Influencers vs. Ambassadors vs. Advocates: Stop the Confusion! Do you know the differences and what these different players can do for your brand?

By Bill Sussman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Brand influencers, ambassadors and advocates are everywhere these days. Think of bloggers, social media mavens and celebrities active in both of those two activities. Apparently these efforts work: A recent study by Schlesinger Associates showed that 81 percent of companies that had deployed an influencer campaign were very satisfied with the results; however, one of the biggest challenges was influencer selection.

Related: How to Build Your Brand by Awarding the Influencers

This isn't surprising, as mass confusion prevails in today's market around the different terms being used to describe influencers. I recently read an article in which a statement was made that the difference among influencers, ambassadors and advocates is just a "function of the brand." This is simply not true. There are definitive differences, and it's important to understand them.

Make sense of the world of influence by thinking about baseball.

Influencer, blogger, brand ambassador, advocate: These terms are used interchangeably, but there are vast differences in the influence they wield, what they will do for a brand and what they get paid. I find that when I explain these differences, baseball references can help.

"Farm teams" are bloggers looking to break into the influencer major league. They have influence in their smaller social spheres. "Major leaguers" are influencers who have made it and can hit home runs. They have a proven track record for creating engagement. "All-star" teams are celebrities and those few among all influencers who attain web-celeb status. Finally, "advocates" and "fans" are the ones sitting in the stadium rooting for the brand because they love the brand. But let's break things down further.

1. Influencers

Different standards determine these individuals' influence, from web-only to celebrity status. Influencers cross multiple platforms and increasingly require a paid arrangement to do business. They:

  • Write about brands they have an affinity for.
  • Protect their personal brand, as that is as important as the brand they choose to represent.
  • Must be a good fit/valuable for both the influencer and the brand.
  • Treat their blogs and other social channels as a business.
  • Work for compensation, meaning brand ambassadorships, money, and product exchange.
  • Have large, engaged followings and, typically, specific areas of expertise.
  • Bring trust/expertise they fight to protect.

Related: How Influencers Should Be Compensated by Brands

2. Brand ambassadors

Brand ambassadors are influencers hired by brands for long-term relationships. They differ from influencers, who might be used only for a short-term campaign. They are in effect paid spokespeople for the brand.

  • They are given inside knowledge about the brand.
  • They are typically paid on a retainer basis.
  • They are usually an expert that relates to the brand/product.
  • They wear their brand ambassorship loudly and proudly across their channels.
  • Brand ambassadorships are highly coveted by influencers.

3. Bloggers

Bloggers may be considered influencers, depending on their engagement levels. They begin their blogs based on passions and often build followings that validate them as influencers.

  • Their blogs could be a hobby or personal outlet or a means to work from home and build a business or personal brand. A deep dive into their motives is critical during the selection process.
  • They avidly engage with brands to build their audience and get relationships with brands.
  • They work for some level of value exchange: money, free product, recognition, and visibility.
  • The level of the blogger and his or her engagement varies greatly and by topic.
  • Their power to influence is lower; but they do provide content/information to readers.

4. Advocates

Advocates are super fans and brand loyalists who engage with the brand because they truly love it and will take action if asked. They may or may not have a sphere of influence themselves.

5. Fans

Fans like the brand. They don't necessarily activate on social platforms. They:

  • Tend to be loyal and very happy customers.
  • Talk about and recommend brands on social media because they like them.
  • May or may not be bloggers. (But they might tattoo your brand's logo on their arm.)
  • Crave engagement and recognition from the brand they follow.
  • Do not expect compensation.
  • Influencers within their peer groups but lack at blog platform.

The first step in influencer selection begins by understanding the major differences in what each of these influential categories will do for your brand. Brands should also develop a clear strategy, objectives and predetermined key performance indicators (KPIs). Having this mapped out will infinitely help you select your influencer.

Influencer marketing should be a part of brands' marketing mixes, as these individuals are invaluable for driving engagement and bringing in new audiences. To this end, it is essential to do your homework to select the most effective influencers for your brand.

Related: Marketing Via Paid Online Influencers Sees Dramatic Growth in Survey

Wavy Line
Bill Sussman

President and CEO of Collective Bias

Bill Sussman is president and CEO of Collective Bias, a shopper social-media company that drives sales for brands and retailers by working with a community of expert bloggers who create social content consumers actively seek out and trust. Sussman has deep experience in digital marketing, retail and media industries, and has previously held leadership positions at Nickelodeon, Walmart, Triad Retail Media and Ringling Bros.

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