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Leverage your most powerful marketing asset — your employees — to help your company achieve new sales, marketing, and employee recruitment and retention goals. — Getty Images/kate sept2004

Today’s consumers are savvier than ever when it comes to marketing campaigns. A recent survey reported that 81% of respondents feel neutral or negative about a brand’s use of influencers.

Instead, consumers are more likely to purchase a product after hearing about it from family and friends. Word-of-mouth marketing is most effective when it’s authentic, driven by real connections, and incorporates user-generated (non-influencer-generated) content.

Employee ambassador programs help you harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing for a variety of business needs. Employee ambassador programs empower your team to represent your brand in a positive light while meeting recruiting goals, advertising and sales targets, and even helping with internal outcomes, such as lower employee turnover.

A formal employee ambassador program can motivate and reward your team to become your best spokespeople. Here’s how to start.

Determine the goals of your employee ambassador program

Measure the return on investment of your employee ambassador program by setting a discrete outcome you wish to achieve. A SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goal helps define why you are launching this program and what exactly you want to achieve.

Employee ambassador programs serve many purposes (often simultaneously). Are you seeking to improve internal employee engagement? Reach a wider audience? Improve employee referrals?

“Defining your objectives will help you create an employee ambassador program that aligns with your goals and is ultimately more likely to succeed,” wrote Clearview Social, an employee advocacy program.

Consumers are more likely to purchase a product after hearing about it from family and friends.

Promote your program to employees

Before you can get your program off the ground, you need the main ingredient: employees!

Invite everyone, especially high performers and long-tenured team members, to participate in your program. Outline the expectations and incentives for joining the effort.

Keep in mind that being an employee ambassador is outside most team members’ job descriptions. This additional ask takes effort, research, and time. Thus, the employees who participate in your program deserve to be compensated for their input. Incentivize employees to take part by offering rewards, discounts, and other perks in exchange for their efforts.

Make training mandatory for those who want to participate to ensure the messaging aligns with your brand. A comprehensive ambassador training program can outline the kind of content and language they should use when uploading promotional content.

[Read more: Employee Empowerment Is the Key to Success at Creature Comforts Resorts]

Organize content sharing

Make it easy for everyone to advocate on behalf of your program by curating content for each platform. Choose a few platforms to leverage, and create feeds of content that your team can copy and paste on their personal profiles. Some small businesses use tools like Ambassify, GaggleAMP, or Sociabble to organize content sharing.

When you suggest content for your ambassadors to post, make sure to leave room for authenticity.

“While you can use customizable templates that your employees can work with for support, it’s critical they understand they don’t need to follow your checklists to the T,” wrote ReferralRock. “There’s a lack of authenticity and genuineness when the same message keeps popping up in feeds everywhere.”

Measure and adjust

Keep track of key performance indicators to learn whether your employee ambassador program is serving your business needs. Metrics like the number of impressions, hashtag mentions, growth in followers, and total reach can indicate whether your efforts are working.

Likewise, get regular input from your ambassadors. They know both your company and their audience best and can offer new insights into what might improve your content strategy.

“Your openness to feedback and the willingness to implement positive changes can strengthen your relationship with your employees,” said ReferralRock.

Ultimately, the strength of your employee ambassador program lies in how supported and appreciated your participants feel. Give positive feedback early and often, and make sure your team is rewarded for their efforts on your brand’s behalf.

[Read more: Why an Employee Brand Ambassador Program Is Essential to Your Small Business]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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