Most brands in 2021 already know User Generated Content (UGC) is becoming the most important way to connect with new potential customers on social media. The data shows that a brand’s customers can create thousands of times as much content as the brand itself, and that content typically has about 5x the engagement rate. It’s not hard to see why UGC is a high priority.
In a perfect world, brands would build a culture that revolves around UGC, and they would already be earning thousands of posts from their loyal customers. The fastest growing brands in 2021, brands like Gymshark, Morphe and Fashion Nova, have achieved this Customer Led Growth.
But for the vast majority of brands, they need more high quality UGC. And the two most popular ways to get more UGC consistently are ambassador programs and influencer programs.
But how does a brand know which group of content creators is a better fit for their goals? Let’s compare compare brand ambassadors and influencers to see which group makes more sense for your brand.
What are Brand Ambassadors?
Brand ambassadors are typically a formalized group of “brand advocates” that hold a genuine passion for a brand. Brands recruit ambassadors to help promote the brand, build a community, and provide feedback. In return, they offer exclusivity, recognition, gifts, and potentially commissions.
What are influencers?
Influencers are content creators on social media who generally exhibit authority and influence over a domain. Their defining characteristic is a large social following, and they often brand their content in exchange for cash, product, or notoriety.
Category 1 – Discovery and Recruitment:
While most brands follow and are generally aware of the influencers in their space, they typically discover and recruit influencers on influencer marketing networks (especially if they are working with large groups of influencers). Platforms like HypeAuditor and Aspire.IQ allow brands to search influencer databases and reach out to potential partners. With access to millions of influencers, these tools are great resources, but it still takes users significant time and engagement to curate and recruit influencers that will fit the brand.
Brands can identify ambassadors through several of their own data sources. They can start with their highest LTV customers, and proceed to see who’s created the most high value content for them on social media by examining their feeds or using UGC Measurement tools. Then, they can potentially invite them at scale.
Advantage: Split. For small brands, the ability to engage with millions of influencers is hard to pass up. But for medium and large brands, it tends to be easier to find high value ambassadors within your existing network since you already know they align with your brand.
Category 2 – Management:
Managing influencers requires a great deal of focus on individual relationships. Brands typically have to contract, communicate, coach, review, and pay each influencer individually. Fortunately, influencer management tools significantly reduce the time it takes to complete these tasks, but nonetheless, the influencer manager will be maintaining potentially hundreds of relationships.
Ambassador programs typically take longer to set up than an influencer program, but once they are created, they require much less management. Rather than managing individuals, ambassador programs typically consist of “one-to-many” relationships, where the brand will provide guidance to the entire group of ambassadors instead of individuals. They can still spend their time on engaging with individual ambassadors, just not on administrative tasks.
Advantage: For 1-10 person programs, influencers. For programs of more than 10 people, ambassador programs win on scalability.
Category 3 – Content Quality:
Influencers tend to create the most aesthetically pleasing content on social media (which is how they achieved their followings). It is high quality and consistent. However, from a brand’s perspective, it can lack authenticity, since influencer relationships are usually inorganic.
Brand ambassadors create high quality content, but usually not with the same level of panache as influencers. However, for exactly this reason, ambassadors usually have far more engaging content. Their audiences have a much closer relationship with the individual and their content is more “trusted” and “authentic”.
Advantage: Split. Influencers have very high quality, consistent content that is seen by a lot of people. But ambassadors have more authentic and engaging content.
Category 4 – ROI:
The single largest drawback of influencer marketing is that the “influencer economy” has become quite expensive. Competing brands have driven up the price of contracting influencers (typically around $100 for every 10k followers).
On the other hand, brand ambassadors will typically create content for products, discounts, or nothing at all. While their follower counts are lower, their engagement rate is usually about 3-5x of an influencer’s, meaning their ROI is usually an order of magnitude higher than an influencer’s. This makes sense – since they already love the brand – their reward is engaging with the brand, not cash. Couple this with the fact ambassadors typically will engage with brands over months or years, and this makes the picture even more clear.
Advantage: Ambassadors, in a landslide.
Both ambassadors and influencers are appropriate for different situations. Influencers tend to be a stronger fit for brands that are in their infancy and don’t have an established group of loyal customers. For brands that have not planned ahead, they also can help generate content in a pinch.
For brands that have an established customer base, brand ambassadors generally create more authentic content, at a fraction of the “cost”, for a much longer period of time. This results in 8-40x ROI vs. influencer programs.
The analogy that I like to make is with organic traffic and paid search. Organic traffic (ambassadors) will take more work to earn since you have to build a loyal customer base. But once it’s up and running, it’s easier to manage and more efficient. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in Adwords.
For many brands, both make sense. When allocating time and resources, brands should consider their long-term goals for both the campaign and their long-term marketing strategy.
We believe that the most effective way of marketing and selling your product is through word-of-mouth marketing. Currently, the best (and most engaging way) for brands to scale word-of-mouth marketing is through User Generated Content (UGC) on social platforms like Instagram. LoudCrowd helps you analyze your UGC and incentivize your customers to grow it.
About the Author
Gary Garofalo is a marketing focused technologist and the CEO of LoudCrowd. He’s spent his career focused on analytics, strategic consulting, and building technology companies. When he’s not writing about social media, he spends his free time reading, lamenting over the risks of climate change and artificial intelligence, and playing pickleball with the LoudCrowd team.