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Summary:

Last week, I explored the birth of the “superfan” in social media, drawing from the superfan concept at sporting events. This week, I’m going to discuss how to harness the passion of the superfan and convert them into an ambassador for your brand.

Last week, I explored the birth of the “superfan” in social media, drawing from the superfan concept at sporting events and pointing out some fan qualities that my company has observed on our clients’ Facebook Pages. This week, I’m going to discuss how to harness the passion of the superfan in order to convert them into an ambassador for your brand.

Once we had identified the superfans — the Facebook fans who not only liked a brand’s page but also participated and interacted with others on the page and even came back on a daily or near daily basis — we knew we had to do something more.

Sure, we could give them a special gift or recognize them publicly in a status update saying “Thanks,” but was that it? What’s so “social” about that? Isn’t social media giving us far more capabilities? And if someone is that engaged with a brand, what else do they want? Clearly, having this kind of unprecedented contact and communications with a brand fills some unidentified need in individuals who revel in the opportunities that social media tools provide.

Why Do Fans Become Superfans?

First, let’s explore what motivates people to do more than just click “Like” on a brand’s Facebook Page, what drives some of them to become active members of an organically-forming community on that Page.

I posit that what we are seeing on Facebook Pages is similar to what we’ve seen in online communities going all the way back to Usenet Newsgroups: People want to feel part of something larger than themselves. They want to belong. It’s human nature to be drawn to communities, and if one doesn’t already exist, then some people have it in them to start building one themselves.

When we see a person moving from clicking on a Like button to responding to status updates to then commenting on what others are commenting on to visiting a page daily and announcing their arrival, we’re seeing the natural community builders rising to the top. These are our superfans. Some of them could become even more than that to a brand. Some of them want to be more, but don’t know where to start.

How Do You Convert a Superfan Into a Brand Ambassador?

Once we identified one of our client’s Superfans, we knew we were onto something much more compelling than just people who were active on a Facebook Page. So I came up with a process to strategically and respectfully offer opportunities to superfans to become something bigger: a brand ambassador.

The term “brand ambassador” has been bandied about in marketing for years. Merriam-Webster defines an ambassador as “an authorized representative or messenger or an unofficial representative.” In this context, the concept of a brand ambassador is clear: someone who publicly and positively represents and promotes a brand. Note that I’m not talking about buying someone’s loyalty; this isn’t about paying them to be a brand ambassador. In my mind, once you pay someone a fee for their “ambassadorship,” what you’re really getting is a paid spokesperson. What I’m talking about it is how to create mutually beneficial and transparent relationships with brand superfans, to harness their passions and convert them into social media brand ambassadors. Here’s how we’re doing it.

  1. Identify superfans.
  2. Recognize superfans publicly.
  3. Privately request that superfans respond to a questionnaire to get a better sense of who they are.
  4. Evaluate the responses to identify potential brand ambassadors.
  5. Approach superfans privately with a proposal to become a brand ambassador.
  6. Engage the new brand ambassadors to amplify their passions around the brand.

All of the steps above can be infused with whatever meaning you or your client wants. The choices you make, however, are critical to the success of your brand ambassador program. First and foremost, you have to understand the dynamics of social media, online communities and the meaning of value. You then have to be sensitive and respectful to the individuals with whom you are interacting. Let’s face it: You need them way more than they need you.

The 4 Promises

To strike the right balance of mutual benefits, I put together a list of four things that the brand would do for each ambassador, and four things that our ambassadors would do for the brand. I was careful to balance the perks with “feelgood” things and tangible things. I didn’t offer money, but was not closed to the possibility in the right circumstances. For example, if a brand ambassador had a popular blog reaching the right target market, we’d never ask for ad placement on that blog for free. That would be highly inappropriate, and disrespectful.

Why did I decide on four promises for each side of the relationship? I felt that four was a nice, manageable number of actions to take. Not too overwhelming, not too demanding, but valuable enough for each party to feel they were getting something meaningful out of the relationship.

Not sure what to offer? Ask. Simply ask the people you’ve identified and are interacting with privately: “What would be valuable to you?” You’d be surprised at what basic needs their honest answers will reveal. They usually boil down to being respected, recognized and rewarded in simple ways.

Once we get people to accept the position as a brand ambassador, we invite them to a private Facebook Group to interact with them more directly. We also make it clear that they must always reveal that they are a brand ambassador for the brand when spreading the word publicly about the brand and if asked what they receive as compensation, they are encouraged to be totally forthcoming. There are no secrets here. There is full transparency.

The only thing the public isn’t privy to are the behind-the-scenes communications that inform the brand ambassadors about upcoming promotions and help them understand what we need specifically from them. By having the brand ambassadors learn about these things first, we are providing them with the additional value that they seek: being “in the know” before everyone else.

We’re using a combination of Net Promoter score plus our own proprietary measurement analysis to gauge the value of the  activities of our brand ambassadors. Even at this early stage, we can say that brand ambassadors are driving sales.

How are you leveraging the passions of your best customers to bring in new ones via social media?

Photo by stock.xchng image user cx_ed

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  1. Aliza Sherman Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Notifying some of our brand ambassadors this week about a new opportunity to help select the concentration for a new fragrance. Will report back as to how it works out. Social media will drive the messaging and encourage participation. The main part is pure online focus group. Then the rest will be public conversations. Social media marketing bookends!

