The influencer marketing has grown into a 21 billion dollar industry, which likely isn’t a surprise to you. What may be a surprise is that 60% of brands work with at least 10 influencers. That’s a lot of external advocates to have to identify, manage, build processes for, and execute campaigns with. Building out a formal influencer or ambassador community is a lot of work and can be extremely challenging to those new to the practice. 

Where do we start? What are some potholes to avoid?

That’s what Jeremy Linaburg is here to help us with in the first episode of Social Pulse Podcast: Retail Edition. You can listen to it below or read on for the transcript.

Jeremy is a social media and community building nerd. He says after undergrad, he loved marketing so much that he got his master’s in marketing from the College of William and Mary. Jeremy is a social media specialist for SwimOutlet and Sporti, both of which are competitive swim-focused retail companies.

As a social media specialist, Jeremy is in charge of curating and managing all social platforms for both accounts along with assisting with their ambassador community. He’s worked with Andrew and Pete and many other communities.

Mike: Tell us about the work you’re doing at SwimOutlet today, and and tell us about SwimOutlet overall.

Jeremy: First of all, I’m super-excited to be here to tell you all about the swimming space, along with the social media space. These are two passions that I have. They were meshed together about a year ago when I joined SwimOutlet. 

SwimOutlet is one of the largest retail brands for swimming in the world. They carry a bunch of different styles of brands, and it’s really focused on ecommerce, and we’ve built up a really strong and powerful social media community that is built around people that love swimming and different varieties of swimmers as well. We talk about, partner with, and target coaches, young athletes, collegiate athletes. It’s very focused on swimming, but there’s a broad targeted audience as well. The SwimOutlet community specifically, is super engaged. We have a pretty engaged following within our social media platforms, and hopefully I’ll be able to dive into that a little bit more here shortly.

But the overarching premise is SwimOutlet is a retail company that carries swim products.

Mike: I was talking to our community manager, Deb Mitchell, here at Agorapulse. Her son happens to be a competitive swimmer. He was swimming for the University of Wyoming. So they’re long time fans and customers, and he was excited to have you on the show.

Jeremy: And it’s really cool because for me, it has a personal connection for me. I was a lifelong swimmer. I started competitively swimming when I was in ninth grade. I swam all through college as well, and I still swim today. I compete at the master’s level, and at different national meets. So, it’s really cool to be able to work with a brand that has brought you up, and now working for them has been a dream of mine. I mean, it’s incredible to have the position that I have and do really cool things with the community. 

Mike: That’s awesome. You weren’t necessarily heavily involved in the back end. So when you join this new company, you’re taking over their social media. That’s always a challenge.

How to Manage an Ambassador Community

But then one aspect that was particularly challenging for you was figuring out how to manage an ambassador community. Tell us about that.

Jeremy: Transparently, I have never done that before. I mean, I’ve been in the social space for about seven to eight years now, I believe. I can’t even remember at this point. But I’ve never had the opportunity or had to moderate or control or help create and develop an ambassador community.

At SwimOutlet, I have an incredible boss. His name is Reese Gonzales. He’s, again, a lifelong swimmer. He’s the director of social media and influence there, and he actually started the program with SwimOutlet, Meaning, he started the ambassador program when he came on board, and basically, it grew really quickly. And he needed help with it. So they hired me along with doing social media and stuff. And it was really daunting in the beginning because I had never done that before.

I had been a part of ambassador programs from different things that I’ve done on my own with small influencers and that stuff. But to manage it, I had never really done that. And so it was a bit interesting to get into the back end of things and see that there are actually so many idiosyncrasies and things that you have to take into consideration and think through when developing programs, such as an ambassador program. 


I didn’t realize that not only was it hard to search for the ambassadors, figure out which ones are going to parallel really well with your brand, interview them, connect with them, DM with them, along with bringing them on and then having to onboard them, get them understanding of what the goals are, what the objectives are, and then following up with them. And trying to make sure that we’re getting the content that we need, that they’re happy with what they’re getting. And all of these things along with sending them products, which I’d never done before, is a lot of work from a back end perspective.

So, yeah, there were a lot of things that were super-challenging for me, but, honestly, that’s been my whole life. There’s been a lot of challenges in my personal journey. So I was up for that task because I wanted to learn and grow in it anyway.

And since then, we have grown it exponentially. We’re continuing to grow and do really cool things. But those were some of the obstacles in the beginning, when jumping into helping continue this ambassador program.

