As consumer brands try to establish themselves as social brands, one of the missions they have in social media is to have their message go viral or spread by the so-called “influencers” that presumably exist in social media. This blog post is not intended to be about the debate as to how you determine who might be an influential friend for your brand to have in social media (hint: it goes beyond a single metric like a Klout score). Based on my own experience in social media as being selected as an “influencer” by consumer brands, I wanted to share what I think are the two leading approaches, and why I think my recent (and current) experience as the Brand Ambassador for All Nippon Airways (disclosure to follow) makes a lot of sense.

Let’s first talk about what is becoming a common type of influencer outreach these days: Klout Perks. Named by the company who created the most commonly used (and most debatedmetric for measuring social media influence, the idea is simple: Work with Klout, who will help find your potential “influencers” and then offer them a “perk” which is fulfilled directly by the brand utilizing Klout’s communication infrastructure. My free ticket to Toronto courtesy of Virgin Airlines was one such example of a Klout Perk, although these days there are numerous Klout Perks to be had for a wide range of things. Obviously, the hope is that the recipient of these freebies will blog, tweet, and post about their brand experiences throughout social media to create a viral affect. Social media agencies (like my own) can also create a unique Influencer Outreach Campaign for brands using their own ways of analyzing social media influence as well as performing influencer outreach as part of a creative campaign in order to generate buzz in social media.

All Nippon Airways, the Japanese international airline, decided to take a different approach in doing influencer outreach for their new “Inspiration of Japan” cabin service for their Los Angeles and San Francisco to Tokyo routes.  Rather than go the route of offering “perks” to a great number of people, they decided to narrow down their quest for social media influence on a few people that are both extremely active in social media and extremely relevant to their brand. By hand-picking a select few people and giving them the title of “Brand Ambassador,” they are in essence looking at these people to lead the way in promoting their brand in social media circles.

So, at this point, an important disclaimer about this blog post: I was chosen as one of four Brand Ambassadors for this social media campaign, and in doing so I will be receiving a free round-trip ticket to Tokyo just as I received a free air ticket from Virgin for the #VXToronto campaign. And in no way do I want to discount the amazing experience, and the even more amazing people I was able to meet in Toronto, as a result of that – which includes my monthly contributor on Public Relations, Judy Gombita. But from the perspective of the chosen influencer, being labeled a “Brand Ambassador” has a powerful psychological effect that causes the chosen to feel a sense of responsibility to help spread the word.

In fact, a Brand Ambassador approach is similar to Seth Godin telling you to allow your social media fans to spread the message so that you don’t have to. Therefore, yes, social media influence is important, but more important than that is choosing someone with relevance who will help spread the word to a relevant community. If you’ve been reading my blog you’re probably smiling right now because you know I lived in Japan for 15 years, have blogged about social media in Japan, and still speak Japanese as the first language in my household. Furthermore, I have been a huge ANA fans for quite some time, and will probably devote a separate blog post talking about brand experiences and social media. If ANA had a Social CRM system, they would have seen that I have been a regular traveler with them for almost two decades.

Let’s now look at the All Nippon Airways #ANALAX event as a case study in influencer outreach for what brands can do if they want to go the Brand Ambassador route:

1. Choose the Right Fan to be Your Brand Ambassador

Choosing your Brand Ambassador is the most critical aspect that will determine your campaign’s success.  Potential reach in social media, or estimated “influence,” is certainly one factor to consider, but equally important is the relevance of their social media brand to your brand.  After all, you want your Brand Ambassador to reach a relevant audience, right?  That’s why I tell brands to look right in front of them at their social media fans and analyzing them for potential ambassadors.  I would go one step further and, if you have a Social CRM system in place, to look at your present customer base as well.  I go as far as telling brands to search through their social media fans when they are looking for potential employees well versed in social media.

2. Create a Hashtag – Well Before the Campaign Starts!

This may sound trivial, but creating a short, easy-to-remember, and branded “hashtag” (the # symbol followed by text – in this case it was “#ANALAX”) and then informing that to the Brand Ambassadors will help them remember to use it early on and continue to use it with every post so that it will be easy to track social media mentions. Hashtags are especially popular on Twitter, but as a social tracking device, just go over to Storify and you will see that #ANALAX brings up a lot of social media stories from outside of Twitter as well.

3. Start the Campaign with a Party – and Let Your Brand Ambassadors Do the Inviting

What better way to be perceived as a social brand than to have a social event to let others experience your brand.

How to you bridge the gap between your brand’s experience and a live event at a hotel meeting room if you’re an airline?  You bring the experience to the party! Not only were two rows apiece of the new 1st class, business class, and economy class on display for everyone’s seating pleasure, meals samples were on display and the room was filled with ANA employees, including Cabin Attendants in work dress.

Now is the time to allow your Brand Ambassador to invite others to the party for maximum exposure.  First of all, this is a party that your Brand Ambassador should not miss – and I would make sure you plan it around when they can attend.  Now, since your Brand Ambassador should already be social active, instead of you trying to figure out 30 more “influencers” who might not even show interest nor appear for the event, let the Brand Ambassador do the work of filtering people that are socially active, relevant to the event, and most importantly will actually come to the event.  You’d be surprised as to how many people RSVP to an event yet have “last-minute” things that happen…

In social media, amazing things happen.  Once you get a number of active social media participants together in a room, they start tweeting, posting, taking photos and videos, and sharing information.  The result of all of this is that, according to TweetReach, within 24 hours of the event 313 tweets contributed by 56 different tweeters (there were only 30 Brand Ambassador guests at the event) resulted in almost 5.5 million impressions.

Twitter impressions are fleeting; blog posts about the event, as well as YouTube videos and Flickr photos, live on forever in the digital pipes connecting our world. Without making any request on those that attended from my invitation, my social media active friends created the following blog posts from the event using their unique perspectives:

4. Make Your Brand Ambassadors Social Media Advisors

When I visit Tokyo during Social Media Week in February, 2012 as part of being a Brand Ambassador, ANA has a number of meetings set up for me, including a meeting with their staff at headquarters to talk about ANA’s current social presence.  You can already see the difference in vested interest between the Klout Perk approach and the Brand Ambassador approach in that a BA becomes part of the team, not outside of it.

For those of you who want to see photos and video interviews from the launch event, where I ask ANA and then a number of participants of what they thought about the ANA “brand” before and after the event, you can access them below.

Has your brand tried a Brand Ambassador approach similar to All Nippon Airways?  What do you think of the contrast between Klout Perks and Brand Ambassadors?  Please chime in!

#ANALAX Interview with Sunny Fujiki of All Nippon Airways about the New Inspiration of Japan Service

All Nippon Airways Inspiration of Japan What is ANA Branding Discussion #ANALAX

All Nippon Airways New Inspiration of Japan Economy Class Review #ANALAX