5 tips for using brand ambassadors for your startup

Posted on March 9, 2017 by Erika Oakes

Before starting my children’s clothing line, Os & Oakes. I truly had no idea what social media marketing entailed, let alone what brand ambassadors were. I actively engaged in social media on a personal level so I thought that I had a good idea of what marketing on social media would require. Until we officially launched our social media pages and let the “world” know about our business. Then my blindfold was removed and the anxiety of social media marketing entered my life.

Operating an e-commerce business means utilizing as many social media outlets as possible. Once people are on your Instagram or Facebook page and are engaging with your posts, your website is only a click away and it became even more clear to us (through the wonders of analytics) that the majority of our website visits – and sales – were being generated through interactions on social media. Immediately we felt the pressure of creating a visually appealing social media feed that represented how we wanted people to view our brand. I was constantly thinking about consistency between posts, witty commentary, great lifestyle photos, clear product shots, and staying relevant with current events and seasonal trends. I spent endless hours researching what successful brands were doing on social media and how we could replicate it in our own distinct way. Finding the “perfect” picture to post was also an issue between my co-founder and myself as we both had specific visions for what we wanted our brand image to be. Thankfully, through trial and error, we have developed strategies for our startup that have helped us navigate this crazy social media world.

Generating great photography content for social media can be very expensive, especially for new businesses, however great photos are a necessity in order to create and maintain your brand image. Luckily, I was introduced to brand ambassadors or “influencers”, and quickly realized that if I utilized this marketing tool effectively, then I would be able to have great, consistent content and I wouldn’t be breaking the bank to do it. Not to mention, that if you choose the right influencer you will be tapping into their social media network and marketing to their network of followers. Here are 5 things that will help you to use brand ambassadors for your startup:

1. Find the right ambassador for your brand.

Do your research and find an ambassador that reflects your brand image. We have a children’s clothing line, so I am often looking for mothers with children that fall within our size range (from a year old to around 4 years old). I also look for great photography (that would match our brand image) and honest lifestyle photos that look natural. I want to make sure that our clothing matches the style and image that they already have developed and that we don’t look like we are “forcing” our brand and style image on them.

I often find ambassadors by searching commonly used hashtags or combing through their pre-existing networks. I look to see if they have worn or promoted brands with similar offerings and what type of engagement they have on their photos. If they have thousands of followers but only one or two comments on a photo, then their following may not be engaged and not worth your investment.

2. Designate a marketing budget for the use of brand ambassadors.

Ambassadors can cost money so defining a budget is important. Some bloggers or influencers only do paid posts, while others will accept a trade of your products for photos. As a new startup I often look to trade. I don’t have the extra budget to invest cash directly into marketing. If I can trade products for posts and pictures then it’s a win-win for me. With that said, make sure you keep track of the amount of product you giveaway. It will add up fast. Also, make sure to designate which items you would be willing to trade. I often ask what products the ambassador likes and then negotiate from there based on my inventory and future stock. For example, I don’t want to give away items from our winter line when heading into spring. I want people to be familiar with what’s coming, not what’s going.

3. Ask, ask, ask … and ask again!

If at first you don’t succeed ask, ask again. Just ask! Sometimes it can be intimidating to approach someone with a large social following or “celebrity” status to try out your product, but from what I have experienced, people are quite open to trying new things. And hey! It’s free – why wouldn’t they give you a try? Sometimes an Instagram message is all you need to send, other times it’s a bit more tedious to find an email address or main point of contact. Just keep trying! If you find that they respond and the expectations or exchange is not what you were looking for, at least you asked! Make sure you are comfortable with the arrangements and maintain an honest and open line of communication.

4. Stipulate your guidelines and requirements to create a contract.

This is a very important takeaway. Make sure to be direct in what you would like out of your brand ambassador and develop a detailed “ask”. An example ask is:

“We would like to trade you 2 of our products in exchange for 4 quality photos as well as a post and mention in the caption on your social media accounts to happen. We would like this to happen within two weeks of you receiving the product.”

Be specific so the influencer knows exactly what is required. There have been times in which I was too vague and was very disappointed with the result. And not all asks fit everyone. Make sure your ask acknowledges what an ambassador does best: blogs, giveaways, photography, etc. Make sure you know who you are approaching and what they can offer you and use detail in your written agreement.

5. Follow up and maintain a great relationship.

Make sure to follow up with your brand ambassadors. If it is taking longer than stipulated for them to come up with photos or content, give them a gentle nudge. Something as simple as “I can’t wait to see the photos! Let me know if you need anything.” In the worst-case scenario, if an ambassador does not follow through with your agreement is to send an invoice for the product and have them pay. Remember, they are operating a business too, so this will likely be avoidable as it is not favorable to them.

When you do get some awesome photos and content, be sure to repost, share, and follow-up with a thank you. Developing a relationship that you can return to is important. And they will likely be able and willing to connect you with other influencers in your market!

Once you get the hang of it, working with brand ambassadors not only helps you reach more of your target market but also helps you create great, consistent content for your social media.