Ambassador Programs & The Influencer Marketing Conundrum

Ambassador Programs & The Influencer Marketing Conundrum

Connect-SF-ambassadors-image Inman Ambassadors NYC 2012As an Ambassador both formally and informally with a number of different organizations/companies and individuals I have come to a few conclusions about the best way to harness Influencer Marketing.

Inman News:

A couple of thoughts: For Inman the program works fairly well and there are a couple of reasons.

1. The Ambassadors are respected professionals within the Real Estate Vertical who have achieved their own level of success and have developed their own ‘club’ which is cemented at every conference etc. They happily promote each other and build friendships and established referal networks. See The Best of the Best Inman Connect Ambassadors Announcement
2. Inman does a good job of shining the light BACK on the Ambassadors.
3. The inherent ‘profile raising
4. Opportunities to be ‘published‘ on Inman Next
However at one point we (The Ambassadors) were referred to as ‘Super Fans’ and aligned with an image of a crazed football super fan with his face all painted up and a crazed look in his eye!
That was NOT cool. I am not some crazy fan. I am a professional who worked hard to establish myself as a contributor and a thought leader amongst my peers. It was the first time that I felt like I was being ‘used’. Like I said: NOT cool.

Brian Solis and The Pivot Conference:

The Ambassador program for The Pivot Conference is a tad more structured, directed and has a more robust technologically driven back end. BUT the community is missing. And I believe it’s the nature of the beast. For instance, Pivot’s core target audience are Fortune 500 CEOs most of which are NOT hanging out on Twitter. Most of the Ambassadors (from what I can tell) are smaller Social Media enthusiasts and community managers. It’s not necessarily a great fit as our audiences tend not to be the target. In terms of generating basic ‘buzz’ its fine, but I highly doubt we’re driving much traffic to ticket sales.
This year we were ‘tasked’ with pre-constructed tweets to share which is helpful in terms of time savings and a little nudge to remember to share. The overall experience is honestly more expectation and less reward other than the opportunity to be aligned with a killer brand and promoting a product I believe in.  Pivot has incorporated a ‘game’ of point collection for level of engagement but in my opinion it lessons the value of the engagement in the first place.A simple improvement would be creating a little community amongst their ambassadors and get them talking and cross promoting vs competing against each other. It would also be prudent to give us front row access at the event and get us writing our own posts/videos etc to be shared. (Inman does this well.)

AJ Leon’s Team of Misfits

misfit dinner Vancouver

Misfit Dinner Vancouver Fall 2012

Now AJ Leon and his team of Misfits have built the best possible program and probably because it’s not really a program at all. It’s more of a tight exclusive club! You feel like an insider and that’s because you are. AJ invites you in and makes you feel welcome and valued and part of the family. Its a select group of people who have been long time fans and natural promoters. He regularly communicates with us in private emails, we’re first to know of big announcements and projects and treasured as his own ‘small army’ of loyal fans. It’s natural and organic. No scheduled tweets. No formal structure. No expectations. Instead there is a sense of belonging, being valued and being part of something great! A MOVEMENT! The promotion happens naturally because there is a sense of ownership and connection.
So….For an Ambassador program to work you have to:
1. Tap into your natural fans. Who’s already promoting you? Who seems genuinely loyal and share similar Brand Values? The Connected Consumer isn’t interested in BS. There has to be an authentic SHARE.
2. Encourage a sense of community and a feeling of inclusivity. Bring your fans inside.
3. Allow for personal access to the ‘Stars’. Reach out and touch them from time to time.
4. Respect & Recognition for expertise. Let them know you value them and they’re worth taking a moment to connect.
5. Provide insider knowledge and advance notice of big announcements. Keep them in the loop!
6. Give back. Include special perks only to the ambassadors. Sometimes all it takes a personal note/email or taking a moment to read and comment on their blogs! (Hat tip to Kare Anderson and AJ Leon for rocking that one!)
These steps will work great for community organizations and conferences but for big brands you may want to take a page out of the Zappos play book.  They have made their employees their number 1 Ambassadors by incorporating HAPPINESS directly into their culture. With the Connected Consumer having unlimited access to your brand, its paramount that your internal employees buy in and share your values and believe in you!
What I see people doing wrong in all marketing is constantly PUSHING. Always asking and never giving. If you want people to be your brand advocates they have to get something out of the experience, and EXPERIENCE is the key word in this ever competitive grab for attention market.
For further reading on Influencer Marketing check out:
Influencer Outreach article by Macala Wright: Why Influencer Marketing Is Failing in Retail
So perhaps paid employee ambassador is the answer: Kare Anderson’s Forbes article: Make Your Company Top of Mind and Your Employees Proud
and from this Forbes article: How Influencers Will Change the Way We Innovate by Mark Fidelman
Companies that are ready for the 21st century world recognize that people want to join movements, not campaigns. Consumers want to be associated with innovative companies, not old-fashioned corporations. They follow influencers and opinion leaders, and don’t rely on traditional media.
About Teri Conrad

Social Marketing Consultant. Brand & Social Biz Strategist. Community Outreach. Real Estate. Embracing the shift in communications and passionate about connection and engaging in #ConversationsThatMatter. Infuse with a little wine!


  1. What a rich collection of actionable insights re the benefits, mistake and tips for organizations and individuals re the opportunity of recruiting or being ambassadors! Re “paid” in reference to my column in Forbes, I presume you mean they are employees. Key, in keeping with your theme, employees, as ambassadors, are only credible and effective if they truly believe what they are saying, are not forced to play that role — and are equipped to be helpful, articulate and supported in that role.

    • Thanks Kare. I did mean employees or contracted ambassadors would work as well, and your point about being equipped to be helpful would be a powerful improvement for many ambassador programs. I think the key is not to look at them as ‘fans’ but part of the organization’s communication department.

  2. What a fantastic post, nice to have insight in the world of ambassadors.

  3. Hiy Teri –
    Great post and suggestions! I figured I should address the “raving fan” comment since that was in a presentation I made. Perhaps the image was wrong – I definitely never saw Inman ambassadors as “crazed fans.” The sentiment behind it was to explain that every company – large or small has “raving fans” – people who love the brand, love what they do, and are happy to “shout from the rooftops” about that company.

    When I first started the Inman ambassador program, one of the goals was to organize so many of the fans that Inman had – professionals like yourself who admired Inman and happily helped to promote events or products because they were passionate about the brand. I’m sorry if that comment made you feel used in anyway, that is certainly the last thing I would want to convey.

    You were always a great ambassador and so supportive of Inman initiatives then, and now under Laura Monroe’s direction as well. I certainly always appreciated the support!


  4. Hey Katie,

    Thanks for the clarification and for reading my post. I believe we’re all doing the best we can in an ever evolving space at a ridiculous pace. My observations come from being involved both formally and informally as a ‘fan’ and as an ‘Ambassador’, communicating with many from within different communities. I do sense that as the space gets noisier, the need for more in depth conversation (context) will be required and thus the role of the Ambassador will have to evolve into more of a communications position with an understanding and knowledge of the organization.

  5. Thanks Teri. I’m glad you wrote the part about the face-painted fans because I was concerned about aligning myself with any form of breathless fandom that lacks a sense of self-reflection and self-awareness. Far more powerful is to develop ambassadors that are encouraged and supported to have a mind and voice of their own, even if that means being critical of the organisation they represent. See you at #ICSF

    • I could not agree more Peter! AND when that organization can hear the criticism and respond they only increase our respect, trust and loyalty! Cheers!!

Leave a Reply