When you’re trying to get your company’s message and brand out to the world, you probably already know the basics: content marketing, social media, email marketing, and the like.

But there’s a huge marketing resource that many budding companies (and even big brands) leave untapped: your biggest fans.

After all, one of the most powerful tools in marketing is still word of mouth. Through my experience helping grow a small start-up, one of the best ways to get the word out about your company is by getting in touch with your target audience and leveraging them to market your brand. In other words, by building a brand ambassador program.

Read on to learn some of the biggest merits of having an ambassador program, and how you can get your own started today.

1. No One Will Love You Like They Do

When you first launch or start working with a company, you’ll be inundating your friends and family on social media with every new blog post and company update you possibly can. That’s natural, and it’s good to be excited, but let’s be honest: Eventually, your contacts will probably start to glaze over your updates. After all, your immediate network is a huge fan of you—but not necessarily a fan of your product.

This is where having an online community of brand ambassadors who are just as excited about your company and vision as you are can work wonders. You don’t have to do all of the sharing—because they will. When your company posts a new update or launches a new campaign, your brand ambassadors will be thrilled to pass it along to their networks, too—helping spread the word about what you’re doing to many more people than you could reach on your own.

2. You Can’t Be Everywhere

Event marketing can be a necessary evil when you’re starting out. Participating in parties, trade shows, and networking events gives you a chance to connect with potential customers, but costs money, time, and resources (not to mention requires a lot of patience and stamina!).

Luckily, most brand ambassadors are more than happy to volunteer their time to champion a brand they love at an event, especially if it’s one they would have attended anyway.

For example, my company ICEdot focuses on improving safety for athletes, and we like to have a presence at as many triathalons, marathons, cycling circuits, and obstacle courses as we can. Since our small team can’t be everywhere at once, we use our athletic brand ambassadors—who are attending these sorts of events on their own—to help spread the word. In the past, this has been as small as outfitting our ambassadors with ICEdot swag to wear around the event and as large as having them staff our booth at an expo. We’ve even had brand ambassadors voluntarily ask to hand out marketing materials at athletic events where there is no formal ICEdot participation. This is particularly helpful because our ambassador team is located all over the U.S.—and can cover a lot more ground than our small staff possibly could.

3. You'll Get a Continuous Feedback Loop

Your product should always be in a state of evolution—whether you’re building new features or making improvements to existing ones. But when you have your nose to the grindstone all day, sometimes it can be hard to see the changes that really need to be made. Having outside eyes to give you feedback is enormously important, and your brand ambassadors can be a great source of that sort of feedback. (They’re also excellent at reporting what the competition is doing, which is something you should be paying attention to anyway.)

Start out by having an open-door (or at least open-social-media or open-email) policy with your brand ambassadors and regularly reminding them that you want to hear what they have to say. They may have opinions that you don’t like to hear, but know that they’re only sharing their thoughts because they actually care about your brand.

Then, when you’re getting ready to launch a new product or service, try giving your ambassadors exclusive early access in return for their opinions on what needs to be done before releasing it to the world.

4. You Can Feed the Content Machine

You probably already know that content creation is a great way to bring in traffic and help solidify your brand voice to the general public. And you probably also know that it takes a lot of time! So, if you have a blog, website, newsletter, or other publication, tap into your brand ambassadors. They’re likely to be excited about the opportunity—and since they represent your ideal customer, the things they write about are likely to appeal to your other customers as well.

As an athletic brand, we decided we wanted our blog to be full of content about our ambassadors’ training, racing, and gear, and we’ve found that people have been happy to contribute. And while we give them a general guideline of what they should write about, it seems like they always figure out what our customers are really interested in reading by themselves.

Getting Started

So, how can you begin building a team of awesome ambassadors? A call for brand ambassadors in your existing newsletter and a call to action on your website are great ways to start. You can also turn to Twitter to help you find people who are talking about your sector. Use Hootsuite to set up a Twitter stream based on keywords related to your brand. Those who are continuously tweeting about your keywords and offering up good content can be great people to reach out to.

While brand ambassadors can be paid for their work, there are many who will represent your company for free, just because they're excited about it. That said, if you don’t pay your brand ambassadors, make sure they have access to product at no cost and any other perks you can throw their way. They should be treated as your most important customers—because really, they are. And together, you can create a lasting brand.

Photo of brand ambassadors courtesy of Silicon Prairie News.