There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to community building and raising brand awareness. Your own customers and community members can drive more sales than traditional marketing and advertising can: according to research and reporting by Salesforce, only 33% of buyers trust a brand, while 90% trust product or service recommendations from people they know.

Give your community a boost by harnessing the power of brand ambassadors and watch your brand awareness grow. Current customers and employees make for powerful brand ambassadors when given the tools and resources to help tell your company’s story. Ambassadors are also in a unique position to strengthen brand awareness and trust for your products and services, and add to their value.

To get started, draw inspiration from these 10 companies actively using ambassadors to impact and grow their communities.

1. Salesforce

Erica Kuhl, VP of Community at Salesforce, built the community from scratch and focused on the value of ambassador programs from the start. She knew it would be difficult to hire people fast enough – and to keep up with trends and new channels – so instead, she tapped into ambassadors to help build and engage the community.

To entice their ambassadors to contribute, Kuhl and her team harnessed the ideas of access – their members want to be seen as “smarter than the average bear” – and recognition – in the form of social media badges, business cards or front row seats to Salesforce events.

CMX - 10 Companies Worked with Ambassadors2

Image: CMX

Figuring out how to measure the ROI of an advocacy program in such a big company can be overwhelming, but Kuhl focused on several different metrics, including tweets. She discovered that members of their early Salesforce MVP program were generating 5-7% of their Twitter mentions and were amplifying their message. Salesforce also learned that people active in their community within the last 3 months spent twice as much and had a 33% higher adoption rate than non-community members.

What to take away from Salesforce’s ambassador program:

Turning thousands of customers into an engaged community isn’t always simple, but the payoff is huge. For Salesforce, their community now answers customer questions faster than their in-house team. They’ve also proven the ROI of their community with higher spending and retention rates. But it takes time and effort to collect data and work through the metrics to see what’s working and what’s not. Community building through ambassador programs isn’t usually a quick win or set-it-and-forget-it program. Take the time to nurture your program and have the patience to see it pay off.

2. Adidas

Influencer and ambassador marketing isn’t just happening on highly-visible channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. According to Marketing Week, 70% of brand referrals are happening through dark social, like messaging apps. Adidas tapped into the emerging power of dark social’s direct messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp by launching Tango Squads.

CMX - 10 Companies Worked with Ambassadors3

Image: Adidas

The hyper-connected communities of football fans are made up of 16 to 19-year-olds ready to share their passion. These football content creators are scattered throughout key cities worldwide and are eager to talk about new products.

Adidas figured out how to incentivize their growing community early on, and knew what their key demographic ultimately wanted was in-the-know information and early access. The groups are managed by Adidas, and the company shares football-focused content and products with the groups before they’re released for public consumption.

What to take away from Adidas’s influencer campaign:

If you’re having trouble with influencer marketing and ambassador programs, shake things up and create your own loyal communities on dark social. Start by getting early adopters and ambassadors to host chats with their own network of friends, peers and followers. Take Adidas’ cue and rally your customers and fans to engage on the direct messaging apps they’re already using. You can offer your own fan base similar incentives, whether that’s soliciting feedback on prototypes or giving them first rights on promoting your products on social media.

3. TheSkimm

TheSkimm built its daily digest newsletter through word-of-mouth, and organically attracted big-name influencers. Within a few short years, theSkimm had loyal fans like Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama, who even did a Guest Skimm for the company.

CMX - 10 Companies Worked with Ambassadors4

Image: The Skimm

TheSkimm team quickly figured out they could harness their newfound influencers and growing community to help spread the word about their product. In the early beginnings of their “Skimm’bassadors’” program, readers would send them emails talking about how much they loved the product. Some went so far as to say that they were already theSkimm’s brand reps. The founders started asking them to pass theSkimm on to their friends and family, and interest surged.

The now-formalized ambassadors program is over 4,000 strong, and ambassadors earn swag through their referrals, as well as coveted invitations to a secret Facebook group and first in-the-know job opportunities.

