Build Trust With Advocates, Ambassadors

Many brands are leery of the conversation that gets started when they open up the social media channel, especially with Twitter leveling the playing field. Who will speak for them now that there are numerous, real-time conversations being started with or without them? How do they listen and engage and successfully build trust with their consumer?

Brand Advocates

As a brand, it's important to have reviews posted about your products on your site; it not only gives you feedback from buyers but helps convert new sales at the point of purchase. So, if you're not asking the one question a 2003 Harvard Business Review study pointed to as the most important predictor of top-line growth, "Would you recommend this company/product to a friend?," then you're missing out on an opportunity to build brand advocates. Plus, if I'm buying something online I haven't used before, I'll look for those reviews to guide my decision about the product.



Brand Ambassadors

With more than 70% of bloggers posting product reviews and many of them now identifying themselves as a "brand ambassador" on their sites, one has to wonder what does this mean? How are they speaking for the brand? Are they a paid staffer? Can I ask them questions about products and get good answers?

Several times in the past, I've facilitated product reviews for brands by matching a blogger to a product. On a few occasions, the brand was not happy that the reviewer posted an honest opinion about the product, following a disclosure policy to remain uninfluenced and give an honest opinion.

Yet, some disclosure policies can leave serious doubt about the authentic voice coming from that reviewer, such as this one that states, "The blogger may receive compensation that can influence posts ... and don't always identify paid posts as such, and any claim on a product review should be verified with the manufacturer." Why would a brand engage a "brand ambassador" when it has policies that are that ambiguous? For that matter, if the brand doesn't want to listen to the reviewer's true experience about its product and encourages positive or neutral posts, how long will it be a viable brand?

No wonder that, when digital moms are researching new products, they're starting to look for user-generated video reviews so they can see the product in action before they decide to buy.

Today's savvy moms want to know that brands have selected their spokespeople based on research done beyond page ranks, that they know what their disclosure policies are, have chosen them for their domain knowledge/expertise on a topic that aligns with the product/service and how their sphere of influence reaches beyond their site, Twitter presence and Facebook page and into their social circles off line (translation: they're more than a reviewer; they're a trusted voice). Most importantly, we want to know that brands will listen to what we're saying about their products and take our feedback seriously.

Don't short-change your brand in the area of building trusted advocates, ambassadors, and relationships. We're looking for authentic voices to follow and engage with. If we don't find them or don't like what we're finding, you'll be in crisis management mode before you know it and be a case study of what not to do at the next social media conference.

4 comments about "Build Trust With Advocates, Ambassadors".
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  1. Nicole Brady from, March 17, 2010 at 1:27 p.m.

    I think that you hit the nail on the head when you said there is more to it than just page rank. Like you said, it's about the person and what they can completely bring to the table. But mainly, I think ambassador programs should place their foundations firmly on honesty.

    While I haven't been invited to any of the fancy retreats put together by iRobot, Nestle, Campbells, General Mills, etc, I do have a little experience with ambassador programs conducted solely online. When I had the opportunity to become a Purex Insider, one of the first such programs that I had been invited to, I was excited. Yes, it's a product that I would use and could talk about. Unfortunately, it's not my first choice when shopping. It's not fair to the brand or to my readers to become an ambassador when I cannot honestly rave about the product. I declined to be considered knowing that there would be more suitable opportunities later on.

    And there were... when invited to be a Tropicana Juicy Insider, I couldn't apply fast enough. It's on the top of my list of orange juices and I've introduced people to it long before becoming part of their ambassador program. I'm a believer in the product and can share honest feedback with my readers about why I love it and purchase it.

    As long as companies and agencies put their trust in people who are honest and are truly brand believers, they won't need to worry about negative feedback.

    ...and I'm certain that someday, I'll get invited to one of those summits... I just hope it's for a brand that I believe in!

  2. Stephanie Piche from Mingle Media TV, March 18, 2010 at 11:10 a.m.

    Hi Nicole, thanks for your comments. One thing I'd like to be clear on is that the change of engagement that social marketing brings is to open the conversation and give constructive feedback to the brand - be it how they market, what they are making, what you do and don't like, etc... "Negative" comments aren't always a bad thing, especially if it serves the brand to correct the concern. Take for instance the problem that Toyota customers were experiencing. There were issues with their vehicles, they were reporting problems, but the brand was not listening or reacting fast enough. It took the media to get involved and do lengthy news reports on it and then the government stepped in and then the brand got engaged. Listening to your consumer is crucial in today's market, no matter if you perceive it to be trivial or catastrophic, brand ambassadors should participate in that conversation as well, especially as you are closer to the conversation and represent the brand.

  3. Nicole Brady from, March 18, 2010 at 10:45 p.m.

    Thanks for the clarification, Stephanie. I totally understand your direction now. During BlogHer in Chicago, I had a chance to meet with Ford and the feedback was awesome. They encouraged us to bring criticism to the table so they could pick our brains. I recall making a comment about how I hated the fact that built-in navigation systems only work when the car is in park and they explained the safety feature behind the matter. I followed with "When my husband is driving, it is perfectly safe for me to enter a new address. The airbags know when there is someone in the passenger seat so why can't the navigation system?" They appreciated the feedback and I thought that was incredible. It is corporate thinking like Ford exhibits that help improve their products in the long run.

    I think it will be wonderful to see companies utilize ambassadors to the fullest extent - just as you said, to make note of the positives and the shortcomings!

    Thanks again for the great post and for the clarification.

  4. Peter Herring from TTW Systems, June 30, 2010 at 8:25 p.m.

    This is a great article, thanks. As a marketer for others who is now putting his money where his mouth is and introducing a new product of my own largely through the social web, it's good to be reminded that starting an honest conversation on the web is akin to starting an honest conversation at a party. If it's truly honest on both sides, there will be give and take, you won't control where it's going (or the other person will excuse themselves to talk to they guy across the room) and if you listen you'll likely learn something useful. That's the nature of dialog. Before the social web took off, the brand was like the actor in the old joke - but enough about me, what did you think of my movie?

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