If you’re reading this, you’re likely aware of the greatest challenge facing marketers today: consistently producing and distributing highly engaging content. Sounds easy, right? Not necessarily.
Marketers — particularly those working in the social media space — are being asked to do more with less, meaning brands must find ways to supercharge their teams’ limited bandwidth and budget. Enter influencer marketing.
According to AdAge, only 31% of brands utilize ambassador programs, while nearly 74% of consumers use social to make purchasing decisions. Are you one of the 69% of brands missing out on this massive opportunity? Or perhaps you’re one of the 31%, ahead of the curve, and looking for ways to maximize your brand ambassador strategy?
Either way, you’re in the right place. Let’s talk about Brand Ambassadors: what they are, how they differ from traditional influencers, and how brands can (and should) leverage them in 2023.
What’s the difference between a creator and an influencer? This article uses ‘creator’ and ‘influencer’ interchangeably — influencer was introduced when brands began to tap into individuals on social, and since the rise of short-form video, ‘creator’ has been the favored term. This aligns with the democratization of content creation, which is no longer reserved for brands or marketing teams with big budgets.
A brand ambassador promotes a brand to generate positive brand awareness amongst their network and beyond.
Historically, brand ambassadors were celebrities or individuals with a global reach. Think Jennifer Garner and the now iconic ‘face splash’, circa 2013. June 2022 marked Garner’s 15th anniversary as a Neutrogena brand ambassador.
The brand advocacy that results from an ambassadorship is generally perceived by the public as more authentic due to the long-standing nature of the relationship. In other words, it’s easier to believe that someone is truly advocating for the brand (vs. advocating for a paycheck) when they feature the brand or product consistently over a long period of time, or when they actively use the product.
Celebrity ambassadors aren’t going anywhere. In fact, some TikTok creators have become celebrities in their own right. @alix_earle, featured by WWD as one of the fastest-growing beauty influencers on Instagram in 2022, has over 5 million followers across TikTok and Instagram. With that, today’s brand ambassadors are more likely to be influencers and creators, ranging from nano to micro, to macro-influencers.
This is great news for brands, as it opens up a world of opportunities for any budget. When a brand finds the right ambassador, the results have the potential to drive sustainable gains in reach and meaningful long-term ROI.
Brand ambassadors can come in all shapes and sizes. So, what are the different types of brand ambassadors, and which ones should brands work with?
Influencers are professional content creators with established credibility on social media. As a result, they have the special ability to mobilize the opinions and purchasing behaviors of their followers and fans. Influencers are often subdivided based on follower count as follows:
Brands should work with influencers for short-term boosts around campaigns and product launches. This is especially true for brands just starting to experiment with influencer marketing because influencers can be the ultimate precursor to successful long-term brand ambassador partnerships.
When seeking out influencers to work with, brands should look beyond follower numbers and prioritize metrics like engagement, posting cadence, follower demographics, as well as the nature and quality of content being shared. It’s important to find alignment between the influencer and the brand — otherwise content could be poorly received and dismissed by audiences as inauthentic, to the detriment of both parties’ credibility.
A whopping 97% of Gen Z consumers say they now use social media as their top source of shopping inspiration, and 91% of US Millennials use social media. What does this mean? Your customer is most likely on social media, consuming, creating, and sharing content.
Have you ever purchased online from Glossier or any preeminent beauty brand and posted a Reel or a TikTok of your haul? Maybe the branded sticker that came with your purchase now adorns the top of your laptop or your water bottle? If so, maybe you should consider becoming a customer ambassador.
With the advent of content creation tools and the shift from a social to a content graph, anyone can be a content creator and go viral. In other words, your customers are your biggest advocates and likely your biggest untapped resource.
Customer ambassadors are already fans and consumers of your brand. A customer ambassador program can start with something as simple as using a referral code or engaging with your customers through social media channels and reposting their content.
This avenue is often the most economical choice for brands, as it costs almost nothing to find or acquire these partners, as they are already in your network or your CRM, and often compensation can be settled in the form of products.
Expert ambassadors have a specialized industry-specific skill set. For example, experts in the fitness industry could include personal trainers and coaches, professional athletes, and yoga instructors. Experts in the home industry could include interior designers, architects, and so on.
This type of ambassador is a trusted source for technical knowledge and expertise. When the stars align, this added layer of credibility can lend itself beautifully to a brand.
Melanie Grant, an Australia-based facialist and skincare expert (and the magic behind Victoria Beckham’s famously luminous skin), has >100k followers on Instagram. Grant became CHANEL Australia’s first official Skin Expert in 2016. On the surface of this partnership, CHANEL gets exposure to Grant’s loyal social followers as well as Grant’s expertise, and Grant, in return, benefits from the prestige and credibility that comes with the luxury CHANEL brand. This is the perfect example of a mutually-beneficial partnership.
