November 24, 2020

Top 10 Tips on How Startups Can Successfully Make Use of Brand Ambassadors

Written by Dr. Irène Kilubi

No-budget Gold Investment in Employee and Customer Ambassadorship

Brand ambassadorship is not a new thing, but have you heard of unpaid ambassadors? The idea that comes to most people’s minds when you talk about brand ambassadorship is that of influencers who have a large following on social media and are hired by companies to promote their products. Unpaid ambassadors, on the other hand, are not hired, but they promote your brand by word of mouth or through social media because they are happy with it. These can be your employees or your loyal customers who actively champion your brand without pay because they want to do it.

Convert Loyal Customers and Employees into Enthused Ambassadors

Nowadays, many companies see both external ambassadors (customers) and internal ambassadors (employees) as an effective way to promote their products. The employees and customers have a deep understanding of the products and services and thus are suitable for the position. They promote your business for zero pay because they love it.

According to an article published by Forbes, February 14, 2020 (Employees as Influencers: A Blessing or a Curse?), since employees live and breathe the product daily, they are the best candidates for brand ambassadors. They have personal branding and stories, plus an in-depth knowledge of the brand that ‘professional’ influencers might lack. This is an ideal way of using your employees and loyal customers to generate more leads. Brand ambassadors are important since an audience will most likely believe a brand ambassador if they don’t get paid to promote a particular brand. Another example is an article published by Harvard Business Review, January 13, 2020 (Turn Your Customers into Your Community), where they take inspiration from organizations like LEGO, TEDx, and Twitch. The authors assert that “As we move into the coming decade, your customers will be acting on your behalf anyway, driving interactions themselves. You can either stand on the sidelines, or you can take an active role by empowering them.”

However, it would be best to note that laying the foundation for an ambassador program is no walk in the park. Below are some tips on how startups can successfully use ambassadors to promote their products.

1. Define Your Values

The first thing to consider before you start a brand ambassador program for your company is what you stand for as a company. By defining what you stand for in terms of the people you seek to serve, the kind of feel you want to share with your customers will have the right foundation in designing an ambassador program. In addition, your values will ensure that your move is well thought through in terms of long-term benefits and consumer retainments. Your mission statement and core values aid in selecting the right brand ambassadors. As obvious as it may seem, it’s wise to define your values in the initial stages to prevent confusion as you continue. Your company’s guidelines and identity will enable you to have a clear idea of who is best suited to represent you.

2. Partner with Experts and Set Up a Solid Social Media Strategy

When starting a brand ambassador program, it is ideal to keep an open mind, which means exploring new ideas. The best way to explore these new ideas is by bringing in experts via partnerships. These partnerships will create solid relationships that will open your business to new opportunities you might not have anticipated before.

The best way to ensure that you are getting it right from the start is by partnering with minds that have done it before and done it successfully. Brand ambassadors’ experts have the knowledge and skills to help you get the right program, incorporate it into your company’s systems, and maximize the same. However, make sure you vet these experts to ensure that their credentials are in tandem with your vision and goals. If so, they might just be the springboard your business needs to shoot in the right direction.

3. Find the Right People for the Program

It is an unpaid program, but you cannot involve everyone. It will be best if you find people with thorough knowledge of the products and services you deal with. They cannot genuinely advocate for something they do not love. Choose people who are genuinely enthusiastic about sharing your brand. You can also select the ambassadors based on their qualifications to avoid uncommitted ambassadors.

It is easy to identify your top customers, but not all will be suitable for the task. The best way to go is to look for people who genuinely share your organization’s vision and goal. You can spot some of your staff members or you can reach out to some of the customers who show interest in your products/services. After choosing the potential ambassadors, you can select the ones that suit your program using a list of must-have characteristics that you believe are crucial for the task. Having a committed team selected from a larger group is a motivator as it helps them understand how important they are, unlike when you accept everyone who shows interest.

The selection process should have some qualifying factors to ensure that you have the best talent for the task. For example, you can check on their sociability, knowledge of your product, storytelling skills, etc.

4. Make the Program Exclusive

While the previous point emphasizes getting the right people, we also want to ensure that the program retains its quality appeal. It is right to spread the program information among the potential candidates, but make sure the selection program is more qualifications based. Letting just anyone become your ambassador makes the activity less important and increases the possibility of having careless and uncommitted ambassadors who are only driven by personal goals.
There is nothing wrong with having a thousand right ambassadors; however, people tend to incline towards brands that feel prestigious and real. Sadly, quantity is not always a sign of quality, and many consumers now understand this. Keep the participants small in number so you can regulate the effectiveness of the program with ease.

The best way to make your brand ambassador program more exclusive is by structuring it. Although you should culture your ambassadors to act independently, always make sure that everyone is on the same page to avoid missteps or unwanted controversies.

5. Give Value to the Ambassadors and Empower Them

Reach out to the ambassadors to identify their expectations. Each individual will have different goals that they want to accomplish as your ambassadors. Some will be there just for the gifts, others to build their resume, to gain learning experiences, to join your company, and many more. Understanding these motivations will help you ensure the success of the program as you can better motivate them by truly meeting their goals. Having a more in-depth understanding of their goals will ensure a successful program as you can inspire them by helping them achieve their goals.

The success of the program is dependent on how you equip the ambassadors. You must provide everything they need to promote your products and services. One way of ensuring the success of your program is by providing the tools they require. Provide them with all they need to make their job as efficient as possible and make them feel like partners of your brand. Ambassadors may need some samples for better demonstrations when in the field and a platform to communicate with others involved in the program. It is also easier for the ambassadors to promote your products if your company’s key players are easily accessible whenever they have questions and concerns.

