Ambassador Programs vs Influencer Programs – Which Model Makes Sense for Your Brand?

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If you’re new to the influencer marketing game, you may have heard the term “brand ambassador” and figured it was just a synonym for an influencer. Don’t worry—we’ve all been there. 

While influencers and brand ambassadors have some similarities, they also have some key differences that set them apart. 

So what makes an ambassador different from an influencer? And how do you know which is right for your brand? Let’s dive into these answers together. 

Brand ambassador vs influencer: What is the difference?

It’s common for an ambassador program to include influencers or for an influencer program to include brand ambassadors. These terms—brand ambassador and influencer—are easy to confuse because there is some overlap between the two.

For example, both primarily use social media to create online communities of like-minded consumers. Additionally, each will take intentional steps to build a personal brand and grow their audience. And finally, both do what they do professionally, even though they may only partner with brands “on the side” or on top of their day job.

But there are also key differences. Some brands that have mastered long-term influencer relationships convert their influencer programs into ambassador programs. Brand ambassadors are distinct in the following ways:

  • Brand ambassadorships are long-term relationships exclusively.
  • Ambassadors are more inclined to partner with a relatively short list of brands.
  • They are members of a brand ambassador community.
  • While creative and appealing, they usually prioritize a certain kind of lifestyle over crowd-pleasing posts.

By contrast, influencers may embody some of the characteristics above but are different in the following ways:

  • Influencers nearly always have at least 1,000 followers on social media.
  • They prioritize creating compelling content for their audience.
  • Influencer-brand relationships may be short or long-term.
  • Influencer compensation is campaign-based and structured.

By looking at both groups more closely, you will begin to see how each is unique and why both are essential in today’s social media marketing landscape.

man holding a guitar

Pros of a brand ambassador program

As a general rule, brand ambassadors are more deeply connected with the brands they partner with than influencers. As such, they act as true customer advocates.

In general, brand ambassadors: 

  • Are committed brand fans. 
  • Form more personal connections with their audience than influencers.
  • Foster a greater sense of trust within their community. 

When a brand ambassador talks about your products, their fans will see their genuine love, which can spur action and encourage purchases. 

Cons of a brand ambassador program 

Developing a strong brand ambassador program can take some time and a lot of effort.

To start an ambassador program, you first need to identify which creators you want to work with. We recommend beginning with short-term partnerships to see who produces the best results and then developing long-term relationships with the top performers. 

Then, you must foster a sense of community for your team of ambassadors. To get the best results, they need to feel like a true member of your team. 

When is an ambassador program right for your brand? 

Ambassador marketing is ideal for niche markets and premium products and services. Because ambassadors exert more effort to become expert users of your products or services, they are in a better position to showcase your brand.

Additionally, these ambassadors naturally guide their followers toward ideal purchases for specific uses and problems. Audiences gain a better understanding of all the ways that a high-quality product or service can enhance their way of life.

Pros of a brand influencer program

Influencers are social media power users that are experts at creative, compelling content. While influencers are still industry-specific, they often appeal to broader audiences than brand ambassadors.

In general, influencers: 

  • Have at least 1,000 followers. 
  • Know how to create content that resonates with their audiences. 
  • Have experience working with brands to create content that doesn’t come across as salesy. 

Cons of a brand influencer program 

Compared to ambassador programs, influencer programs tend to be shorter and only last for a set amount of time.

While this can be great for certain needs, brands can miss out on the benefits of a long-term relationship, like better creative flow, more brand stability, and more opportunities for creator feedback, among other things. 

When is an influencer program right for your brand? 

If one of your main goals is to build brand awareness, an influencer program may be the way to go. Since influencers have such large followings, they can be a great medium for sharing your products with a lot of people relatively quickly. 

Additionally, if you like to run marketing campaigns around certain times of the year or are new to the creator economy, an influencer program is a great place to start. 

You can use an influencer program to try different types of influencers and expand your audience. Once you feel comfortable managing your influencer relationships, you may want to continue to scale your influencer program or convert it to an ambassador program.

Brands with some of the best ambassador programs 

Cuts Clothing 

@kenxtori Use “KENXTORI” for 15% off @cuts www.cutsclothing.com 🔥 #cutsclothing #alwayson #madethecut #cutsteam #mensfashion #travelcouple #tiktokfashionmonth ♬ оригинальный звук – ezi4kaa

In order to build brand awareness on TikTok, Cuts, an apparel company focusing on high-quality basics, developed partnerships with ambassadors who were tasked with creating 1-2 videos a month. 

