3 Rewards and 3 Risks of Making Customers Brand Ambassadors

social media viewpointsAre you prepared to put your customers in charge of your brand… literally?

What would happen if you gave your customers the keys to your corporate social media channels? This article reviews the rewards and the risks marketers face as they decide how much brand control they’re willing to give up.

Marketers are just coming to terms with how to deal with customers having free rein to either praise or bash their companies, but I think there may be a new trend on the horizon—the customer brand ambassador.

You have customers who love your brand and rave about it. But their reach only extends so far. Why not give them a platform to amplify their reach and spread the word? Think about it… It really could be a beautiful partnership.

We’ve seen examples of this with empowering customers to lead innovation in the company with product recommendations from Starbucks, GE and Intuit and their great examples of utilizing customer feedback in a controlled environment.

my starbucks idea

What's your Starbucks idea? Revolutionary or simple—they want to hear it.

But this post is about something different. It’s about a new approach, a new idea and a new way to look at involving your customers in social media. It’s about how to put your customers in the driver’s seat and actually allow them to run your corporate social media channels. Crazy? Maybe not.

Rewards of Giving Your Customers Access to Corporate Social Media Channels

#1: The power of a testimonial will outperform anything a marketer can develop.

The power of a customer’s story has been proven to increase web traffic and conversions. But in this case, you would have customers who are building genuine relationships and showing that they’re so passionate about your brand that it actually is part of their identity.

You could have customers who run an entire blog on your site, or one or more customers could be in charge of finding relevant articles they think your following would be interested in and sending out the tweets and status updates. Or from another angle, they could be charged with engaging with influential bloggers in your space and commenting on their blog posts on the company’s behalf. There are so many possibilities for these loyal fans to become immersed in your brand and share their genuine unfiltered perspective.

voices

Read what real Voices.com customers have to say about their experience. Check out the success stories, testimonials and reviews from the press and media at large.

If you’re open to the possibilities, it isn’t difficult to find activities that the company is comfortable with and customers are excited to be a part of. Shofer’s Furniture implemented a brand ambassador program and had phenomenal results that increased their site traffic 4000%. And this doesn’t mean that the company doesn’t have access or also utilize these channels; it’s a partnership of voices to leverage influence and networks from customers too.

shofers

As a result of this increase in site traffic, Shofer's has experienced a significant increase in both web leads and overall store sales, both of which are tracked by SocialToaster's reporting feature.

#2: Customers can open doors faster than you can.

Let’s face it, when bloggers are getting pitched by a brand, they immediately put up their sales radar. They want to protect their audience from your spammy marketing messages.

But when one of your customers approaches a blogger about the difference you made in their life, it’s different. It doesn’t feel like a pitch, it feels like a case study that must be shared.

If you set this up well, you’ll allow the customer to leverage benefits he or she can offer to a blogger—a pseudo-toolbox of resources such as cross-posting on each other’s blogs, joint media interviews and/or joint sponsorships. You’ll have to do some training with your customers on how and when it’s appropriate to use their toolbox, but it can be done.

A customer who knows when it’s appropriate to say, “Hey, I also have some contacts over at the company and if you’re interested in posting in their community I can make an introduction.” An approach like that doesn’t sound salesy or pushy but natural, and builds on the power of social media to connect like-minded individuals.

#3: It’s genuine, it’s real, and it isn’t marketing.

It’s such a crowded marketplace for advertisers that it has become really tough to break through the clutter. And we’re seeing this extend into the social space. By having a group of customers who are your brand ambassadors, you can easily break through with an authentic voice because it will sound different—ultimately it’s humanization of your brand at its best.

As much as you try to develop pretty marketing messages that deliver, this will sound different than anything you put together. The reality is that even if the customer said EXACTLY what you would’ve said, it will have a tone of genuine passion behind it that marketers struggle to convey without sounding pushy.

The key is to get beyond the solicited customer testimonial and actually let them generate their own content in their own words. Facebook does a fantastic job with their Facebook Stories section. If it’s appropriate for you to be involved in their content creation process, only edit for grammar. Leave subjective edits in the trashcan. Give customers best practices, rather than rules. That’s where the power of authenticity takes hold.

facebook stories

Fill out the short form at the bottom and select a theme and you're able to share your story in the application and with your friends through their news feeds.

The Risks of Relinquishing Brand Control

#1: Fear of the rogue customer.

Giving up brand control is a difficult proposition because companies are terrified that their customer may turn on them at some point and have a large following they’ve established with the company’s support. I want to say it’s a valid fear, but it really isn’t.

Tennis fans may remember when Martina Hingis filed a $40 million lawsuit against Sergio Tacchini, an Italian shoemaker, for giving her “shoes that injured her feet,” as ABC News reported. This came as a result of a “five-year endorsement deal that was to pay her (Hingis) $5.6 million.”

Examples like this seem to always make the headlines and it gets worse when you look at celebrity endorsements that are cancelled due to embarrassing activities in the celebrities’ personal lives. While these are the examples most people associate with a rogue customer, there’s a really important distinction.

hingis

According to Tacchini, Hingis damaged their image and their products.

