Are ambassadors the secret ingredient to social media success?

Are ambassadors the secret ingredient to social media success?
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The tattered remnants of social media campaigns are all over Facebook. Giant advertising or marketing projects with enormous budgets have heard the cries of gold, and rushed into the hills of social media. 

Marketers flocked to Facebook in the hopes of striking viral. The only issue is that not a whole lot of them had much, if any, idea of what they were doing. The resulting sea of failures was enough to create more than a few cynics.

The major issue that I perceive stems from assumption. Brands assume that if they built the presences and provide some shiny content, people will come – and that’s incorrect. Without a clear value proposition, nobody is going to take part in anything.

Sadly, it’s a concept that is exacerbated by Facebook’s advertising structure – one that mysteriously delivers a page new followers, regardless of whether or not they’re actually worthy of being followed in proportion to the amount spent.   

So where are these legitimate, engaged brand-based communities? Can they actually be built?

Absolutely, and developing ambassadors is just one method of creating them.

What an online ambassador really is:

The term brand ambassador used to be associated with something like this:

But from a community management perspective, the term ambassador is far more general. It instead applies to those who act as leaders within the community. They come in different shapes and sizes, but they essentially represent a highly engaged community member. They also are the seeds from which communities grow.

Their networks may not resemble Leo’s sea of adoring fans. But they do represent networks nonetheless – networks comprised of a valuable target audience group. Your ambassadors may not be paid, but they are conduits through which to communicate with your audience, approaching them as peers, rather than as customers. The job of the brand becomes positioning them to do so, a task that requires identification, empowerment and support.  

The advantages that brand ambassadors represent are numerous. They not only grow the community, but also sustain it as it develops. They provide support to new members, and work to dispel the trolls.

There are many who would tell you that the absence of ambassadors was instrumental in the downfall of the Kony 2012 campaign, a campaign comprised of thousands of supporters armed with very few facts. Without enough ambassadors equipped with a genuine understanding of a complicated issue, the overnight community collapsed, as the few highly vocal cynics went practically uncontested in their efforts to topple the movement. 

Your ambassadors should be the ones who sit right on the edge of the idea diffusion bell-curve – early adopters, the people that are naturally excited about your offering. If you can identify these individuals you are going to find a far higher return when you engage with them, rather than with those that aren’t quite as interested.

The role of ambassadors needn’t always be this formal however. Look at Nike’s ‘She runs the night’ campaign. The campaign was highly ambassador-focused, but the ambassadors were young female runners. Identifying these people and supporting them did not comprise of formal training but simply giving away a few free sneakers and running activities for them to participate in. The real life engagement carried over into online discussions, designed to create a buzz around the Nike brand with the ultimate call to action being towards recruiting runners into a night race. The campaign was a huge success.

More and more brands and campaigns are taking this approach – identifying the few who will talk to the many, empowering them and supporting them in their voluntary role.

In order to communicate with a target audience, you need to understand them, and nobody knows a particular type of person better than someone who is that type of person. Ambassadors provide a much-needed point of reference in the murky world of social media engagement.

Not all campaigns, and not even all brands, are going to have activities that are ambassador-friendly, but if you want to make people care about something, a sure-fire way is to give them ownership.

Matthew Cox is a strategic consultant at Dialogue Consulting.

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