How to Start a Brand Ambassador Program in 2021

Samantha Rupp

With the rise of social media and other fast-moving digital marketing strategies, it’s more important than ever for brands to have adaptable and organic marketing strategies that can keep up with instant trends and changes. Gone are the days of TV spots that are months in the making or billboards that stay static for months —good advertising is ever-changing and personalized. 

Enter brand ambassadors. These dedicated fans of your products provide recommendations to their followers on their respective channels, and can be responsive and personal in a way that your best social media manager couldn’t replicate on their own. 

The concept of brand ambassadors can seem vague and confusing to those who are unfamiliar, but we’re here to demystify it for you. We’ll walk you through what a brand ambassador is, what they can accomplish for you, and how you can start and manage a brand ambassador program today. 

What Are Brand Ambassadors? 

Brand ambassadors are the key to strategic word-of-mouth marketing. Understanding and amplifying your organic word-of-mouth recommendations about your brand can have a huge impact on sales. 

The original brand ambassadors were celebrity sponsors of certain products, like Samuel L. Jackson in Capital One commercials. This may expand to celebrity social media accounts too, creating a more organic interest in the product. 

Today’s most effective brand ambassadors are not A-List celebrities, but rather average people who truly love a product and have a significant following, whether through social media, blogging, YouTube, or even a podcast. They can speak honestly about the merits of a product and would recommend it to their friends or family even without a relationship with the brand itself. 

Brand ambassadors take the natural word-of-mouth recommendation and spread it to their large following, creating a largely organic marketing campaign for your brand. 

How to Start a Your Program

Establishing your brand ambassador program can be fairly simple. Start small, with just a handful of ambassadors, and test what works and what doesn’t. You can slowly scale your ambassador program to grow your reach with what you know to be successful tactics. 

Here, we’ll walk you through a few steps to establishing your brand ambassador program. 

Finding Brand Ambassadors

First things first: identify a few people who can help you get the brand ambassador program up and running. 

These should be people who are already recommending your brand and truly enjoy your products. A great way to find them is by searching your brand mentions on social media or Google to see who is already talking about you. Sometimes, you can think outside of the box for this. For example, a local moving company that uses student movers can use university students as brand ambassadors to wear company clothing around town or post on social media to help spread the word about their company. As you look through profiles and websites, look for these characteristics: 

  • A strong following on their platform (their followers will ideally be in the thousands)
  • High engagement with followers via comments, replies, and likes
  • Regular posting schedule (near-daily for social media, and at least weekly for blogs)
  • Demonstrated inclination for or experience in marketing
  • Has a clean background, is not problematic in any way, and is well liked

Another tactic is to create an ambassador program application that interested fans can use to apply. This may get you some people engaged who you wouldn’t have necessarily reached out to via social media. It can also run the risk of more applicants hoping for free products who don’t meet your criteria, so use this tactic wisely. 

Providing Incentives

Even if you find your brand ambassadors because they are endorsing your product for free, it’s likely that they’ll expect some compensation for purposefully promoting your brand. Here’s how some common brand ambassador incentives work: 

Recognition from the Brand

In the early stages, replies or retweets from the brand's social media account may feel like enough of an incentive for budding brand ambassadors to continue their endorsements. As the ambassador program grows, recognition may need to level up a bit, such as featuring brand ambassadors on the brand’s social media. 

Another good strategy is to build a brand ambassador page on your company website that lists all current ambassadors, like the ones at Maybelline. This serves several purposes:

  • Recognizing your brand ambassadors
  • Growing their followings (so you can grow yours)
  • Providing inspiration for your followers who are browsing your site

Product Samples

Free products are one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to compensate your brand ambassadors. They can test your new products ahead of time and give you feedback, or just post about an existing product that they are using for the first time. 

Offering free products is a must if you are asking a blogger or YouTuber to provide a review of your brand, and it works for social media as well. It also serves the purpose of providing guidance for your ambassadors’ next post. For example, this online retailer who sells natural health supplements could easily offer free products in exchange for brand ambassadors posting about their products.

You can also offer them coupons or codes for buying additional products from your site or allow affiliate posts so they make a percentage of any purchases made from their post.

Monetary Compensation

Of course, cash incentives will also serve you well for compensating your ambassadors. The more influential your brand ambassador is, the more likely you will need to offer to pay per post or review in addition to offering free products. 

Monetary compensation can often be based on the number of impressions, views, or downloads of a post, video, or podcast. This allows you to scale your investment based on the number of people you will reach. 

Managing Brand Ambassadors

To keep your brand ambassador program running smoothly, you’ll need to have clear expectations and open communication with your team. At the beginning, provide a brief orientation or onboarding in the form of a training document, video, or onboarding call with the marketing manager in charge of the program. This establishes expectations and rapport early on and sets up your program for success. 

Your brand ambassador’s responsibilities will likely be fairly light and easy, but you’ll want to ensure you give clear instructions about those responsibilities. Here are some ideas for what to include: 

  • Required frequency of branded or sponsored posts
  • Deadlines for time-sensitive posts like product reviews
  • Expected engagement with followers about the brand or product
  • If they should link to or share company posts

You should also outline consequences for not meeting the expectations, such as removal from the program or loss of payment. 

Final Thoughts

Brand ambassadors are one of the most effective marketing strategies today—in both reach and cost. They provide genuine endorsements to their established followings that make consumers trust your brand more. Take advantage of the power of word-of-mouth marketing and start looking for your first brand ambassadors today. 

About the Author:

Samantha Rupp holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. She is the managing editor for 365businesstips.com. She lives in San Diego, California and enjoys spending time on the beach, reading up on current industry trends, and traveling.

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