Whether they were highlighting new products or creating content around a certain holiday, these ambassadors delivered. Together, they collectively produced over 20 pieces of content with a 10%+ engagement rate and <$120 CPA. 

Organifi

Organifi, a company creating delicious and nutritious juice blends, wanted to foster a sense of community among their fans, so they created the Organifi Collective. 

The Organifi Collective is a group of ambassadors who serve as extensions of the brand. Organifi began building this group by identifying creators whose audience demographics matched the brand’s target and then sending them free products in exchange for posts so they could see whose content resonated most. After identifying high performers, they converted them to ambassadors. 

JOLYN

@shwimshady this month’s jolyn goodies!! #ad #jolyncollegiate #jolyn @jolynclothing ♬ Buttercup – Jack Stauber

JOLYN, a swimwear, surf suit, and activewear brand, developed a Collegiate Athlete Ambassador Program to help their clothing reach a larger audience. Instead of recruiting pro athletes, they realized they could get more authentic content from brand ambassadors with smaller followings. 

Learn More About Their Collegiate Athlete Ambassador Program: Athletes as Content Creators: GRIN Gets Real Podcast

How to create a successful brand ambassador program

Step 1: Set your program objectives.

First things first—you need to sit down and figure out what you want your ambassador program to accomplish. If you already have an influencer or affiliate program, it’s essential to distinguish your ambassador goals from your other program goals, even if there is overlap.

Brand ambassadors usually give you a deeper connection and more personal engagements with niche audiences. By deciding how you want to leverage those connections, you’ll be able to set reliable performance goals and track ROI.

Some common brand ambassador objectives are:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase conversions
  • Increase user-generated content and brand sentiment
  • Build social proof
  • Drive website traffic

Step 2: Define the kind of ambassador that you want to partner with.

To find the best brand ambassadors, you’ll want to connect with true brand fans. Doing so might mean that you look less at follower counts and more closely at how that person likes to promote your brand.

Additionally, you’ll need to decide what post frequency will be most effective and authentic for your audience. 

Next, brands that use ambassadors will look closely at that ambassador’s audience and the relationship between the ambassador and members of their audience. Most brand ambassadors do their best to engage follower comments and questions in a timely manner.

Lastly, you’ll want to think carefully about what sets your brand ambassadors apart from your influencers and affiliates. Your ambassadors should be an elite group of brand promoters that do what your other customer advocates can’t.

Step 3: Break your program objectives down into ambassador KPIs.

Based on your program objectives and ideal ambassador profile, you can determine key performance indicators (KPIs) to track.

For example, your program KPIs might include the following target metrics:

  • # of posts (pieces of content) per month
  • # of views/impressions per month
  • # of link clicks per month
  • # of conversions per month

Step 4: Take a look at your fan base and active influencers.

Before recruiting ambassadors, you might take stock of your social media fan base. If you already have an influencer program, this is also a great place to start.

Ideally, you want your brand ambassadors to love your brand so much that you don’t have to incentivize them to promote your products and services. By looking at those fans who tag your brand or genuinely love your products/services, you’re more likely to target the best brand ambassador candidates.

Step 5: Create an ambassador program page.

Many ambassador candidates will come to you without you seeking them out. Because of this, it’s always a good idea to have a brand ambassador page that tells candidates what you are looking for and how they can apply.

Step 6: Invite prospects to join your ambassador program for the long term.

When approaching prospective ambassadors, you should make it known that you are looking for long-term partnerships. At the beginning of your program, you’ll most likely be doing the outreach.

It’s perfectly acceptable to utilize direct messaging on the social media platform where the individual likes to post (Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook). If the influencer or social media user has a collaboration email address on their profile, you can reach out to them through email.

You should try to keep your outreach concise and to the point. A great ice breaker is to offer them some free products.

Before you accept someone into your ambassador program, it’s important that you know that they love your products. That’s why product gifting is a great way to launch your ambassador outreach.

Step 7: Set ambassador expectations using your program KPIs.

Using the KPIs you established early on, you can onboard your ambassadors by letting them know what your expectations are of them as they begin promoting your brand.