Expert ambassadors not only provide a superb inroad to an established niche community, but they are also excellent sources of knowledge and expertise. Typically, expert ambassadors are valued contributors to community education, product innovation, and co-developed campaigns and product lines.
Brands can also lean into expert ambassadors to build credibility in a new category or with a new audience. DSW, traditionally known as a discount shoe retailer, partners with expert stylist Dani Michelle, known for dressing the likes of Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber, to build credibility and traction in the luxury fashion world.
Affiliate ambassadors focus on driving conversions through trackable affiliate links. If you’ve clicked on an RStyle or LTK link, you’ve supported this type of partnership. Affiliate ambassadors earn a commission from every sale they drive for the brand.
Affiliate ambassadors may seem transactional on the surface. However, it’s important to note that affiliate marketing and affiliate ambassadors are different. Whereas affiliate marketing is used to drive short-term conversions during peak selling seasons, affiliate ambassadors are longer-term partners who advocate for the brand over a sustained period.
These ambassadors have the potential to drive meaningful revenue for brands by seamlessly connecting their own social posts to a brand’s product. For example, Laura Jade Stone, a fashion/lifestyle influencer and founder of Formi Hair, links her favorite clothing pieces with trackable links in her Instagram Stories.
Stone built a loyal following on Instagram by featuring her personal style and focusing on fashion. Interestingly, she does not add links to all of her posts — in fact, she often doesn’t. It follows that when links are included, her audience is made to feel grateful in a way. Stone has effectively built a personal platform for conversions, the perfect nucleus for an affiliate partnership. She is often seen wearing pieces from (and linking to) brands like The Iconic, Reformation, and Luisa Via Roma.
As a rule of thumb, brand ambassadors can be considered the ‘next-level’ influencer partnership. We can think of influencers as independent agents with their own personal brands and platforms. In this context, influencers are often recruited for one-off or short-term initiatives. In some cases, when effectiveness has been proven, and brand alignment is undeniable, influencers can naturally evolve into the next stage of partnership: brand ambassadorship.
The biggest difference between an influencer and an ambassador lies in the depth of connection to the brand. An ambassador is effectively an extension of the brand, someone who shares the same core values and advocates for the brand in an authentic way. An influencer relationship, by contrast, is more transactional.
With that in mind, brands should be wary of enlisting influencers for one-off posts. A Dash Hudson partner in the beauty space noted that for influencers to convert, they need to post about the product a minimum of 7-10 times. In other words, the consumer is getting wiser and seeing right through the #ad hashtag. A single post about a product is no longer enough to drive sustainable ROI.
Brand ambassadors are tasked with creating positive brand awareness by bridging the divide between brand and consumer. Often this means creating content to share on their own personal social channels, as well as creating content for the brand directly.
While ambassadors are expected to promote brands on social media, they are also traditionally engaged in brand initiatives like community education, co-developed product lines, and events.
A good brand ambassador is genuinely enthusiastic about the brand. Not surprisingly, the most effective ambassadors are those who are authentic brand fans from the beginning. Far more important than follower count or TikTok fame, an ambassador should embody the brand’s core values and audience.
The characteristics of a good brand ambassador will vary for every brand — if you’re a small, emerging brand, embarking on an ambassador partnership with someone with millions of followers and higher rates might not be realistic. But someone with high engagement and a lower number of followers might be a perfect fit.
When selecting ambassadors (in addition to whatever is specified for your brand), ask the following questions:
Now, for the big question: should follower count matter? Based on Dash Hudson’s research, nano-influencers receive 192% higher effectiveness rates and 213% higher engagement rates than micro-influencers. This is very important: don’t judge a creator by their follower count. Nano-influencers excel at meaningful interaction with their followers. This means greater influence and a higher likelihood of driving loyalty.
For a deeper dive into key creator trends for 2023, including more on cultivating a roster of brand ambassadors, check out Dash Hudson’s Global Digital Insights Report.
Ambassador relationships can be trickier to select and navigate, but the EMV and ROI potential for influencer partnerships far outweighs the impact of one-off influencer collaborations. When you find the right ambassador mix, you will have unlocked one of the most impactful ways to drive brand awareness among new audiences while building a sustainable, high-quality content creation pipeline.
Read on for simple, actionable tips on how to manage your brand ambassadors.
S.M.A.R.T. goals are one of the few things that stick with you from school because they’re important and apply to real life. Start every project with S.M.A.R.T. goals (in case you skipped that day: Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound).