Equipping them with the right tools and resources makes their work easier and enjoyable. External ambassadors should be well informed about your company’s foundations to be able to share the information with others.

6. Establish a Social Media Policy

One challenge is that the public sees the ambassador as the face of the company, as a personal brand, meaning their actions have an impact on the image of the company. It is, therefore, important to ensure that whatever they share in the digital world and by word of mouth resonates with your brand image. A social media policy provides guidelines to help the ambassadors understand the tone and message they should use when speaking about your brand.
The behavior of brand ambassadors influences the image of the company. Creating a social media policy guides the ambassador on how to conduct themselves when marketing your brand.

This also means you should keep in mind who supervises the program, the content that is acceptable and that which is not, the roles the ambassadors will play and how they will apply. It is also important to address the legal aspect of your program.

Since the data you save online is inherently at risk, you should remind your brand ambassadors what data to share and not. They should be cautious with the data they share to prevent a malicious person from using the information against your company. More importantly, your influencers should not use illegally acquired data as it compromises your company’s integrity.

7. Recognize or Reward Your Ambassadors

Some ambassadors genuinely work for free, but rewarding them and recognizing their efforts can go a long way in showing how much you value them. It takes talent to communicate with internet users and turn them into customers. Therefore, a reward for customers helping drive traffic to your site is appropriate. If you choose to offer some compensation, clearly state how they can earn the pay. Reward them with monetary or other valuable things such as discounts, free products, gifts or cash promotions, and more. Employee ambassadors, on the other hand, will find motivation in seeing that the program helps them widen their professional skills and gain valuable skills that are in high demand.

Measure what each employee ambassador is doing and elevate them to the next stage of the corporate influencer program.

8. Build a Strong Community

Make the ambassador program a community of individuals who can share ideas and encourage one another. The communities act as a place where the ambassadors can turn whenever they need new content ideas and inspiration, plus it also gives them a feeling that they are part of something important. Well-established communities can also act as platforms to source new ambassadors. It would be best to create a group of ambassadors who can work together to improve one another.

Identify key players and protagonists in your community who have a good reputation and may have fan communities of their own. Address them specifically and ask about their wishes and ideas. They will thank you with loyalty and you can use their help to further expand your reach.

The social media pages of other brands or prominent influencers can also be valuable fan suppliers for you and your community. Take a look at where you can make a meaningful contribution as a brand or company on other sites. If someone talks about you or your brand, react publicly. Show your presence and signal your willingness to talk—this will enhance your reputation and strengthen the cohesion of your community.

9. Keep Creating and Engaging

A successful brand ambassador should possess specific social skills like storytelling skills, which will be evident in their content. They should be engaging and have a good relationship with their followers.

During the brand ambassador program, there is bound to be an increase of activity on your social media handles by potential clients and existing customers. As a result of the program, people will be drawn to your site and be keen on reading reviews from previous users before engaging your services.

A few times a year, each company hosts public events for various reasons. These events could be seminars, corporate dinners, product launches, conferences, or golf days, all of which require engagement from external partners. The level of participation is determined by how curious the public has become about your brand, a good way to measure your ambassadorship program’s success.

As hackneyed as this phrase is, it contains so much truth. Without an added value for the users in terms of content, only real love brands or A-celebrities can afford to confront their fans online. However, although it may be enough for a teenage star to post a picture from everyday life on Instagram on a daily basis in order to get his fans excited, most providers have to offer something in the truest sense of the word. This can be exclusive information that users only or first get online, discounts, behind-the-scenes glimpses, or discounted or exclusive products. Then find out what your prospects want. Experiment with posts about your business, your industry, and everything related to these areas in a broader sense.

10. Track Your Success

The only way you can identify the impact of the brand ambassador program is by measuring its success. The best way to measure success is by checking its conversion rates, i.e. the number of new customers you have gained as a result of the program. You should have a database to store the ambassadors’ information and a communication platform where you organize conversations. Collaborators can have ways to report their progress, but there is also a need to track the ambassadors’ activities through solid analytic and reporting tools. Other KPIs include monitoring organic traffic, the lead-to-customer ratio, and a customer’s lifetime value. All these tell if your chosen brand ambassadors are right for your brand if the program is working and if you need to rethink your strategy. Keep track of the communication and online activities of your ambassadors. By doing this you will be able to measure the success of the program.

Bottom Line – Let Your Biggest Fans be Your Brand Ambassadors

The first thing that startups do before they launch their ambassadorship program is to determine what they stand for as a company so that they can easily recruit an individual who can best represent them. A brand ambassador should be an enthusiast of your products and services, and their niche expertise can help prospective customers trust their recommendations. For example, when Andrew Grauer launched Course Hero as a startup, he targeted students who would convince friends to upload educational resources to help others achieve academic success. They also recruited new ambassadors through internship programs where they would offer networking workshops to help the ambassadors spread the word. The program became successful because most of the people they approached to be ambassadors were also using the product and they loved it.
Launching an ambassadorship is a great way to promote your business. Partnering with experts and recruiting the right brand ambassadors influences the success of the program.

Portrait Dr. Irene Kilubi

About Dr. Irène Kilubi, Founder & Managing Director at brandPreneurs & brandFluencers

Dr. Irène Kilubi is founder and managing director of brandPreneurs & brandFluencers. She supports pioneers, visionaries, and changemakers in the three subject areas of community building, corporate influencing, and connecting GenXYZ. She spent several years in companies such as BMW, Siemens, and Deloitte. For four years now, she has been anchored in the start-up and online scene. She supports the global start-up scene in her activities as a mentor and coach at Techstars, European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Health, Insurtech Hub, and as a juror at BayStartup, the African Leadership Award, and the Unicorn Battle.