5 Steps for Building a Brand Ambassador Program on a Budget

A female customer smiles as she purchases products form a small business after being influenced by brand ambassadors.

It's one thing for you to tell your customers about all the features that make your products great. But a product referral is far more potent if someone else does it for you. This is why so many companies have invested in brand ambassador programs, which transform fans of your product into effective marketers.

For small brands, such programs can be a game-changer, generating buzz around their products and spurring sales. However, in an era of paid social media influencers and powerhouse agencies, launching a competitive brand ambassador program can also be expensive.

So how do less-resourced companies leverage influential fans to share their experience with the masses? Here are five steps to creating a brand ambassador program on a budget:

1. Determine What You Want to Achieve

As part of your brand ambassador program, you'll be asking people to share their love of your products on social media and in real life. The effort takes time to find and manage ambassadors, as well as money to run the program and compensate the people doing the work. So even when you're bootstrapping your program, you want to make sure that it's worth the investment of both time and money.

To ensure you're achieving a return on your investment, consider what you want and need from your brand ambassadors and how you'll determine whether the program is successful. Your initial goals may be as simple as engaging ten ambassadors to start. Once you get rolling, establish metrics for tracking the success of campaigns such as the reach of ambassadors and referrals to the website.

2. Start By Listening

The best brand ambassadors are those people who already love your products. Use social listening tools to surface users on social media who are talking about your product or recommending it. Then interact with them—share their content and recognize them on your own account. Once you've established a connection, you can evaluate whether they'd be a good representative of your brand.

A key point: Make sure their other content is in line with your brand values, and won't get your organization in trouble. Ambassadors don't necessarily need to be professional influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers. In fact, in many cases, targeted, more authentic ambassadors work just as well. For example, an avid runner with a focused Instagram account followed by other runners may be an excellent choice for showing off your brand's shoes or gear.

3. Get Creative with Compensation

You are on a budget and can't pay thousands of dollars per post? No fear—there are other, equally effective ways to get your brand in front of potential new fans. Explore ways to offer your ambassadors exclusive access to your products. This could be via early opportunities to try the newest products, discounts, or chances to review and provide feedback as products are in development.

In addition, look at unique ways to reward your ambassadors, sometimes unexpectedly. If they mention a cause they're passionate about, donate to it in their name. If they love a sports team, maybe send them tickets and branded gear to wear. The end goal is to make them feel like part of your brand and recognize their contributions publicly. For many ambassadors, this is more than enough.

4. Empower Ambassadors to Share the Love

People love recommending a product and then having other people love it. So you want to make it easy for brand ambassadors to share their love of your company. Send them merchandise or other goodies to give away at events or via online contests. You can also create discount codes that they can give their friends and family (this also fuels a feeling of exclusivity, and empowers brand ambassadors to open the door to the club). If you genuinely trust an ambassador, consider a social media takeover—allowing them to run your account for a day or during a special event or time.

5. Add—and Subtract—Ambassadors Regularly

Keep close tabs on the activity of your ambassadors. If one is less active—or has gone fully dark—reach out to see if there's anything you can do to re-engage them. If not, focus your efforts on new, more active fans. Review your success metrics regularly, especially concerning how much you're spending—even if it's primarily in-kind gear or product. The giveaways add up, and you want to make sure that your program is earning its keep.

At a time when consumers are flooded with content, recommendations from people they love and respect go a long way. Launch a brand ambassador program and empower your brand fans to help your company grow.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank, National Association or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank, Member FDIC.