Mike: I completely relate to everything you just said because that’s exactly what I had to do when I joined Agorapulse in 2018. We had the skeleton of an ambassador program. It was ten people, myself included, that the CEO was personally managing, which means we weren’t being managed. We weren’t being tracked. So he hired me to come in and build that program. And we quintupled the size of the ambassadors after I joined, and we had to build all those processes and send them swag and do all the things you just talked about.

But when you brought in, you had somebody else who’d already started the program. Similar to me, but it sounds like they did a lot more than our CEO had been doing at the time. 

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What were some of the specific details or the processes that you needed to figure out how to build?

Jeremy: For us, we really wanted to focus on being super-aggressive with engaging with the current community, the current ambassador community along with being super aggressive with building it pretty quickly within the year that I had come on. I’ve only been with the company for about a year and four months at this point.

Conversations within the community

One of my main tasks was to basically have conversations with the current ambassador community and really analyze the content that they had been creating to determine:

  • A. if they were happy with the program,
  • B. if we were happy with the style of content, that they were creating, and then
  • C. trying to have deep conversations around what is it that you’re wanting as an ambassador, what is it that other ambassadors might be interested in having when onboarded.

And these are questions that I was stuck with, basically to go through and ask of the current ambassador community.

Understanding community content

And then after figuring that out, taking several months to just understand the style of content, understand our current ambassadors, understand the way that each of them create because that’s a whole another element to our ambassador strategy and in itself because our ambassador strategy plays a big role in our overall social media strategy.

And so we needed to make sure that the types of content that these ambassadors were creating were directly correlated to our overall social media strategy goals and objectives along with the brand values and missions of SwimOutlet and Sporti in itself.

Looking for more influencers

So after figuring all of that out, I was then tasked with going and searching for more ambassadors, and that came up with or we came up with a way to do that. So we have a very, very active, social media community on Instagram and TikTok specifically. Those are the main platforms we focus on.

And so we started to use Waze, Instagram stories, direct DMs, very intentional conversations with people that we were interested in, having joined the program to search for more ambassadors.

And since then, we’ve onboarded—actually, I just did this, last week—about 15 new ones. And along with that, both male and female. And along with that, I’m going to be ordering product and stuff for them today. So, again, once you determine it’s not really the back end, I guess it’s more so strategy, Mike, that I would talk about is there’s just multiple steps to carrying out a community.

And so once we figured out what was working, and what didn’t work and what our ambassadors wanted and didn’t want, then we went and searched for and continued to search for ambassadors and people that want to be a part of the SwimOutlet fam. 

And then the step further of getting them the product, making sure that it’s the right sizing, that it’s communicated correctly that they’re happy and that thing. So those are some tangible things that I really had to do in the beginning, and that’s not even including amping up the Sporti social media strategy. That’s been my baby since I’ve joined. 

That’s layered on top of my main role as a social media specialist. So all of it has been a lot of amazing, super awesome, cool work I’ve been able to do, and we’re just continuing to grow and build this ambassador program and strategy.

Mike: That’s really fascinating. When you first started, how many ambassadors did you guys have?

Jeremy: Oh gosh. Okay. Let me think. I would say probably I think it was around, like, fifteen females, and then around I think it was four males, I believe. Those are just rough numbers.

Mike: So we’re talking about 18 or 20 individuals. Because you talked about how you spent a couple months basically talking to them, reviewing the work that they’ve been doing, the tone and everything, which is 100% for all of you listening, you should be doing exactly what Jeremy just talked about doing.

You should absolutely be looking at exactly what your ambassadors are posting, not just about you, but in general.

How to Get Insights About Your Influencers

Mike: What’s their world view? What’s their tone? What’s their style? How are they engaging with their community? These are all absolutely best practices. But I’m curious if you could share a little more detail about, specifically, how did you talk to them?

Did you set up one on one meetings? Were you just spending time every day looking at all their social profiles? What were the details there?

Jeremy: The main thing I did was I because I didn’t know them. My boss Reese knew them because he onboarded them. He’d sifted them out in the very beginning. And I’m a person that wants to know who you are. I want to know more about you. Connections are really important to me, and I don’t want it to just be over the phone or something like that. So I wanted to go and learn a lot about these ambassadors. 

Influencer marketing as part of a social media strategy

So the first part is I went and literally looked at every Instagram and every TikTok for every ambassador.

Those are the two things that we require them to post on, because, again, that’s our main focus in our social strategy. So I went through every single one of them and learned about them way past content. Some of them had been with us for two years already. Some of them had only been with us for two months.