  2. customerrespect Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Good post. It is critical to get customers to help promote dialog. It is worth reviewing the experiences of the technology companies such as Dell, HP, and Verizon that host support forums. The goal of a forum is to create a “living manual” and to reduce support costs by having customers support customers. They have done a good job creating recognition structures and privileges to encourage activity. Some of these customers have even created their own groups such as the ATT Wolfpack, that defend the brand across the web. YOu can find them on Facebook.

  3. Rob van Alphen Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Hi Aliza

    Looking forward to your case study analysis of the fragrance concentration selection!

    I believe when you identify your community of superfans, you should take the community offline. Too often this is forgotten, but is really as far as ‘social’ can go. Organize a meet-up where fans can gather and connect. Where they can learn about your brand or sense your product, and get to know the face behind it.

    But also basic recognition techniques as linking to their blog, adding a [blogger] of the week, or better yet starting a conversation on the platforms they are present will help in converting fans into advocates, and can thus not be forgotten.

    Thank you for the insightful post.

  4. Excellent post. I agree that the cultivation of the superfans is imperative to spread the word and lend a (usually) energetic and positive third party voice to your brand. Do you think that there should be a limit on the amount of superfans that a brand attains for? Should it vary based on the sized of the enterprise. Thoughts anyone?

  5. links for 2010-05-20 « burningCat Thursday, May 20, 2010

    [...] How to Convert Your Facebook Superfans Into Brand Ambassadors [...]

  6. links for 2010-05-20 | Don't mind Rick Thursday, May 20, 2010

    [...] How to Convert Your Facebook Superfans Into Brand Ambassadors [...]

  7. Hey Aliza – Thanks for sharing your insights in this post. I’ve seen the music industry following a similar model for a while, creating ‘street teams’ (online and offline) from the most rabid fans and it seems to be effective there.
    I’m curious if you can reveal some of the specific actions brand ambassadors are asked, or encouraged to take in order to spread the word?
    Also, is there any evidence to suggest that by calling oneself a ‘brand ambassador’ that person may lose credibility – appearing to be more like a marketer rather than a regular person who just really likes a product? I’m sort of playing devils advocate with that question. Just wondering if there is, or could be, a threshold to how much the general public will tolerate brand ambassadors before they lump them in with other marketers?

    1. I totally agree that the Street Team IRL is a comparable to the SM Brand Ambassador model. Music industry has been using those forever. In social media, I think people aren’t sure what translates from the real world street team to the SM/online version but it can be done and done well.

      I’m using “Brand Ambassador” as more of an internal term – the “name” for the actual people engaged at this higher level can be almost anything that makes sense for the brand and the audience. But right now, with the fragrance company, it is more of an “insider’s badge of honor,” coveted and respected.

      I think a huge piece of the process that I may not have clearly articulated yet is that these women came to the Facebook page as fans of the parent brand, grew to become fans of the fragrance brand, and eventually became “friends” with one another and with our team.

      The ones who then “graduate” to brand ambassador bring an excitement to the others, the sense of possibility to be part of something more exclusive and rewarding. In turn, the ambassadors go to their broader online and offline circles of friends and even family and bring them into the fold. There is no loss of credibility or intolerance because:

      1. it is actually someone they know;
      2. they see that the person they know is part of a fun/interesting/great opportunity;
      3. they are supportive of this person and trust their advice;
      4. they are enthusiastic about joining the FB page and being a part of the community.

      We are NOT talking about paying people to go shill a product or service. We are talking about rewarding the most loyal fans with perks and giving them additional tools to help them help us to spread the word in ways that feel most comfortable to them.

      Make sense?

  8. Antonio Salgado Thursday, May 20, 2010

    Lucy, loosing credibility it depends on the “new ambassador” and how they interact or informed is about the brand, service or product, as Aliza says, if you give insights and some guidelines people can talk about the “news” before everyone else and say “the guy from — told me that”, then at the social network confirm you actuallly did it -also I usually joke about the leak of info on my part-. I did all this with Modelo’s group (the Corona beer) In México for a Ber tour in all the country and got people designing, printing, cutting and distributing flyers for us at the concerts. It worked great for us…still have people from those events calling me on my birthday.

  9. Great post, Aliza. I have a question. Since Pages can’t communicate directly with fans, how do you handle these two points in your superfan strategy?
    Privately request that superfans respond to a questionnaire to get a better sense of who they are.
    Approach superfans privately with a proposal to become a brand ambassador.

    1. Each of us have a Facebook account and are admins of the Page. But when we contact someone who we are interacting with on the Page already, we reach out to them with our own accounts and with a message that clearly indicates who we are and why we are contacting. So far, every one of them have been thrilled to hear from us personally, however, we have also taken a lot of time and care to build a trusting relationship.

      So yes, each step is done privately behind the scenes, person to person, with total transparency.

  10. Terri Brooks Thursday, May 20, 2010

    Excellent post. And I love this idea. There are brand ambassadors for everything else, why not for Facebook Pages. When I have a great meal, I’m a brand ambassador for that restaurant. When I find a sweet deal at the Mall, I’m a brand ambassador for the store, so I think it’s great to find and enlist the support of those who really have a passion for your Page and appreciate the information that you communicate through it.

    This is definitely something that I will be implementing for my page as well as for my clients.

    Thanks!

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