What to take away from theSkimm’s ambassador program:

If you’re struggling to figure out when to launch an ambassador or community program, wait for your customers to come to you and ask for it. They’re more likely to hit the ground running and start engaging than members of a community launched from an agenda set by your own company. And you don’t always need to compensate your ambassadors with swag and prizes; you can offer intangible perks like coveted invitations to private Facebook groups that help fuel your community’s growth.

4. Course Hero

Cornell University student Andrew Grauer launched the startup Course Hero and amassed a following of students who eagerly uploaded class notes, flashcards, and educational resources to help other students achieve academic success. The Course Hero community spread across the country to UC Santa Barbara by team members evangelizing the product and building college ambassador relationships with students. But more importantly, Course Hero kept fostering those relationships and keeping them warm.

CMX - 10 Companies Worked with Ambassadors5

Image: Instagram RachelFaber

Course Hero’s team recruited their very first community members by convincing friends and acquaintances to contribute their educational resources. They also reached out to local internship programs and job boards to recruit new ambassadors and influencers. To keep the internship program educational, they offered workshops on topics like networking to train their ambassadors to help spread the word, ultimately giving them valuable skills to take with them into their careers.

What to take away from Course Hero’s ambassador program:

Course Hero’s ambassador program was designed with their target community in mind. Both their ambassadors and community are students who are likely to use and love their product and eagerly spread the word. That leaves plenty of room for feedback from their target audience. Recruit your own community managers to leverage feedback from your ambassadors and influencers on what’s working, what’s not and how to improve your product and messaging.

5. Pearson Education

Pearson wanted to build brand affinity and let their student customers know they were more than just a textbook company. They decided to launch Pearson Student Insiders, an exclusive student community that provides perks and resources. The program helped build and nurture relationships between Pearson and students, and gave the company insights to better shape their products and messaging.

CMX - 10 Companies Worked with Ambassadors6

Image: Twitter – Pearson Students

Pearson focused on ambassadors who were knowledgeable and successful in their academic courses, and who wanted to help new members coming into the community. The ambassador community gained 1,200 members in just three months. The community is thriving, and ambassadors gain work experience while expanding their professional networks.

What to take away from Pearson’s ambassador program:

Pearson took an already-passionate group known for social sharing and gave them the tools to become ambassadors. But unlike companies that just want their college-aged target market to post on social media, Pearson tapped into students’ excitement for the future by giving them professional opportunities to network and connect. You can inspire and fuel the passion in your own community by giving them the tools to succeed in their own lives – not just in your community.

6. Serengetee

Serengetee sells pocket shirts from fabrics sourced from around the world. They give 13% of the profit from each T-shirt sale to one of their 50 partnering foundations around the world. Serengetee’s trendy shirts that give back attract a high school and college audience eager to spread the word about their products. In the first year alone, they earned $140,000 in revenue after scraping together just $3,000 to start the company.

CMX - 10 Companies Worked with Ambassadors7

Image: Serengetee

To help spread awareness of the company, Serengetee initially installed 150 “Campus Representatives” at schools across the country. Serengetee’s ambassadors, or student reps, earn prizes with a point system in exchange for spreading the word. Serengetee’s reps post pictures of themselves on social medial, sell shirts with a unique discount code, and created a rep project to promote the company. Their ambassador program grew organically to 2,500 strong through their high school and college target market.

What to take away from Serengetee’s ambassador program:

Serengetee knows its audience of high school and college kids makes for a well-connected demographic accustomed to sharing it all on social media. Already knowing their ambassadors would likely share on social media, they upped the ante by offering the chance to earn points and merchandise. Your company can take a similar approach by rewarding ambassadors for promoting products on the platforms they love most, from LinkedIn to Snapchat.

7. Lululemon

Lululemon broke the mold of athletic influencer programs when it skipped over traditional endorsements of big-name athletes and focused on a more localized program. They recruit elite athletes and talented yoga instructors who create their own communities and offer feedback to the Lululemon brand. The program also works as a reciprocal partnership. Ambassadors are given free clothing, promotion and merchandise, and teach classes or team up at Lululemon events.

Image: Lululemon Ambassadors

The company focuses on both community growth, and the personal growth of their ambassadors by supporting their passions and projects. Lululemon says it best: “Our athlete programs support a community of driven athletes and inspirational people who harness their passion to elevate their communities.”

