How NOT to Run a Brand Ambassador Program – Mistakes to Avoid

How NOT to Run a Brand Ambassador Program – Mistakes to Avoid

Recently at a conference I overheard two members of an online brand ambassador program kvetching.

Why? They couldn’t figure out what the brand wanted from them!

Months had gone by with no communication. The last time they heard from the brand was a long rambling email saying, “we appreciate your efforts.”

Efforts around what?  The brand ambassadors had no clue what they were supposed to do.

In the one and only conference call, the brand had vaguely mentioned a private online communication hub, but 10 months later it hadn’t been launched.  The brand had danced around the idea of publishing ambassador content on a corporate blog, but never told them how to submit posts. The brand had said they’d be in touch to coordinate an online event, then … crickets.

Step into the brand ambassador’s shoes for a moment. In this situation, it was an unpaid brand ambassador program.  Here you had two busy influencers volunteering their time to participate in the brand’s online community and social channels.  Both ran successful businesses of their own.

These two ambassadors wanted to do more. Yet they couldn’t get the brand to talk to them. How crazy is that?

The online or digital brand ambassadorship is a growing phenomenon and can have good ROI if done right.  Sadly, it’s all too easy to make brand ambassador program mistakes.

Here are the top three brand ambassador program mistakes that companies make — and how to avoid them:

1. Failure to communicate regularly

After you identify and assemble ambassadors in your digital brand ambassador program, the most important thing is to communicate regularly.

It sounds obvious, but what can happen is that a company doesn’t allocate enough resources to run a brand ambassador program.  Communication flags. Ambassadors lose interest. Eventually it runs out of steam.

If you don’t want that to happen, you have to keep momentum growing.  And communication is critical for that.

Ambassadors crave feedback, wondering, “What’s next?” “Are we making a difference?”  “What should we do more or less of?”

Group communications and one-on-one contact are important parts of the mix:

  • Send regular emails or communicate in an online forum.  Put the schedule on a calendar so you don’t forget.
  • Hold the occasional conference call or online conference.  Group communications get ambassadors excited. In a group they can bounce ideas off of each other.
  • If feasible, hold an in-person event for all ambassadors once a year.

One brand that I’m aware of does a great job communicating. The brand ambassador program manager sends a short email once a week that may contain links to relevant corporate blog posts of note, with a suggestion to share. The message may mention product launches or corporate events. Or it may highlight a few content contributions from other brand ambassadors for amplification.

The email is succinct, to the point, and easy to scan.  It’s got a clear subject line such as “Ambassador Update, Week of ___”.

The manager also holds a quarterly conference call and a yearly headquarters visit. This is great for two-way feedback and to strengthen relationships.

2. Not having clear program activities

Over the years, I’ve been part of several brand ambassador programs.

The biggest frustration for ambassadors, after lack of communication, is not knowing what’s expected of them.

Ask 10 people what a brand ambassador does, and you’ll get 10 different answers.

Adding to the confusion is that the term means different things in different contexts and markets.

In the small business market, ambassadors tend to be online influencers.  There’s some crossover with entrepreneur celebrities (such as the investors on Shark Tank). But most small business ambassadors are not actual celebrities.  Rather, they have a name in their niche, they are considered to have expertise in small business issues, and they have online followings.

Even more confusing is that some programs go by other names, such as influencer advisory board.

However you define “brand ambassador,” be clear about what you expect. What would you like your brand ambassadors to do?

  • If you want brand ambassadors to amplify particular content, send them a few links. Say “it would be super if you could share these with your communities as you see fit.” Or make it a standing assignment that you regularly remind ambassadors of.
  • If you’d like them to keep the conversation going on your community forum, assure them they’re making a difference. Perhaps give them a special badge for “Brand Ambassador” next to their online name as recognition for contributing.
  • If you have an upcoming product launch, arrange an ambassador briefing. Send an email saying, “We’ve arranged a pre-launch briefing for ambassadors on such and such a date, at this link – hope you can make it.”
  • If you’d like them to participate in a live online event or Twitter chat, invite them. Don’t rely on them seeing the notice in your social stream. And send another reminder the day before.
  • If you’d like them to create content, encourage it by suggesting a few topics.

Don’t make imperious demands, but don’t beat around the bush either.  Influencers and brand ambassadors are not mind readers.  They’re busy — get to the point!

3. Failing to ask brand ambassadors for input

In the anecdote at the beginning of this article, the brand ambassadors had ideas for how to reinvigorate the program, even if the brand didn’t.

They grumbled how the brand should do this and that in the program. Unfortunately no one listened.

Seek out input from your ambassadors:

  • Encourage open discussion during conference calls or in online forums.
  • One brand ambassador program emails a short survey every month. It contains 2 or 3 questions seeking specific input on products, brand messaging or program governance. The surveys take no more than a couple of minutes. Respondents are entered into a drawing for a $100 gift card. The brand spotlights the winning ambassador on the community forum.
  • This same brand also has a private “suggestion box” on its community forum, just for brand ambassadors. Even more impressive, someone from the brand acknowledges every suggestion!  Without fail.

It’s surprising how rarely brands ask influencers and ambassadors what they think or what they could do.  But in best of class initiatives, the brand asks.

Here’s to a successful brand ambassador program!

Image credit: Shutterstock