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As social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat become more ubiquitous, the success of social media marketing has given rise to three types of “strategic individuals”(Alex Mari): brand ambassadors, social media influencers, and traditional celebrities. Though distinctions between these three groups can be difficult to identify (especially as social media influencers become celebrities in their own right), understanding how each functions as part of a company’s larger marketing strategy can help brands determine which type of partnership will lead to the greatest marketing success.
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Brand ambassadors are defined as social media users—typically bloggers or others with an online social following—who are hired to work collaboratively with companies to promote the brand, showcase new offerings/products, share relevant and informative content from and about the brand, and attend/promote events. Ambassador programs typically work with a range of people and span a larger time period (often over a year) to fully develop the professional relationship and allow the ambassador to introduce the brand and its products to their audience.
Typical goals of ambassador programs include showcasing the product/brand throughout a given time period through multiple social posts, sponsorships, etc. Though brand ambassadors are not always paid, they may receive compensation in the form of new products, travel opportunities, tickets/invitations to special events, etc.
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Ambassadors are often identified through social listening; for brands, this involves finding customers who are passionate about the brand and who are already sharing information about it on their own social channels/accounts.
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While social media influencers can also be brand ambassadors, in general, these strategic individuals have a much larger reach—some have audiences of thousands or even millions on social media platforms/networks like Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Vine—and operate within a particular area of interest (i.e. beauty, fashion, travel, tech, etc.).
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Because social media influencers have earned the trust of their followers by providing valuable content and regularly interacting with their audiences, collaborating with digital stars to develop influencer marketing campaigns can be an effective way for companies to authentically connect with consumers, raise brand awareness, and drive product sales.
Traditionally, celebrities are notable/known for their work and/or public contributions to the world of music, film, art, modeling, television, and/or politics. While celebrities have often endorsed brands in through various advertising channels, their perceived lack of expertise and inability to genuinely connect with audiences on social media platforms has led marketers to opt, instead, for marketing collaborations with brand ambassadors and social media influencers.
As social media channels continue to attract larger and larger audiences, however, the lines between traditional celebrities and social media influencers is now becoming increasingly difficult to identify.