These are paid celebrities, not customers. They’re being paid to support your brand and likely have very little actual relationship with it.

Real customers who truly believe in your products are far less likely to turn against your brand, in my opinion. This is evidenced by the fact that I couldn’t find a single example of a real customer going rogue for this article.

It’s different because you’ll have a deep relationship with this customer as part of your work together and you’ll constantly praise them on how amazing they are (because no doubt you’ll bear witness to some awe-inspiring stuff). If there’s a problem, the customer is going to pick up the phone and call you, not the newspapers.

If you’re seriously concerned about not being able to satisfy a customer, then this approach is definitely not for you. But you’re far more likely to fall victim to a rogue customer who isn’t a brand ambassador than with a loyal audience member.

#2: Concern over losing a brand ambassador because they move on.

This is a reasonable concern. As you work with customers and they develop their own following, it can be tough to manage a transition if they decide they don’t have time for it anymore. I would recommend that you structure your brand ambassador channels in a way that allows for multiple customers to participate in a single channel so you aren’t too strongly aligned with an individual personality.

#3 Fear of not “controlling” the brand message.

The best we can do as marketers is to influence our brand’s message and perception, but the reality is that it’s largely controlled by our audience. The sooner we embrace the massive word-of-mouth network that has been magnified through social networks, the more chance we have of being a positive influence on it.

As the social media world evolves, our customers will have a voice, whether we empower them or not. The question is, are you willing to provide the platform to magnify your customers’ reach or are you going to wait for your competition to do it first?

Check here if you want to know if your brand passes the mirror test and check out this interview on how Cisco uses social media to connect with customers.

What do you think? Is your brand ready for this kind of change? Are you already using this strategy? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

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About the Author, Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly is the president of SME Digital, the digital marketing division of Social Media Explorer. They provide digital marketing strategy, implementation and measurement using the Full Frontal ROI methodology. Other posts by »




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  • http://daviddoolin.com/ Dave Doolin

     I have two products which are taking flight this way. 

    Which is probably a good thing as I’m far more interested in creating products than marketing or selling products. Two challenges for me are 1. letting go so that the audience can shape it as it needs, and ensuring I get some return on my time investment.

  • http://blog.socialmediahq.com/ Nick Robinson

    Great article. Ford and Coca Cola had great brand ambassador programs as well. I believe Ford’s was letting people drive around the Focus while shooting video blogs, and Coke’s was with a couple people traveling the globe. Pretty incredible stuff.

  • Mark Stall

    This is an excellent article that I will be sharing with the thousands of photographers and small business people who follow me.

  • http://felixrelationshipmarketing.com/ Juan Felix

    Hello Nichole. Your great insightful article reminds me of the book Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

    If I may quote a piece of my post about Brand Positioning: “Positioning is about getting inside the minds of your customers or prospects. It is not about the perception you have in your mind when you think about your company’s position. It’s about the perception of your customers. What image do you have? What values do your customers attribute to you? What service or quality do they expect from you?

    In other words: what position do you have in their mind?”

    Still a great book, don’t you think?

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  • Nichole_Kelly

    Dave – It’s great to hear that companies are considering this type of approach. I agree…it is tough to let go enough to harness the organic growth that will occur naturally, but it is so worth it in the end! Thanks for commenting.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Nick – Awesome examples! If you have links I’m sure everyone would love to see examples. :-) Thanks for commenting.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Thanks Nancy! I hope they all enjoy it. :-)  

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Juan – Totally a great book! What is incredible is that now we have this tremendous ability to let the customers actually share their perceptions rather than trying to recreate them as marketers. It has the potential to be game changing. :-)  

  • http://felixrelationshipmarketing.com/ Juan Felix

    Totally agree. Let’s enjoy these wonderful times with great opportunities for us all. :-)

  • http://www.SocialToaster.com Todd Burgess

    Hi Nichole, great article.  We at SocialToaster obviously believe in the power of Ambassadors and social media.  Thanks for the mention!
     

  • Nichole_Kelly

    You’re welcome Todd…You guys are doing some great stuff over at Social Toaster. 

  • http://www.thenerdynurse.com/ The Nerdy Nurse

     Word of mouth advertising is always the most impacting. 
    You can’t put a price on passion and if, as a company, you can find someone who is passionate and excited about your brand, and is helping you to sell products, reimbursing them should be a priority.
    Just because they may not stay on the “marketing plan” does not mean their approach is any less valuable. 

    Companies want celebrities to endorse them, so why wouldn’t they want the support of opinionated and talented writers on the internet? Some of bloggers have followings as big as many celebrities.

    Basically, what you are asking is if it’s ok for Michael Jordan to sell t-shirts and underwear. He just has a way bigger real-life @klout score than most of us!

  • http://www.brosix.com/ Brosix

     I don’t think fear should keep people from going out on a limb and letting customers be brand ambassadors. 

