Sponsored content—or SponCon—was the modern-day marketer’s genius alternative to traditional ads. SponCon mimics native content to look organic so that it doesn’t disrupt the user experience or natural flow of a platform.
But social media has become so saturated with inauthentic and repetitive SponCon posted by influencers that only about one in five people still trust it, while most find it annoying. And yet, a survey by SUMO Heavy found that social media still affects the purchasing decisions of 58% of their respondents. Instead of using influencers and SponCon, tap into the power of social media by creating an ambassador program.
A brand ambassador program is a social marketing tactic that incentivizes existing customers and supporters of your brand to become advocates both online and offline. Unlike in influencer marketing, you’re not paying someone to promote your brand based on how many followers they have—you’re asking real consumers to tell people about you.
Brand ambassadors will help you increase your social media presence and brand awareness, manage your reputation, and increase sales because people trust recommendations from friends, family, and other consumers more than they trust SponCon by influencers. Use these four tried-and-tested ambassador programs as inspirations when creating your own effective iteration.
1. Xbox Built a Loyal Community of Ambassadors
Xbox created their ambassador program to build a loyal community of players who would follow Xbox updates, interact with each other, and have fun together.
[source] The Xbox Ambassador program elevates the gaming experience by adding a social aspect to it.
Xbox did two things differently when it came to its ambassador program—it built a distinct experience and set a unique goal.
The Xbox Ambassador program is like a game. In order to become “players” (Ambassadors), Xbox users have to be 17 or older, have no prior enforcement actions against their accounts, and have a 1,500 Gamerscore. That last qualifier makes sure that Ambassadors are existing Xbox users and fans.
Xbox gamified the program using a system of experience points (XP), levels, missions, and rewards. Ambassadors complete social tasks like adding friends or building positive gaming forums to gain XP and level up. Every time Xbox releases an update, it also gives its ambassadors “missions” related to those updates. Ambassadors who complete those “missions” get more XP, faster. The more XP an ambassador earns, the more rewards they get—Xbox merchandise, free games, and more.
Xbox’s goal with its ambassador program isn't to drive more sales or build brand awareness like most ambassador program goals are. Its goal is to build an engaged community. And Xbox is achieving that by asking its ambassadors to go through the program and complete missions together.
Xbox now has a whole community of loyal followers who connect with each other and game together. Because Ambassadors keep each other updated and help each other out so willingly, Xbox has saved time and money in support staff and hours. Ambassadors have also given Xbox a steady stream of social media content to improve their brand reputation.
Why It Works
One major driving factor of the Xbox Ambassador program is the 1,500 Gamerscore criterion for vetting new ambassadors. From the get-go, Xbox makes sure that its ambassadors truly love the brand, enjoy the games, and want to see what the company has to offer.
They also never stopped working on the Ambassador program. Xbox is still creating new missions, sweepstakes, challenges, and other content that keep ambassadors coming back for more and inviting new people.
Xbox built a community of real people who make genuine connections with each other and trust each other.
2. Lululemon’s Ambassadors Became Local Representatives
Lululemon created a pool of ambassadors who love the brand and represent the brand’s goals and ideals to increase sales and loyalty in local markets.
[source] Lululemon’s ambassador program zeroes in on genuine content and relationships.
Lululemon’s ambassador program is global but local—Lululemon’s target market is global, but they are using grassroots marketing to get their target market’s attention. The sports and athletics company partners with local sports professionals to really make their mark on the communities to which they belong. Wherever they had a store, they had at least one ambassador.
Ambassadors are either handpicked by the brand or apply to become brand representatives through their local stores. A Lululemon ambassador works with the company to increase its brand awareness and reputation by holding free, in-store yoga classes, posting about Lululemon on social media, wearing Lululemon merchandise, and organizing events in partnership with Lululemon.
In exchange for all that hard work, Lululemon enables its ambassadors to host local social impact initiatives and displays photos of its ambassadors in its stores to help the ambassadors’ business. Ambassadors also get free and discounted Lululemon merchandise, free or discounted fitness classes, discounts for family and friends, business coaching and personal development courses, and social media promotion.
Why it Works
[source] Kevin Pearce, a yoga professional, was one of Lululemon’s elite ambassadors in Iowa City.