What to take away from Lululemon’s ambassador program:

Lululemon’s ambassador program blurs the line between influencer and ambassador. Their program identifies passionate and talented athletes ready to spread awareness about the Lululemon brand while receiving merchandise and support in exchange. Gather inspiration from their business model and take the time to invest in your individual ambassadors. By empowering their personal growth, you can empower the community they’re serving.

8. MongoDB

MongoDB turned a group of developers most businesses would think were quiet and unengaged into a thriving community of ambassadors and advocates. To help get their developers on board, they launched the MongoDB Advocacy Hub for their top developers. Their ambassadors contribute to the community, and in turn MongoDB rewards them with prizes and personal development opportunities and encourages their success.

CMX - 10 Companies Worked with Ambassadors9

Image: MongoDB

MongoDB relied heavily on their community selling the product, instead of the product selling itself on its merit alone. Their hard work paid off: advocates helped drive 50,000 website visits and increased product adoption in just a few months.

What to take away from MongoDB’s ambassador program:

Just because your community members fit a subdued stereotype doesn’t mean you can’t draw out their passions. MongoDB took a typically introverted group and tapped into an area they were passionate about sharing. They knew developers would talk to other developers about their projects and the products they were using, and rewarded them for getting involved. Give your own community a reason to speak up and help each other, and give them plenty of recognition and perks for being smart and savvy members.

9. Namely

HR, payroll and benefits software company Namely was continuously reaching out to the same handful of customers to gather feedback and testimonials, but they knew they risked overloading those customers with ongoing requests. Meanwhile, Namely saw that their customers were passionate about their product, but there really wasn’t a way to effectively connect with them and scale their communication and relationships.

Namely decided to launch an online community to help bring their clients together and provide added value. They knew HR professionals lacked a broader community for the support they were looking for, and built an advocacy program to help spread the word about Namely while forging the connections they wanted.

CMX - 10 Companies Worked with Ambassadors10

Image: Namely

Namley’s advocacy program was successful, and they built a thriving HR-focused community. The company ultimately generated $1.8 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) influenced by ambassadors, and $35K in referral revenue.

What to take away from Namely’s ambassador program:

Your best customers can provide great testimonials, but relying on them to be your ambassadors isn’t sustainable or scalable. Creating a program around passion for your product is just one way to start an advocacy program. Like Namely, you should also look for gaps in the community marketplace to bring added value and stand out from the crowd.

10. Adobe

Your most loyal ambassadors could be hiding in plain sight. The Head of Adobe’s Social Business Center of Excellence, Cory Edwards, noticed that one of their employees drove more revenue through his own social media channels than Adobe’s own branded Twitter channel. Cory dug into some research and found the best ambassadors for their brand were Adobe’s own employees. He rallied the company to launch the Adobe Social Shift Program that helps employees harness social media to raise more awareness for the brand.

CMX - 10 Companies Worked with Ambassadors11

Image: LinkedIn

Adobe encourages its employees to post on LinkedIn, Glassdoor and the company’s own blog. They keep it fun with contests and lots of public recognition for their sharing efforts. Those efforts grew Adobe’s online traffic from 400 visitors to 10,000 a month. Adobe successfully harnessed the power of employee evangelism by giving employees the tools, motivation and training they needed to generate awareness.

What to take away from Adobe’s ambassador program:

The voices of your own employees may be louder than those of your most loyal customers. Empower your employees to be ambassadors for your company and products by giving them the tools to succeed, whether through blogging or posting on social media. But the real foundation for employee evangelism and advocacy is inspiration and support. Keep it fun with contests and company-wide acknowledgement of what your employee ambassadors are doing right.

Building an ambassador program to boost community growth is a cyclical journey. Tap into the passion and experience of your community to transform them into loyal ambassadors ready to spread the word. In turn, they’ll give your community the boost you’re looking for.

How has working with ambassadors impacted your community growth? Let us know by leaving a comment below:

Carrie Melissa Jones

Subscribe to the CMX Weekly

We review the top community industry news, trends, jobs and resources every week, so you’re always in the know.