is someone who is already engaging with your brand – either they’ve visited your location or used your services already. A great place to start is influencers you’ve already worked with and trust.
DON’T: Start Off Too Ambitious
G Adventures Wanderers program started in 2011 with five trusted travel bloggers. From there, they grew and expanded their program. They continue to work with many of the same bloggers, but they’ve added more. They are now 13 wanderers who help promote the G Adventures brand by writing about their tours and working on special projects.
It’s important to test your concept before you commit to taking too much on. Consider starting with just one or two bloggers you trust before creating a wider program.
DO: Make Sure Your Collaboration Benefits Everyone
You don’t necessarily have to pay your ambassadors, but many influencers won’t accept such work unless you do. In any case, it’s essential to make sure that the people you work with are getting something valuable out of working with you – otherwise, you will have a hard time recruiting quality influencers and encouraging quality work. This could be through fantastic sponsored trips, insider information, or items to review. Figure out how you are going to compensate your ambassadors for their hard work and influence.
For two summers, HMI assisted the Canadian Badlands with their local ambassadorship program. The size of the influencer’s audiences were of little concern for these campaigns; the goal was to create content to be reshared on the Canadian Badlands’ platforms. No cash actually changed hands, but the local ambassadors gladly participated in order to receive access to attractions and events and have the chance to win prizes for their efforts. (The full case study can be seen here)
On the other hand, Tourism Toronto has a lineup of six local influencers who act as ambassadors and content creators for the brand itself. The six are kept quite busy – they provide everything from content for their tourism website, Instagram account takeovers, and video for social media and their YouTube channel. “We cover events, things to do, and share local tips about visiting Toronto,” says ambassador Arienne Parzei from SeeYouSoon.ca, “We usually pitch our content ideas to the social media manager and we get paid for the content we create.” (Content from the six can be seen here.)
DON’T: Be Dishonest
Influencers really hate being taken advantage of. Never imply someone works with you if they don’t – it’s a really good way to ensure they never will, and can generate negative publicity for your brand.
DO: Know Your Goals
What are you hoping to get out of starting an Ambassador program? Are you looking for brand exposure, a new market share or to create a new image for your brand? Ambassador programs can be tools to help with any of those things, but it’s important to know what your goals are and build your program out from there.
DON’T: Restrict Yourself to Your Niche
Ambassador programs can be a great strategic tool for reaching out to new audiences. Don’t think you have to stick to travel influencers just because you run a travel company. Consider influencers in different fields (fashion, food, technology etc), who might be a good fit for your brand.
DO: Leave Room for Creativity
The best ambassador programs are the ones that give influencers the freedom to be creative in their promotions. Don’t bog down your ambassadors with too much prescribed language and too many strict requirements.
Let your influencers know your goals and your expectations and then trust them to showcase you in their own unique way. After all, you chose them for a reason.
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