So I went through and looked at all of their stuff, and then I went into our WhatsApp chat. I introduced myself there, asked some questions, started to stir some conversation in there to get to know them a little bit more as well. And then from that point, I DMed them. And we just had conversations through DMs because the problem is a lot of these athletes are in high school and in college. We have a few that are a little bit older and do master stuff, but I didn’t want to bombard them with a bunch of meetings. 

Can you get on the Zoom and that stuff? Because they just don’t have the time. As if any of you all know, swimmers wake up super early and go to practice really early. Go to school all day most of the time or go to work all day, and then have another training session at the end of the day. I just wanted to be mindful of their time in terms of one-on-one meetings. 

But and, again, even as a social media manager and a community manager, it was a lot for myself to make sure that I was answering all of those DMs and staying consistent with them because I wanted them to know that I was seeing them as soon as they came in. I didn’t want to wait a day to respond, because then it’s showing that I don’t really genuinely care about their response to my question in the first place. So, yeah, it was a lot of in-the-weeds connecting with these athletes and people, which was a lot of time spent. I normally work eight hours, but in the social media space, in my opinion, I like to be on a lot because they could be DMing me at eleven o’clock at night, because that’s when they’re going to bed and finally getting on their phone.

So, I was having conversations sometimes that late. A lot of our ambassadors and athletes are on the West Coast. So it’s midnight my time, but nine o’clock their time. So, yeah, there’s a lot of things that go into engaging with those individuals in general. So did that answer your question?

Influencer marketing is about relationships

Mike: A hundred percent. Because what I’m hearing is you’re stressing this point without saying expressly, which is that influencer marketing is all about relationships.

And you were stepping into the situation where you had nearly twenty influencers, ambassadors, and you had zero relationship with them. So you had to create that from scratch, which meant that the organization had to give you the time and the bandwidth to do that because it does take time.

There’s no shortcuts to building relationships at all.

Jeremy: Thankfully, Reese was really on board, and this is one thing I appreciate about working with SwimOutlet and my boss in particular. I can’t give him enough praise for what he’s done, but he was very thoughtful about how to layer on things for me to do.

And I think, in the retail space, things move so fast. There’s so many sales, so many things moving, so many things you have to do. And the way that he protected me from that is layering on those, those priorities, and those things that needed to be accomplished. So it allowed me that time that I needed to spend four hours engaging with these ambassadors so that I got to know them. So I just needed to call that out because I’m sure people that are watching this, especially in the retail space, you all know that it’s super crazy with things that going on, sales that are going on, new products you’re launching, all kinds of chaos, good chaos, but a lot of chaos.

Structure of an Influencer Program

Mike: How is your program structured?

You’re talking about high school and college students for the most part. Is it that they’re getting free product or maybe discounted product in exchange for some social media activity? Is that how that works? 

Jeremy: So the way we have it structured is it’s very layered. Because we have some ambassadors that have paid partnerships with us and other brands.

And they are paid some of them, and then we also send them product. Whereas, our core group of ambassadors, I would call them a core group. I don’t really know. I just call them all ambassadors at this point. We call them all a part of the SwimOutlet fam, but some of them are paid. Majority of them are sent them free product every month. So that could be a new suit that we’re launching, a new collab with an Olympic athlete that we launched, whatever it might be, in exchange for basically three videos every month.

We have missions that we give to them and then they just complete those missions and roll with it that way. And then I go in every month and analyze the content that they made.

I give them our criteria of “they didn’t do it, it was a two level video–meaning it was, like, on average, it was a three level video, which was spectacular.” And then I’d skipped one, but one was like, “This video could use some work.”

And then we attempt to provide feedback each month without getting too controlling because that’s something I want to hit on here while you brought up that question, Mike. 

You have to really ride a fine line, especially in the retail space, in my opinion, with creating an ambassador community because you don’t want to take away too much control of the creative freedom from the creator in of itself. You onboarded them for a reason. You believed in them for a reason. 

And so it’s important that you provide some guidance and maybe a little bit of feedback, which you also have to be very strategic in wording, which I didn’t know in the beginning. Reese had to teach me that. But that’s also a really important call out: You need to make sure that you’re able to give them a little something, especially if they’re making a one level video where it’s just not hitting the mark for you. But also don’t be too controlling over that because then they’re just going to get discouraged, and that’s the last thing you want. 

