Are Brand Ambassadors Replacing Influencers Post-Pandemic?

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Photo by Bruce Mars.

The pandemic changed the ways in which we shop online — but how? Well, for starters, it accelerated the rise of social commerce. Instead of shopping in-store, we’re turning to our phones and people we trust online to discover the latest brands and products we need. An example of social commerce is buying clothes from friends and influencers you follow on Instagram or via a friendly Zoom shopping spree. 

The everyday consumer tends to first seek out friends/family and niche influencers (or brand ambassadors) for recommendations rather than celebrity influencers. An ambassador is product-oriented, commission-driven, and incentivized to sell products, rather than being paid per post conditional upon the number of followers they have like an influencer. Being commission-driven, ambassadors will usually get into the nitty-gritty about the product, spelling out why they love it, tips on styling, etc.

During the pandemic, we all engaged in a bit of retail therapy as the retail world went digital. All of our favorite brands made it easier to shop and purchase online since we were unable to visit them physically. To survive lockdown and help with marketing, many of these brands enlisted the support of proven social media celebrities. 

For Michelle Maldonado, owner of Girlfriends Boutique, the pandemic provided a new opportunity to ensure that partnerships she made represented her customer base and converted to sales. Michelle has influencers constantly reaching out to inquire about potential collaborations, but her paying $500 per post to a celebrity wasn’t realistic, especially since the number of the celebrity’s followers doesn’t always equate to sales.

“I need marketing content 365 days a year to move product,” she says. “But at what cost?” Another example comes from Louhanna Horn, who launched an all-natural beauty line during the pandemic. She says, “As we entered post-pandemic, we have seen a change. It’s not just about reviewing products and giving recommendations — brands started to really want more. They now want a stronger partnership between their company and the brand ambassador who is promoting their product. They want a sense of loyalty from the person they choose to review their product, build relationships with, and recommend products to future customers.”

Move Over, Influencer. Hello, Ambassador

Connie Howes, owner of the sustainable fashion brand Poeme Clothing, believes that static photography doesn’t do her stylish dresses justice. She says, “There’s a mission for my brand; my clothing wants to be worn with a purpose. Fine details like the quality of clothing, fabric, and hidden pockets do well being showcased, and these are details that can’t be captured easily in photos. There is not a lot of time in my schedule to work with influencers to create content, especially dynamic videos that highlight the clothing’s features. A brand ambassador well connected to my brand would make an incredible match by being able to offer videos for me for this reason.”

Brands are typically required to pay social influencers per post, which might cause a spike in traffic but might not produce long-term profits. Research shows that there is virtually no correlation between social media engagement and offline consumer conversations, which should be enough to tell you that spending money for a professional influencer might not be the best move.

Because influencers are typically not employed by brands, they are free to work with other entities. While this might be a good thing for an influencer, it might not be the type of representation your brand is looking for. Additionally, influencers are generally not niche-specific, and their work can feel overly sales-oriented. 

An influencer might be good for brand visibility, but that doesn’t guarantee conversion. Tanya would be classified as a nano-influencer but has a personal relationship with nearly every one of her 2,000 consumer followers. They trust her judgement and are eager to see the content she posts. When Tanya goes live on Instagram with a brand, she tries on their products, recommends how to style them, and has an affiliate link, so those tuned in can shop for her favorites. Her high level of authenticity and trust raises her engagement rate index higher than someone else with 10x the followers. 

Pursuing the Passion with Promotional Gig Work

The gig economy is the future of work, which is why we saw such a large rise in influencers and brand ambassadors during the pandemic.

Hyper-popular gig behemoths like Uber, DoorDash, and Grubhub aren’t the only game in town. From there, you can move into weddings, creative fields, coaching, car rentals, dog walking, and so much more. There is no shortage of opportunity in the gig economy, and marketing yourself has never been easier. 

In social commerce, a huge future exists in video, the power of which is not something that should be taken lightly. Video is the highest-converting format online — and that’s because more people than ever before are connected to an ever-increasing number of social media channels. Your mobile phone provides you entry to the gig economy, a medium to offer services and connect with clients. 

At the Intersection of the Gig Economy and Social Commerce 

Social commerce is essentially something that occurs when brand ambassadors leverage the power of social media to drive sales for the brands they represent. They do this through the use of user-generated content. UGC is relatable, it’s honest, and it forges a connection with an audience — and that is what makes it so popular. In fact, 92% of consumers trust UGC when compared to conventional advertising materials. 

The difference comes down to the fact that a brand ambassador is delivering the message. For Tanya, well, she’s a natural, and she loves to be on video connecting with her followers. She is vocal about supporting local businesses while mixing business with pleasure and being the go-to expert, aka Brand Ambassador — in fact, she finds it empowering.

Mya Papolu is Founder & CEO at Brandbass.AI.