www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons" href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SocialMediaVennDiagram.jpg">SocialMediaVennDiagram As you will be aware, the reputation of a brand takes years of careful and meticulous development and maintenance – but it can all be lost in mere minutes. That’s why having a proactive reputation management programme in place is vital, both offline and online.

Online your company’s brand personality is communicated through many channels – your corporate website along with your social presence such as your Facebook Page, Twitter account, LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube channels. Increasingly these are the first places that people will go to find information about your company, especially if a news story has just broken about your business.

Brands must therefore take a highly flexible approach to proactively manage their online reputation. Planning is key – there must be a comprehensive reputation management strategy in place and brands have to be ready for challenges as they occur, it’s no use simply being reactive and constantly fire fighting issues.

How to communicate your brand messages

Brand values and USPs must be powerfully and effectively communicated through these channels so your audience can receive and understand the messages you want them to know  about your brand. It’s also important to remember that your online presence is more than outward communication. Brands must be able to create multi-way dialogue between themselves and consumers so that these platforms boost and broaden your brand messages. This can be amplified by using brand ambassadors.

Brand ambassadors encapsulate and embody the vision and ethos of your brand. They help build a community who care about the brand they represent.  As well as acting as a diplomat for your brand, showcasing the product or service you offer in the best way possible.

Influential brand ambassadors can encompass internal stakeholders right through to passionate commentators. Each audience segment has enormous potential for influencing their peers and ensuring your brand’s success.

Social media and brand ambassadors

Social media provides the perfect channels for brand ambassadors to encourage brand advocacy. While ‘real people’ talking about brands is not a new marketing technique, social media has made consumers’ voices louder and more relevant than ever. People use social channels such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook everyday to make recommendations about brands – so creating a virtual community of brand ambassadors ensures your brand is authentically promoted by trusted individuals.

Peer-to-peer communication has been proven to be much more effective than traditional communications in influencing brand consideration and purchase. It’s therefore crucial that brands leverage the powerful voices of their brand advocates online. This not only drives sales but also creates a network of people who can engage with your audience and defend your brand’s reputation if it faces any challenges.

Nurturing brand ambassadors

Whether you are trying to create an internal or an external communications plan the end result is the same – to build up the reputation of your brand and what it offers. However, each campaign requires a different strategy. The key to any successful brand ambassador programme is to effectively harness the passion shown by these people and empower them to share their views. This is a complex task which requires dedication and a thorough understanding of engagement models and user behaviour. As well as understanding how to comply with the legal and ethical framework within your target market.

Creating brand advocates is different from gaining re-tweets or Facebook ‘Likes’. It is an extensive process based on analysing and identifying your most important audience groups, what they need from you and how you will engage with them. The next step is nurturing a long lasting relationship with influencers who actively connect with your brand. Forward thinking brands will take this a step further and leverage powerful networks of prominent influencers who speak directly to the target audience you are trying to reach.

Finding people who are potential Brand Ambassadors is the first step. It’s essential they are a good fit and have a respected presence online. This is achieved through analysing demographic data, online reach and content relevancy. From the very first time you contact an influencer this must be a very personal experience – sending out a mass email is not the way to create individual relationships.

Once you have identified and contacted your potential ambassadors, you must work hard to create a relationship with them. Engage them in conversations and nurture your connection with them. The end goal is to build real passion and engagement around your brand. Taking such a proactive approach to reputation management, rather than being reactive all the time, is good practice. It ensures that if you want to launch a new product or service or if a crisis hits, you have an existing community already in place.  An example of an existing network of influencers would be Brandvocacy – agency:2’s brand ambassador platform. Brandvocacy programmes can be activated in a timely and scalable manner for any organisation to amplify your brand messages.

More than this, through creating content and having it shared across the web, social media is increasingly influencing search and SEO. So, combining the power of your fans’ conversations online, together with the reach of your own messages on branded social channels, will have a big impact on your search results.

Brand ambassadors – powerful and trusted voices

The result of all this hard work is an extremely powerful voice for your brand which is well worth the time that it takes to foster these relationships. Businesses now have the power to engage online communities in new ways and leverage the power of these groups to create relationships with their audience. Brand ambassadors provide trusted, personal and, therefore, highly effective messages that engage audiences.

As social media’s influence continues to grow and grow, brand ambassadors have become a key part of a brand’s communication strategy. It is therefore imperative to leverage the voice of passionate influencers to promote your brand. They provide a unique way to humanise and personalise your brand, extend the reach of your message and help you to create a positive brand story that will resonate powerfully with your target audience.

This post was originally published on the Social Media Week blog.