It’s also critical to let your ambassadors know what is or isn’t allowed, as well as some general guidelines for achieving the best results. While you don’t want to micromanage your brand ambassadors, you should have an agreement that members sign before they officially join your program.

Step 8: Decide on a compensation package.

With any customer advocacy program, you’ll need to decide how to compensate your ambassadors for their promotional content.

On this point, marketers don’t always see eye to eye. Some marketers insist that you shouldn’t pay commissions to ambassadors. Instead, they feel that to keep your program authentic, you should only use product seeding (free products and services).

Other brands do offer their ambassadors commissions for their conversion efforts. A perfect example of a successful commission structure for ambassadors is Tubby Todd’s ambassador program.

On the other hand, Nutpods decided to set up both an affiliate program and an ambassador program. For ambassadors, they only give free products in exchange for promotional content. But if someone wanted to receive commissions, they could join Nutpods’ affiliate program instead.

Choosing the best compensation package for your program will often come down to what is most important to your top performers, whether it’s gifts, perks, or cash payments. That said, transactional relationships nearly always result in less authenticity

Step 9: Track ambassador content and performance.

After creating an ambassador team, you’ll need to track posts and performance. In the beginning, you can manually track your program using the appropriate social media platform and spreadsheets. 

Among the most important metrics to track are:

  • Post frequency
  • Views/impressions
  • Engagement (reactions, comments, shares, etc.)
  • Link clicks
  • Sales

Once you have several ambassadors and an established program, you’ll need a more robust platform to save time and track these metrics more accurately. 

Step 10: Use current and past performance to screen future ambassadors.

If you track post metrics and KPIs closely, you’ll quickly see where you can tweak your program to achieve a higher ROI. More importantly, you can use these metrics to improve how you screen your ambassadors.

Creating long-term relationships with your brand ambassadors 

Because your ambassador partnerships should be long-term relationships, you’ll achieve better results if you can find ways to stay connected with your ambassador team.

Keep ambassadors informed. 

First, consider how you will keep your ambassadors informed. For example, your ambassadors need to know if you’re launching a new product line or a sitewide promotion. Some simple ways to keep your team informed are to send ambassador newsletters over email or social media DMs.

Nurture a sense of community. 

Next, you should think of ways to nurture a sense of community among your ambassadors. You can accomplish this by creating live virtual events or inviting people to join monthly or quarterly webinars where you feature one or more top performers.

Keep ambassadors engaged. 

It’s essential that you find ways to keep your ambassadors engaged. Contests, new perks, and ambassador events are just a few techniques brands use to increase engagement within their ambassador team.

Seek feedback. 

Lastly, it’s critical that you seek regular feedback from your ambassadors. 

Hosting virtual team meetings that involve members from marketing, customer service, and product development can help you put ambassador feedback into action. Also, you can send out ambassador surveys on occasion to solicit additional feedback that will improve your products and brand message.

Key takeaway: Leveraging customer advocacy could be your most lucrative strategy. 

Influencers and brand ambassadors are prolific members of a subgroup known as customer advocates. As customer advocates, these individuals help brands enhance their credibility and social proof among consumers.

Third-party mentions will help your brand work smarter (not harder) when it comes to customer acquisition. Furthermore, brand ambassadorships give your biggest fans the opportunity to enjoy special privileges, driving customer loyalty among fan followers. 

Frequently Asked Questions

As a general rule, brand ambassadors are more deeply connected with the brands they partner with than influencers. As such, they act as true customer advocates.

Here are some other key differences between influencers and brand ambassadors:

  • Ambassadors are committed brand fans, as well as social media power users. Influencers may or may not feel as strongly about the brands they choose to partner with.
  • Ambassadors form long-term relationships with brands. Influencers may only partner with brands on a short-term (or “one-off” basis), such as special events or seasonal promotions.
  • Ambassadors can still be effective with follower counts of less than 1,000. Influencers usually have a minimum of 1,000 followers on their preferred channel.
  • Ambassadors form stronger connections with members of their audience. Many influencers grow so popular that it is impossible for them to maintain deep connections with all or most of their engaged followers.

Influencers can be brand ambassadors and vice versa. However, when brands use either term, they typically have a particular set of goals in mind. Either way, both influencers and ambassadors are social media power users with a keen ability to connect with fellow consumers online. 

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