Some community managers are really lucky. We work with groups of people mustered around a mission that we already care about—whether it’s a charitable organization, a favorite TV show, or the industry that we already work in. But many, maybe even most, of us are in an altogether different boat: we’re managing communities in which we’re not subject matter experts. How many times have you stared at a question that’s gone unanswered because, not only do you not know the answer, you don’t even know how to find someone who does know, because half the words being used might as well be in Linear A?
The solution is obvious: find subject matter experts and mobilize them into community ambassadors—uber-helpful power users who help onboard their peers, start discussions, answer questions, and sustain the community environment. If you’ve ever tried to start a community ambassador program, though, it can be overwhelming to start. How do you select people for the program? What tasks can you give them (and which ones should you keep under your umbrella)? And how should you reward them?
Start your journey by developing a specific job description for the ambassadors, because the more explicit you are in the beginning, the better fit you’re likely to find. There are two possible approaches worth considering here:
Some of my favorite roles include Unanswered Question Experts, who are responsible for answering questions with zero replies after a certain time period; Discussion Starters, who help prompt engaging and relevant discussions within the community; Moderators, who are responsible for keeping an eye on the community and making sure that inappropriate content is flagged for review by the community manager. Whether you segment these jobs out or roll them up, make sure to state the requirements clearly and plainly for the ambassadors so they know what the roles require.
If your community has launched, you shouldn’t have too difficult of a time finding potential advocates to reach out to. They probably have already risen to the surface, and by running a report or automation rule to find the most active community members, you’ll have identified a group of people who might be interested in becoming a community ambassador. If it’s possible, reach out to these folks directly with a personal request, rather than issuing a blanket call to them as a group or, worse yet, the community as a whole. If your community is newer and you don’t have top contributors established yet, you can always issue a call for volunteers and evaluate them for suitability as time passes, or you can reach out to people already respected and helpful within your organization. Finally, there are technological solutions that can allow ambassadors to virtually raise their hands to volunteer. If possible, I also highly recommend working to collect a diverse group of ambassadors that reflects all the types of users within your community. Once you have 15-30 individuals, you should be set.
Now that you have a pool of ambassadors who understand and have agreed to their roles, you need to develop an onboarding process. Recently, when Missouri REALTORS® launched an ambassador program for their community THE LANDING, they held a two-hour-long kickoff call to get volunteers excited and start thinking up ideas. First, the ambassadors were sent a “homework” assignment: come up with one idea for improving THE LANDING and one idea for a subject-matter-appropriate discussion starter. During the call, the ambassadors and staff collaborated with these ideas as inspiration to develop a huge list of tasks and discussion topics that they could work on in the coming year. Then the list was uploaded to a private Ambassadors-only community, and staff used this community to foster collaboration within the group, as well as direct them to discussions and questions that could use their help.
Your ambassador program will be the most successful if ambassadors are motivated intrinsically to participate, so the best reward for your ambassadors is making sure that they feel recognition and joy from helping the community. However, consider providing additional motivation using digital badging or a member spotlight that shines the light on your ambassadors within the community itself.
Additionally, I recommend asking your members to select one ambassador as their “Ambassador of the Year” for their assistance in the community—this is a good way to ensure you’re rewarding qualitative, rather than quantitative, contributions. And, of course, if you want to produce some special, limited edition Ambassador swag, that often goes over well as a way to say thank you.
Once you’ve established the roles for your ambassadors, enlisted them in the program, and developed a process for welcoming new ones and rewarding the existing ones, you’ve done most of the hard work. From here, continue to tweak your program by removing “ambassadors” that don’t undertake the tasks you ask them to and adding new people to replace them. As new hurdles present themselves within your community, consider putting your ambassadors to work. Whenever you need a subject matter expert to chime in on a topic, produce content, or simply give you their input, reach to them first. And finally, keep rewarding them intermittently and heavily, ensuring they know just how grateful you are. A true and honest advocate is worth their weight in gold.