When my company, RESCUESKIN, created its ambassador program, we went into it with the belief that our ambassadors (who genuinely love our brand) would require very little in the way of prompting, as they were all successful professionals, well versed in business, brand, lifestyle and social media practice. I would have bet more than a few dollars on the notion that just by proxy of their involvement, our ambassadors would be responsible for a considerable amount of sales or referrals (and even forecasted accordingly). In many respects, we expected more from them than we did from ourselves. That was a mistake.
The easiest parallel to draw as it relates to working with brand ambassadors is the same way U.N. ambassadors work with their corresponding countries. They aren't the boss, like the president or prime minister—they are highly capable individuals who were chosen because of an ability to represent their country in significant situations with people of influence.
With the above in mind, working with ambassadors is like working with anyone else. The more you put into the relationship, the more you get out of it. The distinction is, a properly equipped ambassador can extend the reach of your brand with an impactful and unique voice that is germane to their communities.
In my experience, the following areas are fundamental to maintaining a successful ambassador program.
1. Choose ambassadors in alignment with the markets you are growing.
Don't choose ambassadors because you think they can apply universally to everyone. Chose an ambassador who has a “voice" relevant to a market segment you are seeking to penetrate. Ambassadors should be an embodiment of your brand, and while acting as your voice, can also be your eyes and ears, relaying how your brand is received, both good and bad, to a specific market segment.
As a basic example, if you are a youthful brand targeting surf culture between the ages of 14 to 40, regardless of how much “sense" it makes, hiring a 60-year-old former pro surfer isn't likely in the best interest of your brand. Not because they aren't revered, but because they aren't relevant to the manner in which the intended market segment communicates. Conversely, if you hire an ambassador to serve a business role, such as landing retail distribution deals with surf shops, it's more beneficial to add that same 60-year-old surfer to your board of advisers, where their ability to add value and incentive to act on your behalf is tied to performance.
2. Don't limit their voices.
All ambassadors should be well-versed in your brand. That said, try not to be too regimented in how they convey your brand to their communities. Forcing them to use certain language or stay within restrictive guidelines isn't why you engaged them. You engaged them because you have regard for their capacity, and more importantly, their unique voice. By limiting that voice, you risk diminishing their excitement and ultimately desire to speak authentically about your brand.
3. Keep contracts short, responsibilities clear, dialogue purposeful—and don't forget to incentivize.
Contracts should be short both in term and legalese. I'd recommend starting with a 90-day term, which demonstrates meaningful commitment from your company, but also grants you an out if the relationship isn't working (and it will happen).
Work with a lawyer to provide your ambassador with clear guidelines for what you are seeking to accomplish, and make sure it is in the contract. We began by letting ambassadors contribute to the degree they wanted. That simply didn't work. People desire framework, as it provides something to architect to, and be held accountable for. As indicated, with guidelines, make them clear and relatable to the ambassador: X number of posts on social media; X number of events to attend; X amount of product to distribute, etc.
If you don't incentivize in some meaningful way, the ambassador might weigh other commitments (including their own) against responsibility to your company. If you're not offering a small monthly retainer or stipend, then a way to participate in the success of your brand growth, like a commission or a related incentive, might work wonders.
4. Be nice.
As trivial as it may sound, simple considerations like thanking your ambassadors or sending small and meaningful gifts on a regular basis can have a lasting impact. We implemented a program called “Tech or Treat," where in addition to the ambassador's monthly allotment of product, we sent them a new technology item or an edible treat we believed were in alignment with our brand ethos. The net impact was a lot of social posts that aligned our brand with the tech/treat brand and ultimately the audiences of the ambassador.
Ambassadors are an extension of your brand, but they aren't your company. They aren't to be confused with employees, nor expected to have the same attachment as owners. Try not to view the contribution ambassadors make on a daily basis. View them as an aggregate of your brand's conveyance to the market. A well-executed ambassador program, over a few quarters, may help you see results.