Photo Credit: lululemon athletica via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: lululemon athletica via Compfight cc

Originally posted on Lonelybrand‘s blog.

When we build communities around products, we dream of creating something larger than a product or even larger than a brand name. We want to create deeper meaning in people’s lives. There are many ways to start building meaning around your product, but there is really no more effective way than empowering individual brand ambassadors to run with your vision and to better their own lives as a result. But if you’ve never done it before, how do you begin?

First, take a cue from a brand like Lululemon. They started small and then leveraged passionate brand ambassadors. Sure, there’s plenty of smack you can talk about the company but there’s little you can argue about their success. That’s because Lululemon sells yoga mats as well as a vision of youth, energy, calm, vitality, health, perky butts, and discovering-your-chi-in-real-tight-pants. And their ambassadors are living it.

With any brand ambassador program, you should not aim to change the world or make a million bucks with your brand’s vision. Give it time. Instead, you should enable a select few awesome human beings to do what they already love, what they’re already doing, what they believe in. Then enable them to do that thing better, cheaper, faster, and to share with others who love that thing too. That is brand ambassador gold right there.

So let’s get started. Here’s how to create brand ambassador gold from scratch: 

1. Define your immediate goals for your initial outreach.

Be realistic. Here’s a good place to start: Identify and empower 10 users to do what they love more effectively while using your product. Don’t waste time at this stage trying to convert people into users though. Use social listening tools to find who is already advocating for you.

2. Decide how the “ambassador program” will be structured.

There are tons of great tips here. Don’t get too complicated, but try to create a trajectory for the future. You should start simple. Call it a “Pilot”: it’ll make you less afraid to mess things up a bit. For an example of how Lululemon does this, check out their general regional “ambassadors” as opposed to their “Elite Ambassadors”, who are professional athletes.

3. Create swag and “win-win” benefits.

You need to ask yourself the question: “What does my community/user base value, and how can I deliver that to them?” Lululemon outfits their ambassadors, sends them to their annual summit, and sends them all kinds of swag to share with others. Then these ambassadors can put their status on their online portfolios, start their own brands piggy-backing off of Lululemon’s strong brand recognition, begin teaching classes at Lululemon stores (for free, obviously) or promoting their brands in Lululemon’s marketing pieces. All of this adds up to more events and activities for Lululemon’s customer base, deeper connection between customer and ambassador, and more clients for the ambassador as well. That’s some serious win-win right there.

4. Relinquish your control.

Give your community power to run with things however they want. It’s no longer in your hands. Keep in mind, you do need to give them the space to express themselves and to speak to one another, whether it be through Ning, Mightybell, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, forums, or one of these fully integrated into your product.

5. Give them the spotlight.

Feature these ambassadors. Feature all of them. Give them a spot on your site and/or your blog. Allow them to link this to things like their LinkedIn profile so that your reputation and their reputation can be tied together as one.

6. Keep rewarding your biggest fans.

As you find success, continue outreach to your most vocal and active fans first. Sure, it’s great to gain new users, but retaining and activating those that are already using your product creates brand loyalty, and that’s what an enterprise community is all about. That’s what the CEO will want to see.

7. Keep asking. Keep measuring.

There are tons of ways to measure the success of the program, including total size of the ambassador community, surveys about perception from the ambassadors themselves, response time to your product feedback inquiries, or simple check-ins.

8. Don’t stop creating.

Continually find ways to increase value to this community and think of ways that they can contribute as well. If you want to keep the momentum building (you do), always ask yourself these two questions: 1)How can your brand keep delivering value to your ambassadors? 2) How can your ambassadors keep delivering value to other users and to one another?

Once your program is underway, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it. And if you’re a community manager, you’ll also wonder how you ever did without the energy that these ambassadors bring you each day.

Some other great resources for learning how to organize an ambassador program:

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