And a lot of these people, at least for our community, are friends because we’re all in the swimming space. And so we see each other at different meets and all kinds of events. So for us it’s not as big as the fashion space or the cosmetic space, where I feel like those are massive retail spaces where if you have an influencer come in, the likelihood of them knowing another one, especially at the micro influencer level, is pretty slim.

But for us, because swimming is such a tight knit community and there really isn’t a ton of ambassador communities in the swim space. A lot of these people know each other and see each other.

Mike: I really appreciate that you shared that detail about how you structure your program, because everybody approaches this thing differently. 

There’s no one playbook for how to do an influencer program within an organization. And so a lot of the time, our organizations were struggling to figure out what’s going to work, what’s going to make sense, what are people going to actually appreciate. And I can’t stress enough how important the point you made is about allowing influencers and creators to be creative.

Do not give them too many guardrails that will blow up in your face for a variety of reasons. They won’t appreciate the micromanagement, and the output won’t be what they’re used to, what you hope to have, and therefore, what their audience expects, and so it’s not going to perform. And it’s funny you mentioned how tight knit your community is because at Agorapulse, we’re the same way. Right?

We’re dealing with social media influencers, people who are speaking on stages and going to events and blogging or making videos about social media. And that’s a small select group. And we all know each other. I mean, you and I know we’re in this community. We know each other, and we see each other, and those relationships are hugely important. 

How Much Time Does Running an Influencer Marketing Program Take?

Mike: So, Jeremy, you mentioned earlier that you spent months literally getting to know these advocates, these ambassadors for your organization, these influencers. And then you also spent time, and you continue to spend time recruiting additional ones to grow that program once you had that base in place. How long would you say overall you and and maybe there’s no real answer because it’s just an ongoing thing, but how much time have you put in all this? And what are some of the results that you’ve seen from all this work?

Jeremy: I would say initially—and these are going to be ballpark numbers and timelines—but I started in February of 2023, and I would say the first six months of my entire time at SwimOutlet was focused on getting to know these ambassadors, getting to know the social strategy, getting to know the content, getting to know these people that create content, for us.

And so I would say that’s about how long it took.

And then to even further that, we’re continuing to learn because we just have a new we just had a new batch of ambassadors come in. So we’re going to have to get to know them a little bit better, get to know what they like, what they don’t like, how they create those types of things because their page might say one thing, but once they get our suits, it might spark a creative idea or thought in their mind, and they might start creating content that we’ve never seen before. And so, it’s just a flowing process of continuously getting to know these individuals, and continuing to develop the program along with, again, our social strategy.

How Are You Measuring the Business Impact of Your Social Media Today?

Mike: Love it. I’m glad you brought up your overall social strategy because you’ve mentioned that a couple times. I think that’s fascinating. You’ve got a social strategy that is truly combining your own activity with that of your influencers. How are you measuring the business impact of social media today?

Jeremy: So for us, our main focus is obviously, because we’re a retail brand, our main focus is going to be sales as well. But the main focus specifically with the ambassador program is to continue getting out the word of SwimOutlet and Sporti, and building that brand awareness perspective of it, and really dial in on creating so it’s multifaceted. I can dive into this briefly, but I don’t want to give away too much.

But the thing for us is that if you go and look at our social media channels, you’re going to see a style of content, a style of social strategy that is very prevalent.

If you go and look at the Sporti side of things, it’s high energy, it’s very inviting, it’s very fun, it’s funny, it’s whimsical. Whereas, if you go and look at the social or the SwimOutlet side of things, it’s a little more tapered in just because we’re dealing with so many various brands.

But along with that, we really pride ourselves on doing that really well. Like, there might be a little more stricter video that is focused around drill work where there might be a comedic video that is absolutely hilarious, or there might be a trending video that’s there’s a trend going on in culture, but we spun it to fit the swim space. And all of those attributes come together because of the community that we’re building and the swimming community that we’ve currently built.

And so I think it’s really fascinating, and I nerd out about this stuff. Like Mike said in the beginning, I’m a big social and community nerd. So to be able to see the way that you’re building a community and then they’re leveraging what you’re giving to them to create content that I would say ninety percent of the time performs on our platforms, says a lot to us. And we’re talking about millions of views. We’re talking about thousands and thousands of likes on these videos, which is ultimately helping spread our brand, to people that might have never seen it before.

Along with that, one thing that we like to do, and I think all of us should do this, is if you’re pulling content from other places, trend-jacking a little bit or going and seeing a video that you like that you might want to use on your social page, always making sure to give credit to the creator of that video originally. 