Lululemon knows who its target market is and uses hyper-specific and hyper-local marketing (at scale) to tap into that niche. It works with local gym trainers, yoga coaches, fitness instructors, and other sports professionals to make an impact on places where they established a store.
What really makes its ambassador program the success that it is today is that it really invests in each ambassador and each ambassador’s local community, which the incentives they provide prove. Genuinely showing its ambassadors care, interest, and support and targeting local industry leaders has helped Lululemon reach its current level of brand recognition and loyalty.
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3. Airbnb Ambassadors Worked as Recruiters and Onboarders
[source] The Airbnb ambassador program asked existing hosts to become recruiters and trainers in exchange for cash.
The Airbnb ambassador program is straightforward in its requirements and rewards. The program is only available for existing hosts who recruit at least two new hosts every month. In exchange for recruiting and mentoring those new hosts, ambassadors receive a cash payout.
Ambassadors could recruit new hosts through both online and offline methods. After successfully getting a new host onto the platform, the ambassador would have to mentor their new recruit by providing training videos, making themselves available for questions, and personally guiding recruits through the hosting process. It was a lot of work, which is why Airbnb also considers its ambassadors to be contractors, as evidenced by its old ambassador job post.
By asking existing hosts—who are experts at hosting their properties on Airbnb—to train new hosts, Airbnb leveraged word-of-mouth marketing and was able to save money and time on recruiting and training expenses. The company also increased brand awareness on social media because ambassadors usually wrote “Airbnb Ambassador” on their social media profiles, business cards, and other visible platforms.
Why it Works
[source] Airbnb ambassadors conduct training videos and webinars for new hosts.
Airbnb treated their ambassadors like employees and gave them everything they needed to do their “jobs.” They gave ambassadors access to printing services and digital tools so that ambassadors could easily create training webinars for new hosts and order business cards and flyers.
They also conducted training sessions, meetups, and webinars—both online and offline—for their ambassadors’ personal development.
4. General Electric’s Ambassadors Redefined the Company Reputation
General Electric (GE) wanted to improve its brand reputation by helping employees optimize their online profiles to attract more job candidates. So they built an employee ambassador program.
Of the four ambassador programs on this list, GE’s is the only one that’s solely focused on improving brand reputation. It’s also the only company on the list that uses its own employees as ambassadors.
GE decided to build an employee ambassador program because it needed to show potential new recruits that GE is an amazing place to work. The problem was that the brand’s online presence was nearly nonexistent, as was its budget. So the GE team looked at the resource it did have: more than 350,000 employees worldwide. GE built its reputation by making sure its employee ambassadors knew how to tell their stories and experiences online.
Employee ambassadors are given training courses about basic storytelling, finding your “why,” and social amplification. By the end of the training, ambassadors are expected to know how to optimize their LinkedIn profiles, connect with thought leaders, grow their networks, and share the GE story. GE also continuously encourages feedback from its ambassadors so the company can keep updating training content and improving the program experience.
GE has spent very little money on its ambassador program but now has more than 13,000 ambassadors who continue to attract and engage with new candidates. Its ambassador program’s most notable outcomes are that it has increased inbound job applications by at least 800%, increased applicant quality, and saved GE around $3 million in social advertising.
Why it Works
[source] GE’s ambassadors also shared their stories by taking over GE’s main social media accounts.
This ambassador program works because the GE team made use of what it had to create a huge impact. GE continues to invest in its employee ambassadors and helps them build their online presence, tell their stories, and share those stories with the world. In return, the stories that their ambassadors share improves the company’s reputation astronomically.
Another key to GE’s success is its focus on encouraging feedback and tracking data. The company tested out the program on a small group of employees and asked for feedback before scaling the program. GE only opened its ambassador program to the rest of its employees after ensuring it would be beneficial to both parties based on those first few rounds of feedback.
Encourage Brand Loyalty with Ambassador Programs
Ambassadors are real people who love your brand. They are people who advocate for your brand even without incentives because they believe in what you do and what you have to offer. Creating an ambassador program will amplify the voices of those advocates and help you draw in more loyal followers compared to SponCon. It will also help you give back to your most loyal followers and show your appreciation.