Last Wednesday during #Rockstarchat we were joined by Paper.li’s Marketing Directory, Kelly Hungerford. Kelly was joining the chat to talk about Paper.li’s Brand Ambassador program, which the company launched a few months ago. Kelly talked about the program, how it was formed, and what the brand’s goals for the initiative were.
What struck me most from our chat was the focus of Paper.li’s brand ambassador program: The goal is to put the spotlight on the brand’s fans. This is an interesting disconnect from most brand ambassador programs, where the main goal is to create a way to organize some of the brand’s biggest fans so they can better promote the brand. Paper.li appears to have flipped this model, using the program to promote its fans, with the secondary goal being promotion of the brand itself.
Kelly told us that over the last couple of years, that Paper.li began to identify publishers that were independently helping others better use Paper.li. So Kelly decided that a brand ambassador program would be a good way to bring together and acknowledge some of its community members that were going out of their way to help others.
So basically Paper.li is rewarding the behavior it wants to encourage. As Paper.li promotes its brand ambassadors, that helps validate their love of the brand, and gives them more incentive to promote the brand to other people. So Paper.li’s brand ambassador program is driving additional promotion of the brand, even though that’s not the primary objective.
Another interesting aspect of Paper.li’s brand ambassador program is that members get early access to new product features and releases. Kelly said this was a perk that members specifically asked for. The benefit to the members is obvious and goes back to the idea of giving your fans ‘special access’ and helps them feel like the rock stars (because they are).
But giving brand ambassadors early access to new product features has two huge benefit for Paper.li. First, it allows Paper.li’s power users to give the brand valuable feedback on the features. This is done before being released to tbe public, so its possible the brand can still make changes based on feedback from its brand ambassadors.
The second key benefit for Paper.li is that when the new features are officially rolled out, the brand ambassadors will already be familiar with the features and how to use them. So the brand ambassadors can become teachers and help teach other Paper.li members how to use the new features! Again, this becomes a promotional tool for the brand, because when Paper.li rolls out new features, it immediately has its biggest fans telling other Paper.li users why these features are so awesome.
So ironically, by flipping the focus of its brand ambassador program to focus on spotlighting its fans, Paper.li has created a powerful promotional tool. I think this is a very brave move by a brand to give its fans so much control over the direction of such a program. But I think that willingness to embrace its fans came from how Kelly and team made great efforts to personally connect with its fans. This lead to them having a better understanding of its fans and what they wanted from their relationship with the brand. This is why many brands don’t launch a program such as this, because they don’t understand their fans and what motivates them. As such, they fear ceding control of a program such as this.
So by creating direct benefits for its biggest fans, this program is indirectly creating big benefits for Paper.li! If you want to view the transcript from last week’s #rockstarchat (which had a TON of key takeaways) then click here(click Transcript on the left).
Thank you for extending the invitation to co-host. I love being able exchange ideas and thoughts on building closer relationships with fans and community in general and especially because as you very clearly pointed out — I am flipping the model ( a bit, for now) . I am purposely putting community members in the spotlight and Paper.li in terms of “here are more great way to promote us” on the back stage.
One of the key considerations when beginning this journey was budget and resource. A lot of brands wait until they have budget and resources to begin gathering super fans under one roof and rightfully so. You don’t want to set expectations and then have the program dropped due to budget…
In the first step of creating this program my goal is to integrate our champions into our business so that advocates would feel (and be seen) less of a marketing “program” and more as an extended part of the team. For us, this effort needs to be integrated into our daily roles and responsibilities so that extra resources are not needed to cover program expenses. (thus no risk of “sorry, no budget”)
So instead of building a program and new way of them to get excited about us, I decided to promote them and what they do first and it comes naturally through every day connections and social sharing. Our community blog has been a great place to shine the spotlight on our fans and “say thank you for all you do”. I know who our advocates are but I want the community to know who they are.
The majority of our users are solopreneurs or small business owners and have great stories to tell about their professional lives and passions. I am so happy to promote what they do as a way to give back. And yes, that good will goes a long way and builds an even stronger relationship.
My next step will be a dedicated page to our ambassadors and their areas of expertise. So if the community is looking for an expert in social selling, they will know to check out Barbara Giamanco, or for expat living and community building, Lucy Westphal, blogging, Mack Collier… or how to leverage social in the entertainment industry, they will go to Natasha Younge. You get the idea.
These smaller efforts coupled with user testing and feedback on product development are all integrated tightly with what we do daily. They are all things that any brand can do, large or small, that don’t require extra budget.
Thanks again for the opportunity to share and learn. During the chat I loved what both Judy Gombita and Dennis Smith brought up regarding being able to track referrals and perhaps apply a month of Pro towards it. That point is on my list!
Mack Collier says
Hi Kelly, thanks as always for filling us in on what’s happening with the program! I really think a type of referral program would be a good idea, and I think the ambassadors would love to see it. Let us know what happens next!