By: Lucy Arnold and Claudia Vargas
Allison + Partners’ recent COVID-19 Trend Report analyzed social media chatter and the earned media landscape to extract context from millions of COVID-19-related conversations. We’ve found emotions have shifted over the past two weeks from fear to frustration as uncertainty grows, supplies become scarce and concrete answers are hard to find. Consumers, influencers and journalists all share an overwhelming need for clarity in an age of rampant misinformation.
Wouldn’t we all love a little more clarity? So, what’s the right strategy for engaging with brand ambassadors in times like these -- from the big names and recognizable faces you’ve hired, to the broad swath of dedicated brand fans who have stood by you through thick and thin? It’s important to recognize there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – we must examine each brand ambassador program individually. It might be helpful to share some of the best practices we’ve developed for our clients, as we’ve helped them navigate these troubled waters.
Here are some guiding principles to engage with your brand ambassadors in this time of uncertainty:
- Reach out now. Don’t wait. Let them know the brand cares about their situation
Remember that brands are human constructs – they live in consumers’ hearts and minds. Celebrities, influencers, brand ambassadors are all in the same boat right now. They’re adjusting to a “new normal” just like everyone else. Simply reach out to see how people are doing. Ask about their kids or what they’re binge-watching. Share information, links and tools that might be helpful. Talk business later, but let the brand be human first. Brand ambassadors will remain a critical pathway for us to connect with the community, gain insights and maintain support for our brand in the market – but only if we nurture them, support them and keep them informed. Working together, we will not only get through this, but we will create a better world in the process.
- Make sure they have enough supplies, including your products
Grocery stores are doing double-duty to keep critical essentials in stock, but their hard-working staff struggle to keep up. Malls have closed and may not bounce back. Maybe you are an essential brand and have the ability to directly send your supporters a little product. Or if not an essential item, maybe a little swag could lift spirits. Surprise and delight moments will be an appreciated bright spot. It's an opportunity to reduce anxiety and be supportive to show the brand cares, which will pay dividends in the long run.
- Read the room. Listen and engage in dialogue.
Social listening and monitoring have never been more important. It’s tricky to positively impact conversation in a meaningful way without seeming self-serving or tone deaf. It depends on the conversation landscape, which changes by the minute. Right now, we see social media challenge after social media challenge – people tagging their friends to do push-ups, people sending photos of their dogs and encouraging their friends to send photos of their pets, Christmas lights to spread joy, sharing workouts and recipes. The need to connect right now during this time of isolation is apparent. Likewise, establishing the same two-way conversations with brand ambassadors is critically important. Our supporters are our eyes and ears and boots on the ground who can help provide us with insight into how to connect. They can help us uncover what keeps consumers up at night and surface unimagined ways the brand can be helpful right now.
- Grant even more access - be excessively transparent - “People support a world they helped create.” - Dale Carnegie
Providing influencers with more brand access will be important. As mentioned, listening to brand ambassadors to help inform the content strategy could be very impactful. Set up one-on-one virtual meetings with a brand representative and the influencer to talk about product news, initiatives and/or key differentiators. This gives the influencer a sense of being a true partner and insider. Or, host influencer roundtable meetings with a group of partners on conference calls with the brand. Making the brand ambassadors feel as if they are part of a focus group that helps the brand achieve its objectives together will go a long way. But note, it’s still important to get the product in the hands of the brand ambassadors and ask them what kind of content they think their audience will be receptive to engaging with.
- We can’t be self-serving right now - we have to help
To cut through the noise meaningfully, it’s more important than ever to root influencer or brand ambassador programs in insights and human truths. Aligning to business objectives will never change. Raising awareness has shifted to helping the community – brands must authentically make a difference during this difficult time.
A great proof point is Nike’s recent use of brand ambassadors for its 'Play Inside' to 'Play for the World' campaign. As athletes, its ambassadors know how to train and stay active. So, the ambassadors helped elevate the brand and its “Just Do It” motto, which has always inspired the community to lead and take action. Frankly, we all need to stay active both mentally and physically. The campaign offered Nike’s two cents while contributing to the broader mission of keeping the public safe. “Play for the World” checked all the boxes.
Striking the right tone is critical. It’s a balance between the brand ambassador's areas of expertise, the brand’s voice and objectives, plus what audiences really need right now. Influencers can continue to help brands, and now more than ever, brands need to give back.
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Lucy Arnold is a vice president on our Digital team and specializes in creating engaging digital strategies including influencer relations, campaign development and management, community management and paid media.
Claudia Vargas is a director of integrated marketing and brings a wealth of knowledge in strategy and account management. With experience in paid media, brand ambassador programs, content development, multicultural campaigns and social media community management, Claudia leads several integrated projects for the agency connecting the dots to drive results for clients