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4 Ways to Build Your Brand Ambassador Dream Team Lyft, The Skimm and others have won followers and market share by attracting ambassadors happy to spread the word in their trusted circles.

By Brian Freeman Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Social media influencers have cemented their place in brand advertising because consumers are increasingly likely to trust the right influencers. A joint study by analytics firm Annalect and Twitter found that social media users on average trust influencers' opinions as much as their own friends'. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed reported purchasing an item after seeing an influencer promoting it.

Some brands, however, try to avoid the price tag associated with better-known influencers by engaging with "micro-influencers" -- though those people aren't always the perfect answer, either. That's where brand ambassadors come in.

Related: Influencers vs. Ambassadors vs. Advocates: Stop the Confusion!

Brand ambassadors aren't people who started their accounts with a specific theme in mind, then gained followers using hashtags and following like-minded accounts. Instead, they're natural consumers with followings of real-life friends and people who trust their opinions. So, if you're a brand looking for an endorsement, choosing a brand ambassador over a micro-influencer may help you gain a rush of new customers based on trusted recommendations and meaningful engagement.

News flash: Social media matters.

The typical social media user generally is focused on collecting followers from his or her friend circles, not from the world at large. If you're a brand working with consumers, this type of user is much more helpful to your cause. Unlike micro-influencers, who have very little real-world impact on their followers' lives, brand ambassadors have personal connections with their followers and can have offline conversations about what your brand has to offer.

Eighty-three percent of consumers surveyed by a Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Report said they trusted loved ones' recommendations, and were also more likely to discuss products offline with their friends than to contact a micro-influencer whose post they'd scrolled past on Instagram.

So, before calling on an account to speak on behalf of your brand, investigate its followers and engagement patterns, paying special attention to its "like follower ratio," or number of likes it gets in relation to its number of followers. To put it simply: The quality of an account's followers matters more than the quantity.

Related: 5 Interactions to Help Improve Your Follower Loyalty on Social Media

Lyft is a brand that has made great use of high-quality brand ambassadors. The ride-sharing service first made its name in that category by appearing to be the anti-Uber, "friendly and authentic" alternative. To cultivate this image further, the company used real people to spread its message, recruiting ambassadors by engaging with interested parties and making its ambassador program a core part of its company message.

That strategy worked: The company grew its market share by more than 135 percent in one year, according to Uber, its main competitor, dropped from 84 percent share to 77 percent between January and May, owing to reputational issues, according to a Financial Times report citing Second Measure research.

Email newsletter The Skimm has also used ambassadors to expand its reach, growing its subscription audience to about 1 million within three years. It credits most of this growth to its program called Skimm'bassadors, which has gamified the concept of representing a brand, giving people points and rewards for actions such as adding friends. These ambassadors are split into age groups, with one Facebook group devoted to college-age advocates, and one for all other ambassadors.

How to find -- and keep -- the perfect ambassadors

Brands looking for the same positive results that Lyft and The Skimm have seen can certainly realize them; they simply must ttract the right people to act as ambassadors. Here's how:

1. Reach out to competitors' social media followers. Examine which followers frequently comment on or like competitors' social media accounts, and establish contact. My company, Heartbeat, did just this to build its following, although this method can be hard to scale. Try bundling followers.

Our team, for example, looked at brands similar to our own. Instagram allows for this through its "like similar pages" option (found under the arrow toggle), where it is possible to see how other brands engage with their audiences. To build a following, follow those competitors' active followers. Comment on their posts and engage with them directly, inviting them to your program. If you have very few Instagram followers of your own, start here.

2. Develop a consistent online presence. In today's digital-focused society, every company should have a well-branded Instagram and Facebook page. Respond promptly and frequently to people engaging with those pages. If you develop an ambassador program for your company, roll it out on every available digital channel. Consistence is key: According to a survey by SDL, 90 percent of participating consumers said they expect brand interactions to be consistent, no matter what the platform.

Develop an email list, and stay engaged with it. Services such as MailChimp are perfect solutions for startups embarking on their first email lists, but it's vital for whoever is in charge of the list to write and communicate with the audience regularly. Use your emails to mention any existing ambassador programs, and include specific follow-up actions to engage with readers.

Related: Social Media Matters in Marketing for More Reasons Than You Think

3. Call out success stories. Our team highlights successes by featuring winners of any competitions we sponsor or any noteworthy posts by our ambassadors -- such highlights are even automated into every campaign. People crave recognition, and we reward people by putting them on stage. Additionally, we send automated emails during campaigns that show which ambassadors are receiving the most engagement and driving the most clicks. A little healthy competition goes a long way!

However, we aren't the only team that uses this tactic. Men's short-shorts startup Chubbies, for example, relies on young, male social media ambassadors to spread the word. The company gives its ambassadors weekly outreach and content challenges for which the winners receive rewards in the form of sweatshirts, sunglasses and even mullet wigs. Ambassadors even get discount codes to use on Chubbies merchandise and can have their content featured on the company's social media channels. The brand has garnered 400 ambassadors using these methods.

4. Keep current ambassadors engaged. Similar to how The Skimm ensures its ambassadors are firmly engaged with its company mission, brands should build solid frameworks of engagement that keep ambassadors invested with the company mission, so that they stay inclined to keep advocating for it.

Make any rewards brand-specific: Gift cards, merchandise or coupons should all be for your company, not a third party. Not only can this merchandise act as a type of advertisement, but it can also encourage ambassadors' friends to follow their lead and join up.

For today's entrepreneurs, social media is more than just a fun add-on. Consumers have come to expect companies to have multiple accounts, and they rely on online recommendations from friends and family. Grow a brand ambassador on these platforms, and watch those fans of yours literally share their love for the company.

Brian Freeman

Founder and CEO, Heartbeat

Brian Freeman is the CEO and founder of Heartbeat, the first platform for ambassador-powered marketing at scale. Heartbeat has more than 130,000 on-demand female brand ambassadors for launching turnkey ambassador solutions and has done campaigns with diverse brands, including Amazon, Laura Mercier, Saks Fifth Avenue, Warner Brothers and Netflix.

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