  • Rahulsverghese

    Great thanks.
    We are using this approach to popularise running and build running into a marketing platform. Your piece above helps give it more structure and we need to think a bit more about doing this more rigorously
    Thanks
    Rahul Verghese
    http://www.runningandliving.com

  • http://almost60really.com Paula Lee Bright

    I have read so much, listened to so much, watched so many videos and presentations…I am a bit scared. I teach kids who can’t read. The kids who are failing at school, falling through the cracks, because somewhere along the line somebody dropped the ball with them.

    Yet the closer I am to having viable products and personalized teaching for them, the scarier I find it to say what I can really do. (And I can make miracles! It’s the one thing in my life that I can do without question. I think it may be a gift.) 

    Can you suggest anything that will get me past this block? I do have parents that adore me for what I’ve done for their child. But I’ve never asked them to go overboard about my work. 

    What am I supposed to do? Call me #clueless! 

    Thanks so much, 
    Paula
    http://yourchildwillread.com

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Rahul – It’s great to hear that you are using a similar approach. Structure does really help to empower your customers and allow the community to grow organically. If you need assistance, I’d be happy to help. You can connect with me on Twitter or on my blog http://www.fullfrontalroi.com  

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Paula – I completely understand your situation. I’ve been in the same boat…we don’t like to toot our own horn because we don’t want to sound self-centered or arrogant. I really struggled with this on my own website, because I just don’t talk about myself in the way that other people talk about me. The first recommendation is to somehow get over that. I still struggle with it, but at the end of the day I’ve come to realize that knowing that you have something unique to offer isn’t arrogance, but respect for the gifts you’ve been given. Secondly, I would recommend that you ask each of your parents to write a paragraph about the difference you made in their child’s life. Just one paragraph. And if you need to you can have a few bullet points of the kinds of things you are looking for, i.e. the child’s performance in school, the child’s attitude toward learning etcetera. And it’s okay to edit for grammar and spelling before you publish, just send it back to the parent and ask them to confirm that this is still accurate and okay with your minor modifications. Then publish these amazing quotes on your blog as successes. These are successes that are about the children, not about you…you are just the facilitator. I hope that helps!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    I think more brands are recognizing the value of having bloggers touting their brands. So much so, that many bloggers are tired of getting the corporate pitches and it has required brands to get creative and authentic about how they approach bloggers if they want a response. 

    Michael Jordan may have a higher @klout:disqus  score with some audiences, but it may not be your audience. That alignment is critical.

    Thanks for commenting!

  • http://www.olinka.info/ Olga Kovshanova, MBA, MA

    Interesting idea. However, why would a even a happy customer what to invest her/his time to promote a business without remuneration? 

    Then, if remunerated the “plug” is no longer unbiased.

    Olga Kovshanova, MBA, MA
    Sales and Guest Relations Manager for CIS
    The Grand Mauritian Resort & Spa
    Hotel Professional Extraordinaire
    Email: olinka@olinka.info
    Homepage: http://www.olinka.info/
    Skype name: olinkaru
    ICQ: 212336628
    M: +230-717-5790
    LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/kovshanovaolga

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  • http://www.tahoedaves.com/rentals-demos.aspx Tahoe Dave’s Skis & Boards

     Paula, You should ask the parents of your students and your students for testimonial. Perhaps you will feel comfortable posting testimonials on a website about you?

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  • http://www.garious.com Heba @Garious1

    Very interesting and thought provoking
    article, Nicole. Thanks for taking the time to put it together and illustrate it
    with relevant examples.

    The idea is so appealing and the
    positives outweigh the negatives big time in my opinion. In his masterpiece, “Flipping
    the Funnel”, Seth Godin said:  “Turn
    strangers into friends.

    Turn friends into customers

    And then… do the most important job:

    Turn your customers into salespeople.”

    In essence, both of you are on the
    same track. If there is one thing I could add is that I believe that creating a
    solid foundation for brand ambassadors is very attainable  especially online and can be done very easily
    on a Facebook page for example.

    The bottom line is that brand ambassadors
    may not be compensated in money but they should be “compensated” in
    different ways the most important of which is recognition and that your brand
    should be outstanding that they can’t help but talk about it day and night!

    Thanks a lot, Nicole I enjoyed
    reading your article and learned a lot from it.  Keep up the good work :)

  • http://www.garious.com Heba @Garious1

    Very interesting and thought provoking
    article, Nicole. Thanks for taking the time to put it together and illustrate it
    with relevant examples.

    The idea is so appealing and the
    positives outweigh the negatives big time in my opinion. In his masterpiece, “Flipping
    the Funnel”, Seth Godin said:  “Turn
    strangers into friends.

    Turn friends into customers

    And then… do the most important job:

    Turn your customers into salespeople.”

    In essence, both of you are on the
    same track. If there is one thing I could add is that I believe that creating a
    solid foundation for brand ambassadors is very attainable  especially online and can be done very easily
    on a Facebook page for example.

    The bottom line is that brand ambassadors
    may not be compensated in money but they should be “compensated” in
    different ways the most important of which is recognition and that your brand
    should be outstanding that they can’t help but talk about it day and night!

    Thanks a lot, Nicole I enjoyed
    reading your article and learned a lot from it.  Keep up the good work :)

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