brand advocate, complete with car

People love helping others. According to research by Leader Networks CEO Vanessa DiMauro, 80 percent of people participate in online communities just because they like helping others. They love carrying the torch, feeling altruistic and finding a sense of belonging in doing so. This is community at its finest. 

And it’s good for business. Hootsuite reports that businesses with volunteer brand ambassador programs see huge influxes in word-of-mouth referrals, social brand mentions and positive NPS scores. 

So how do you harness your customers’ native altruism? By giving them a place to go to share what they love: Start an ambassador program. Here’s how to get going... 

1. Answer the Call

If people are asking how they can help or be more involved, tell them you’ll find a way — even if you can’t that very day. Don’t blow them off. If no one is asking to help overtly, all hope is not lost. Gather a few people and then float the idea by them. If you’re a bigger company, consider doing what Prezi did: Throw up a landing page and ask for applications. Get the ball rolling.

Prezi ambassador program

CreativeMornings started its ambassador program with friends who really wanted to stimulate creative conversation in their local communities. Founder Tina Roth Eisenberg kept saying that she didn’t want to expand the program, but people kept begging her to do it. Finally, she answered the call, and now the group hosts more than 100 global meetups every year. Now, that’s brand reach.

Just start to gather your people. Just say yes. 

2. Give Them Access

A little in-company access can go a long way. 

Talk individually to each prospective ambassador first, making the program seem as exclusive as possible. You should then give them a place to talk to you and each other before you move forward. This will afford them direct access to your team, making them feel heard and part of the creation process.

Just to run your pilot program, you can start with a group on Facebook, a Slack channel, a Mightybell circle (this is how LeanIn’s ambassador program got started) or, if you have more resources, a private forum solution built into your site. 

3. Structure the Program, Just a Little 

As the organizer of the program, it’s your job to put your trust in other people, to develop them as leaders, and ultimately to let go of control. But, to start with, you still need to give your members some structure. The best way to get started is to create something simple – don’t get complicated with the first iteration. 

Outline a few things that ambassadors can expect to do when they join your program and a few benefits they’ll receive. 

CloudPeeps, for instance, began its ambassador program with a simple email invitation that outlined the five expectations of ambassadors and the five perks of joining. Then it brought everyone into a shared space to discuss. 

At CMX, we started our CMX Series meetup program with too many rules and too big of a handbook, and we ended up turning passionate people away. After talking to our most active organizer in a Google Hangout, we decided to strip down the program and give everyone access if they had the will to lead. 

4. Talk It Out

In your community space, continually engage ambassadors in conversation. What can you offer to help them? What are they getting stuck on? Are your incentives matching up with what they joined to do? Check in regularly. 

Schedule regular shared events for ambassadors right out the gate so they start to feel like part of a shared group. Even feedback sessions or Google Hangouts are enough to create shared experiences that add up to a longer-term sense of belonging. 

5. Deliver on Your Promises

This one sounds easy, but it requires that you get buy-in from your company on listening to your members. This is what establishes trust for the long haul. When you say you are going to deliver resources to your ambassadors, deliver them. When you say you’ll share their feedback, share it and tell them what happened. 

6. Deliver Rewards

Most ambassador programs include a heavy dose of branded swag, from notebooks to T-shirts to stickers. In doing so, many lose the human touch and feel like a cheap ploy to get people in the game. Include a handwritten note along with the swag you send, including suggestions for what to do when they receive it (snap a photo, say hi via email, add the position to your LinkedIn profile, etc.). 

If you simply send a T-shirt and referral code business cards in the mail in a padded envelope with no context (I’ve seen this done, and it gives me the community creeps), you are not creating a sense of belonging. You’re bribing people.

7. Keep Asking, Keep Measuring

Before you start the program, you need to know what success will look like. This will be highly dependent on your business, what you’re selling and the activities your ambassadors will take part in. 

Here are some hints to get you started:

  • Product: Number of ideas generated from ambassadors at monthly meetings or feedback sessions; fixes to bugs as a result of conversations with ambassadors
  • Marketing: Increase in NPS score before and after the program; referral rates from ambassador content on website (or you can even manually track referrals by region or simply by asking “Where did you hear about us?”)
  • Sales: Revenue generated from referrals by ambassador codes
  • Customer Support: Number of support issues solved in ambassador events or user groups; number of emails diverted to ambassadors to answer (with a program like Directly)

8. Don’t Stop Creating

Just because you have set up the program, that doesn’t mean you’re done. You should be continually meeting with your ambassadors and finding new ways to give back to them. 

The CreativeMornings team, for instance, hosts a large annual event for all of its city organizers, where they take their feedback and compile hundreds of ideas to prioritize and execute over the coming year. 

Ambassador programs become a generous process in co-creation. Once the program is underway, you’ll wonder how you ever built anything worthwhile before having these partners at your fingertips.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Carolyn Coles