Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Social Media-Based Brand Ambassadors - Part 3


[This post is part 3 in a series of posts related to Social Media-Based Brand Ambassadors.  This post focuses on the benefits associated with a brand ambassador program.]

According to Tom Blackett in Brands and Branding (Bloomberg Press, 2009), “When employees are excited by the proposition they will help to sustain it and communicate it to customers, suppliers and others through their enthusiasm and commitment.” 

Forrester Research, Inc.’s Cindy Commander states in the 2007 Report Brief: Transforming Employees Into Brand Advocates that “Employees who actively ‘live the brand’ create significant benefits for both the customer and the organization.  Customers of organizations with employee brand advocates enjoy better customer service, greater anticipation of and ability to have their needs met, and more attentiveness to their voice and feedback.  The organization enjoys the benefits of word-of-mouth marketing, greater profitability and financial results, and a more differentiated brand.”  Social media-enabled brand ambassadors provide benefits to the organization as a result of their efforts to humanize the organization.

Ability to Humanize the Organization:  AdWeek Magazine blogger Noreen O’Leary emphasizes (“Employee Benefits: Workers as BrandAmbassadors”) that “The use of workers to humanize corporate entities has been a time-honored marketing tradition, of course.  But in an era of Web 2.0 transparency, their visibility takes on greater meaning, signaling the higher importance of customer service in the marketing mix.  More subliminally, as America’s battered consumers have lost faith in the institutions they hold responsible for the current economic mess – and are angry with corporations behind massive layoffs – staffers offer a kind of peer credibility as corporate advocates.”

Social media-enabled employee brand ambassadors can play a major role in changing the public’s perception of the organization.  Brand ambassadors have the ability to transform cold and impersonal organizations into warm and friendly customer-friendly companies.  Instead of dealing with an abstract concept, logo, or the image of an ivory tower, social media-enabled employee brand ambassadors are able to transform transactions into human relations.  Social media platforms provide the “social” vehicle to connect with customers at a personal level – something that is not possible through static Web pages and advertising.

Organizations transform themselves by responding to social media inquiries as well as seeking out and creating “conversations” on social media platforms.  These interactions are perceived positively if the communication is determined to be honest, genuine, and transparent.  Through these activities brand ambassadors have the ability to transform customer interactions into rewarding personal experiences.

Brand Awareness:  Social media-enabled employee brand ambassadors can be very effective at creating brand awareness.  While the reach of a brand ambassador is generally not the same as a mass market advertisement, the quality of the social media interaction can produce a valuable word-of-mouth affect – the “viral” affect – that can create significant awareness and interest in the brand.

A sound Social Media-Based Employee Brand Ambassador Program turns employees into influencers.  As long as the brand ambassadors act in an honest and transparent manner and consistent with expectations, they can create a favorable impression of the brand.

Meet Customer Expectations:  Social media platforms act as convenient and easily accessible forums where customers and potential customers can reach out to organizations through their brand ambassadors.  Customers are able to use social media platforms to pose questions, make statements or generally express their feelings about the brand on their time and on their platform of choice (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, etc.).

The use of social media-enabled employee brand ambassadors allows organizations to meet these customer expectations.  According to Top DogSocial Media blogger Melonie Dodaro, “More than one quarter of all the time people spend online is spent on social networks.  Regardless of what their needs happen to be, they are turning to sites like Twitter and Facebook in order to find what they are looking for.”

The result of widespread use of social media is the recently developed customer expectation that organizations should also reside on the social networks used by customers.  Social media-enabled brand ambassadors that monitor social media platforms allow organizations to not only react to demand but to also proactively create a social media presence. blogger Rajib Kumar states that “Customers want immediate acknowledgement and resolution and are not willing to wait endlessly listening to call Centre hold tunes.  Consumers want instant gratification even in customer service.  Smart and savvy businesses have started using the social media space to get closer to their customers and increase their service levels up a notch vis-à-vis the competition.”

Brand Differentiation:  In today’s globally competitive marketplace it is not enough to be just as good as the next guy.  In today’s business environment it is important to be different.  Anyone can make a plain vanilla product.  And vanilla generally tastes the same regardless of the maker.  As such, unless the organization seeks to enter a price war over vanilla, the organization is better suited finding a way to differentiate its products or services.

Brand ambassadors provide the organization with a method of setting itself apart from the competition.  Relative to competitors that do not employ brand ambassadors the organization is able to set itself apart.  This differentiation not only assists the organization in avoiding vanilla product pricing but may also provide for the opportunity to create loyalty and charge premium prices.

Early Warning System:  Social media monitoring involves the use of applications such as Google Alerts, and radian6 to locate comments that reside on social media platforms.  Identification of comments enables the organization to provide a timely response that is likely to be appreciated by the commenter.

According to Techncom’s Kumar, social media monitoring provides organizations with an early warning system.  Customers will generally give organizations an opportunity to “right the wrong” before unleashing their fury on social media platforms.  As such, organizations that utilize social media-enabled employee brand ambassadors to “listen” to social media conversations are able to proactively identify and address problems before they manifest into major public relations disasters. 

Top Dog SocialMedia blogger Dodaro says that “Using social media the right way means you’ll also have the ability to listen to your audience, find out what their needs are and offer them a solution.”  An additional benefit is derived from customers that share the positive experience via social media, turning themselves into a customer brand ambassadors.

Development of a Knowledgebase:  The use of social media to locate and answer organization-specific questions benefits not only the party asking the question but also others that may have similar questions.  It is not uncommon for customers and prospective customers to search the Internet for answers to product and/or service-related questions.  To the extent that the response to a question is addressed on a social media platform it is subject to search engine indexing that makes the response retrievable by others.  The availability of this information is likely to be viewed favorably by customers and prospective customers.

Techncom’s Kumar says about creating a public knowledgebase, “It can become a great resource for future reference and a guide point for other customers who will refer to the link or post.”  But the knowledgebase need not only include responses to questions.  It can also include proactive information provided through blog posts, tweets and other information.

Improved Financial Results:  It is no surprise that an increase in brand awareness results in improved financial results.  However, a Social Media-Based Employee Brand Ambassador Program will not in of itself create blockbuster financial success.  It will contribute to the bottom line along with the organization’s other revenue generating activities.  Regardless, its effect should not be minimized as it has the potential to become a significant contributor to the organization.

Dow Jones Media Lab blogger Diane Thieke (“Employeesas Brand Ambassadors: Enthusiasm is Infectious”) states, “Today, I don’t think there’s much question about whether there’s a benefit to having employees engaged as brand ambassadors in social media.”  Instead, Thieke believes that that key question is how to effectively manage a Brand Ambassador Program.

To the extent that an organization can establish a sound Social Media-Enabled Brand Ambassador Program and use it to motivate its employees, the organization can become incredibly effective at influencing stakeholders.  The consensus among the experts suggests that the maintenance of a cadre of brand ambassadors results in stronger branding, improved customer satisfaction, increased revenue and stronger overall financial results.

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