What are you looking to accomplish with your brand ambassador program: Is it brand awareness? Are you looking to supplement your tapped content creation engine? Are you looking to access new markets? Or to grow your email list?
Ask yourself these questions upfront, be specific, and then identify your metrics for success. Need some inspiration on what types of metrics to measure? Skip ahead to the last tip in this list.
The best way to empower your brand ambassadors is to honor their creativity and treat them like respected business partners. Yes, creative briefs and social media guidelines are important — but don’t be overbearing. You chose the brand ambassador for their authenticity — so let them shine in their own authentic way.
Respect can take the form of eliciting feedback. A brand ambassador is just as much a representative of your target audience as they are a representative of your brand. Invite them to share product feedback and take their contributions seriously. They are likely closer to your customer than you are.
Aside from this, continue to engage with your brand ambassadors in a meaningful way through social channels — and not just on the content featuring your brand! An unexpected affirming comment or DM can go a long way.
Create thoughtful social media guidelines for your brand ambassadors. Remember, your ambassadors are extensions of your brand. Include things like your brand personality, style notes, branded hashtags, content pillars, desired content types (these campaigns should differ across channels), and most importantly, legal disclosure information (e.g., using #ad).
In your social media guidelines, be sure to specify the metrics that will be tracked. For a comprehensive look at the most important metrics by channel, check out our social media analytics blog.
As if a marketer’s job wasn’t challenging enough, audience preferences are constantly changing. The point is, you may think you know your audience. Think again.
To ensure you have a pulse on audience trends at any given time, set yourself up with a dashboard that reports on trends like growth rate, demographic shifts, and content preferences across organic channels. Once you start tracking these metrics on a regular basis, you will be surprised at how volatile they can be. These insights are as relevant to you as they are to your brand ambassadors. Share the data when it’s appropriate, and make informed decisions about your partnerships based on what’s working for your audience.
Lastly, and arguably the most important tip — establish a regular reporting cadence for all of your ambassadors. You might be wondering what this reporting should look like and how to compile the data from social accounts you don’t own. Modern social tools can report on creator account performance as long as the account is professional. Without a social tool, it becomes a bit trickier; you’ll need to ask your creators to send screenshots of their data (not as pretty, but it will do in a pinch).
Dash Hudson tracks all the content in which a brand is tagged or @mentioned, ensuring that a meaningful partnership opportunity is never missed. Our Relationships tool tracks and analyzes your creator and influencer partners with proprietary metrics like Followers Gained and Earned Media Value (EMV). This provides marketers with a seamless opportunity to report on the effectiveness of all of their social media partnerships in one place and to illustrate ROI over time.
Finally, Dash Hudson Campaigns provide a holistic overview of cross-channel campaign performance, highlighting which channels, content types, and creators are driving ROI for your brand.
Yes, brand ambassadors are compensated. Sometimes they are compensated with free products or event admission in exchange for posting content. Other partnerships are well-suited to an affiliate model, where the ambassador is paid a monthly commission on sales originating from their affiliate links. While it’s important to pay your ambassadors fairly, given the deeper nature of the partnership you are trying to build, it is arguably just as important to prioritize interactions and (in-person) engagement opportunities.
In some cases, brand ambassadorship can impact a business to the point of equity. Nudestix has taken influencer marketing to the next level by elevating its beauty influencers into investors. As per Glossy, the brand has labeled these deals as a CSOP, or celebrity stock option plan. Essentially, in exchange for equity in the company, they are now “perma-influencers” for the brand.
This depends on a multitude of factors, including the duration of the agreement, the scope of work, and the brand ambassador’s previous experience, among other things. The Influencer Marketing Hub breaks down how much influencers earn per post by channel. Keep in mind that longer-term brand ambassador partnerships should be mutually beneficial agreements over a sustained period, meaning content costs should decrease with a longer-term fixed agreement.
A good brand ambassador should be creative, engaging, entertaining, and entrepreneurial. Ambassadors should be social media experts with a penchant for metrics.
A brand ambassador should use whatever tactics are best suited to their skills. Generally speaking, brand ambassadors should be prepared to represent the brand offline through word-of-mouth. Brands often organize in-person events and brand activations, during which it is very common for brand ambassadors to attend.
To find brand ambassadors, first tap into your existing customer and follower base. Brand ambassadors that start as authentic brand fans are often the best fit. What influential accounts are already following you? Second, check out your @mentions and tags to see who might be featuring your brand already. Next, check out some adjacent brands with similar audiences to yours to see what creators they’re working with.