The term “brand ambassadors” may feel new but it’s actually just a modern-day spin on an old-school strategy: word-of-mouth advertising. And it’s still the most credible form of marketing today.

According to a survey last year by Nielsen, 83% of people worldwide say they trust the recommendations of friends and family. What’s changed over the years are the ways in which those that believe in your brand can recommend it to others.  Research from Nielsen shows that trust and action are linked—83% of respondents to the survey also said they take action on opinions of friends and family at least some of the time. Millennials have the highest levels of trust in recommendations found online and in mobile formats.

You can’t promote your product or service without the help of word-of-mouth recommendations from people that are truly enamored with it, so cultivating and growing your base of brand ambassadors is crucial. You don’t necessarily have to put in a formal ambassador program, you can build up a base of brand evangelists more organically, too.

Here’s how to grow your cadre of ambassadors and make sure they feel appreciated:

Keep your ears open.

Start listening to what’s being said about your brand in conversations online. You can do that by reading and responding to comments that appear on your company’s blog, Facebook page, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, etc.  

In addition, there are both free and paid services that can be used to help you listen in on conversations about your brand happening out there in the ether.

Social Media Today put together a great list of small business reputation management and brand monitoring tools:

  • Google Alerts and Talkwalker are free services your business can use to find mentions of your brand online.
  • Reputology, Mention and Social Mention are paid brand monitoring tools that comb the web for mentions and track your brand reputation.
  • The social media platforms you use – like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – have built in notifications that let you know when someone engages with you or uses your social media handle in a post.  
  • Hootsuite is also a great small business tool for pulling mentions of your brand into one spot from your social media channels.

With mobile and email notifications, you can listen in on conversations about your brand 24/7 – squashing out any potential media fires, or helping spread the flames of positive conversations at a moment’s notice.

Create a list of those that say—or could potentially say–good things about your brand.

These could be reviewers on Yelp, OpenTable and other review platforms, as well as those Instagramming photos of your product or talking about you on Facebook. Use specific search terms to find those with blogs covering your product or service niche.

If your small business sells, say, high-tech automation equipment to be used in greenhouses, you can search for bloggers who have written specifically about greenhouses and technology or greenhouses and automation tech.  Using “and” as opposed to “or” will narrow down your research results to bloggers that are truly in your niche.  Create a contact database of these folks so you can regularly communicate with them and stay top of mind.

Ask loyal customers to be brand ambassadors.

It sounds obvious but it’s not usually the first thing a business thinks of doing—asking their customers for help with marketing. Yet, when public relations professional and author Gini Dietrich published her second book, Spin Sucks, she promoted it with a word-of-mouth marketing campaign that involved hand-picked brand ambassadors.

gina deitrich

[image courtesy of Convince & Convert]

Dietrich already had a fairly large audience reading, commenting and contributing to her blog, so she asked those interested in being ambassadors for the book to apply for it. More than 800 applied and from those she chose 150. She asked them to read her book before its release, write an honest review and help promote it during launch week. She supported those ambassadors with pre-written social media updates they could tweet or use on other social networks, provided video content they could embed, sent daily updates during her launch week and created a special Facebook group for ambassadors.

Give product or services away.

Your best brand ambassadors will talk about your product or service for free just because they love it. But others will need to be incentivized in some way, in order to share their love with a bigger audience. It could be you offer a free night stay at your bed & breakfast, a gift card to try a week of yoga at your studio, or a free subscription to your software service. You could also give them a discount on products or a gift card.  If what you’re selling is truly fantastic, it shouldn’t be hard to get these people talking about it on social media.  The power of ambassadors is their authentic love for your brand—that shows and is contagious.

Let them post to your company’s blog. Or blog about them.

If you’ve got certain lovers of your brand doing a great job of talking about it, you can feature them in a blog post and talk about their social media channels, why they became an “expert” in the niche, what they do in their spare time.  You can also invite your best ambassadors to write a guest post on your brand’s blog, which they will certainly share on social networks.

Say “thank you” with a gift.

A token of thanks can go a long way with your brand ambassadors, and turn satisfied customers into raving fans..  Send your guest blogger a Starbucks gift card. Or, one of our favorite ways to say thanks at Hatchbuck, send a Greetabl to your customers just because you love them.

greetabl

[image courtesy of greetabl]

Gifting expert, John Ruhlin, author of Giftology, says to send gifts not just during the holiday season, but at different times throughout the year when the recipient is not expecting a gift.  It’s much more impactful and helps you stand out from the crowd.  
When it comes to marketing, word-of-mouth referrals, and brand ambassadors, you get what you give.  When you put your heart and soul into a great product, deliver stellar customer service, and say give thanks when thanks is due – it all comes back to you.