What’s the difference between ambassador and influencer marketing? It’s in the relationship

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I’ll get to to the difference in a second, but let me tell you first a story about Waze Carpool and then we’ll dive into why it’s relevant to ambassador and influencer marketing.

I actually love the Waze app, and I thought it was kind of cool that they rolled out Waze Carpool in 2018. Of course, I went to check it out. First, I was surprised that people were already lining up for rides on my commute – which isn’t terribly long to begin with. I logged into the app and got started to list myself as a carpool driver:

You click on your name and in settings set up when you leave for work, where work is, when you return and that sort of thing.

And then Waze starts telling me who wants a ride and at what time. That’s great and really a nice feature. Why not offer people rides if they are on the way and if your schedule allows.

And then on the next screen it tells me that I would earn 80 cents for a ride.

Interesting. That’s not a good deal at all. I would earn at least 3 times or more than that picking somebody up driving for Uber and with Destination Mode on. And some people might say it’s not about the money doing a carpool. That is true. Or maybe it’s gas money. I don’t know.

I’m not saying it’s a bad setup at all. But “carpool” to me meant that I volunteer to give people a ride. Sometimes other people give me a ride. The moment they pay me for it, it’s no longer that relationship. It’s not the relationship I have with my Uber passengers.

But let’s get to what influencer marketing has to do with this…

The difference between ambassadors and influencers

Speaking at ibtm world in Barcelona, 2018

When I spoke on content marketing for event planners at ibtm World in Barcelona in 2018 one audience member’s question focused on influencer marketing. I have written about how many brands get it wrong. And just like in rideshare, there are different levels in what people sum up as “influencer marketing.” Some relationships are transactional. Some not.

Influencer marketing often means that others with an influence over some kind of sizable audience are sharing our content and message. What’s interesting once I started thinking about this is that not all people sharing content are influencers that partner with a brand. Two out of the three main categories that I’ve come up with don’t partner with the brand at all.

So let’s break them down:

Occasional sharers

These are the people who read your content from time to time and share it here and there. Usually they share an article one in a while.


These are your content consumers and often customers who often share your content. For example, I would likely put myself into this category for American Airlines. There’s probably over 30 articles on here mentioning them. Roughly. They don’t pay me, we don’t have a marketing relationship. I just fly them and once in a while I write about my experience with them.

Read next: A birdhouse in an airport club? 

Those are ambassadors. They share content – their experiences really – freely and widely. Often they are positive ones.

Sometimes executives think of ambassadors when they think influencer marketing. That sounds great of course because it means we get free advertising, but it’s not influencer marketing and it’s harder to plan for. Ambassador marketing happens when you provide good customer-focused service and then those customers happen to share it.

Ambassador marketing is mostly led by customer service and operations and not so much marketing teams. The marketing teams can amplify the ambassador’s story, but they can’t usually create the good customer experience. That’s customer service or ops.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is when a brand hires an influencer to be a sort of spokesperson. I’ve done this for brands and shared stories for them that the brands thought would help with their marketing. I’m still happy to consider project requests, but hiring an influencer is not the same as having ambassadorts that talk abou you just because they like you.

That doesn’t mean influencer marketing is bad. It’s certainly not. But influencers know they are influencers and they likely will ask you for payment of some sort. Exposure isn’t usually good payment, because well, remember, the brand is going to them to get exposure for themselves.

Many influencers want to get paid in money! Given that brands sometimes move marketing dollars from somewhere else to this area, that shouldn’t be a problem theoretically.

These are all related fields, of course, but there are differences and the differences are in the relationship. A paid relationship is very different from an unpaid one. That’s good to remember. It’s also important to disclose the relationship to your audiences and for paid content it’s required by the FTC in the United States.

And the different areas also aren’t exclusive of each other. You can have occasional sharers, ambassadors and influencers when budget allows. The same is true for the carpooling thing. If you don’t want to do Uber, you can use Waze Carpool, for example. Or you might just use Waze for your own directions without riders or passengers. There are options of relationships.

Personally, I find it good to think about the options, understand them and then pick the one that works best for my current situation.

Does Waze carpool require you to get rideshare insurance?

According to my insurance guy Ed Faber, probably not. Here’s what he said:

In my opinion, rideshare gap coverage, aka transportation network company (TNC) endorsement, wouldn’t be needed or even appropriate when using the Waze app for setting up a carpool. Waze doesn’t appear to fit the description of a TCN as it doesn’t provide rides for hire. If the arraignment between driver and riders is a true share the expense carpool then coverage should be provided by most private passenger auto policies (PAP), without any special endorsement.

There is a specific exception made for carpooling in the standard wording on the PAP. It says coverage is excluded “…while it is being used as a public or livery conveyance. This exclusion does not apply to a share-the-expense car pool.” Coverage is determined by the claims adjuster and depends on the specific facts at the time of loss. It would be safer if no money changes hands and members of the carpool just traded off driving. If there is money changing hands, it would be wise to keep it very close to the actual costs of operating the vehicle so it’s sharing expenses, not a ride for hire.