How to get started with a Social Ambassador program

An Interview with Kevin Carrillo of Sabre.

The social employee revolution is upon us. No marketing tactic is more genuine, breeds more trust, and generates more new business than when employees themselves represent the brand. While many corporations intuitively understand this, they still struggle to make the leap.

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

kevinThis familiar saying applies to rolling out an employee advocacy program as well. And instead of leaping, a baby-steps approach has proven successful for Kevin Carrillo and his team at Sabre.

For Sabre, their social ambassador program saw light about a year ago as Mr. Carrillo was tasked with taking social media to a new level.

“Sabre has been building their social practice over the last 3 years” says Mr. Carrillo. “We never looked at social media as something special or separate from other corporate communications or marketing activities. To us, it was just a new channel to deliver content to customers, partners, and job candidates. Initially, we used social media to educate the market about who we are. Over the last year, our strategy has evolved from telling our story through corporate communications to empowering employees to bring the brand to life through their own channels and voices. It was obvious how proud and engaged our employees were with our brand when they organically took to Twitter to celebrate our IPO on April 17, 2014 with the hashtag #SabreIPO.”

This strategy has paid off. Less than a year into the employee ambassador program, Mr. Carrillo and his team have earned management buy-in for continued investment in employee training programs. They first started by hosting in-person training sessions at their Texas HQ and virtual training sessions for their global employees. They are now looking to turn their best practices into online self-service modules where new and old employees can learn at their own pace. Once employees have completed their training and fully understood the company’s social media policies, they will be ready to become official Sabre social ambassadors.

“The key to the adoption of a program like this” says Mr. Carrillo, “is to let employees participate within their comfort zone and skillset.” To this end, Sabre divides their ambassadors into two groups. One, dubbed “promoters” mainly contributes by amplifying brand messages to their friends and followers via their brand-optimized social media profiles. The other group goes by the name “contributors” and consists mainly of subject matter experts who are comfortable with writing longer-form content.

“Amongst our contributors, we have some of the smartest, most experienced people in the travel industry,” says Carrillo. “Showcasing the personal brands of our experts is key to defining our organization as a place where industry thought leaders come to work. Beyond talking about Sabre, we want them to add value to the industry conversation; what they see as challenges and opportunities. That’s what thought leadership means to us.”

Sabre’s marketing team also helps contributors to craft their messages, highlight internal expertise, and stay on brand while sharpening their social media skills. This way, both parties benefit from this partnership.

It’s clear that Sabre is making great strides with their social ambassador program, but it’s also clear that Sabre understands what it takes to build a supportive culture: When asked about what it takes to get their social employee program off the ground, Carrillo stressed the importance of assembling an initial group of like-minded employees who “get it” and can serve as examples for others internally. “Finding the right people to participate and demonstrate the value of such programs is key in the early stages,” says Carrillo.

So, if you’re thinking about starting a social ambassador program at your company, try on the Sabre formula for size: Find people who are willing and able to lead the charge, then work with them to give them the support and training they need to stay engaged and succeed.

About Vidar Brekke

Vidar, a serial entrepreneur, is the CEO and Co-founder of Meddle.it.

He is passionate about entrepreneurship with a penchant for building social technologies that promote knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Previously he also held positions such as Chief Product Officer for social media agency Converseon, VP of Marketing for JPMorgan, and Brand Strategist at Ogilvy. He also served as an officer in the Norwegian Navy.

Originally from Norway, he now lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter.


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