And that’s one thing that our ambassadors are really grateful for is we are always shouting them out. We’re always collaborating with them. We’re always tagging them in the comments section or in the caption section, because ultimately, that’s going to make that consumer or even a potential consumer, if we don’t use any of our ambassador stuff, realize that you see them, realize that you recognize the amazing content that they’re creating, and that’s what ultimately builds brand loyalty.

And so it’s just really fascinating the way if you create it correctly, and adjust it and keep on moving and try to twist it in different ways while also analyzing what’s happening, you can do really cool things with it. So that’s just one of the ways that we measure the success of our community. And then another layer even on top of that is we do a lot of sales focused.

But it’s interesting because a lot of our sales focused content is in our Instagram stories because we don’t want to exhaust the current social community that we already have.

And so knowing that it’s only up there for twenty four hours and then pops off is good enough for us in our opinion. So it’s also being strategic with that of when to sell, when not to sell, when to put a sales post in feed, when to not.

We do launches throughout the year as well, which is super important to our overall social strategy and trying to parallel those launches with different brands along with when we want to run sales and knowing that, okay, we just ran a sale for a week. Our audience might be exhausted by that. Maybe we shouldn’t launch a new collection right after that because they’re exhausted. They’re not going to want to buy.

So it’s thinking through those things along with our incredible marketing team to make sure that we’re being super efficient on our social channels, is ways that we measure success.

What Resources Do You Recommend for Staying on Top of Social Media?

Mike: Fantastic. Lots of great tips and resources baked onto that. I love it. 

What other resources do you have? We’re talking about people, blogs, podcasts, events, etc, that you turn today to keep up with everything that’s happening in social media?

Jeremy: Being a nerd and that stuff in this space, I spend the majority of the time the first hour to two hours, just and this might be a lot for some people, but this isn’t even logging on to swim outlet stuff. This is just my own personal consumption. Going into emails, and I subscribe to a lot of different newsletters.

I also love to read. So I go in and Social Media Today is one of them. Jack Appleby’s Future Social is one of them. Tommy Clark’s Social Files is the name of his, and many, many, many, many more. Rachel Hemlock, I think, is her name. I go and look at her stuff as well. So there’s a lot of articles and newsletters that I look at. So those are just some off the top of my head. I love me some Good Morning Brew marketing. I go to that one often.

And then once I’m done there, transparently, I tend to hop into the Social Media Pulse community for you guys and go in and just see what’s being talked about, what’s stirring in there. I like to go into one other social media manager group that I’m a part of. I can’t remember the name of it. Mike, you’ll have to put the link of it in the notes or something. We’ll figure that out. But, it’s focused on retail social media managers, and so I go and sift through that. I don’t really boost that much.

And then in terms of people, I’m always paying attention to Twitter. That’s a place that I love. Or X, whatever you want to call it. I’m calling it Twitter. That’s what I started calling it. And so I’m always going there. I follow a lot of social media managers there. Bree Fleming. Oh gosh. Who else? Christine Gritman. I love some of her. I love her content.

And sometimes it’s not even some of the Tommy Clark, Jack Applebee, these people, sometimes their content isn’t even strictly focused on social media, but the post that they did is something funny that is pertaining to social media or something that might have happened within the space the last couple of hours. And so I even appreciate that style of content as well because it could spark a thought for me that we can turn into something in the swimming space. So I go there, and then after looking at Twitter and those newsletters, I pop over to LinkedIn and just see what’s being talked about there.

I believe his name is Nathan Truong. He has posted a lot of phenomenal content on just influencers and ambassador marketing and that stuff, which has been really helpful to me, because, again, I’m learning it and still trying to grow in what we’re doing. So those are just some of the people that I look at, and I’m sure there’s many more out there. But, that’s just what I look at.

Mike: What a great list. Folks will research all of these, and we’ll have all the correct links and names and everything in the show notes. Don’t worry. Just scroll down if you’re listening.

I particularly love your morning routine because I’m the same way. I have a core set of newsletters that I subscribe to. I get them every single morning. In fact, one of the feedback I’ve given to Phoebe at Marketing Brew is I wish your newsletter came earlier in the day because it’s typically midday, mid-afternoon. And I don’t always have time to open it at that point. And, whereas if it came in the morning and it’s right there with Morning Brew, the times, Jack McAfee’s future social—that’s where I’m doing my reading.

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