Understanding the Difference Between Fans, Influencers and Brand Ambassadors

by | Jul 28, 2019 | Need to Know, Social Media

One of the fun things about the English language is how much overlap there can be between words. Deciding when something is a burger or a sandwich is tougher than it sounds! The same is true of some of the terms that get thrown around in the marketing world. A few that immediately come to mind are fan, influencer and brand ambassador. While these are all distinct roles, defining where one ends and another begins can be difficult. Here’s where we think the boundaries lie.


Fans are people who are passionate about your brand. They’re the enthusiasts who advocate for you by talking up your products or services in a way that’s organic, authentic and natural. Their messaging is their own – it’s not shaped or provided by the brand they’re talking about. These are the people who truly love and admire what you do, and who align with what you stand for. They’re the ones who drive true word-of-mouth, and they do it without expectation of anything in return. It’s the free marketing everyone loves.


Influencers do the work of fans, but for a fee. They’re a brand in their own right, with a following of loyal fans who make purchasing decisions based on their recommendations. The business of being an influencer involves working with brands to share specific content in order to drive awareness or to achieve a set result. Where fans post what they want, influencers are paid in cash or kind to promote a brand in a particular way.

Influencers are about clout, not loyalty. Like freelancers who work with multiple clients, influencers work with a variety of brands at any given time.

Brand ambassadors

Brand ambassadors are somewhere between a fan and an influencer. This is where the lines tend to get a bit fuzzy. They’re paid, whether in cash or in freebies, to share their personal story around your company. Ambassadors often begin as loyal fans, stepping into an ambassadorship role if a brand thinks they have what it takes to drive brand awareness, consideration or conversion. It’s the contract between brand and ambassador that separates them from being just a fan. 

Loyal and influential, ambassadors are great for helping create user-generated material and sharing authentic experiences. Unlike influencers, they typically work with one or just a handful of brands – and they have more freedom in what and how they post.

They’re all interconnected

The fact that there’s so much overlap between the three categories is no coincidence. While fans, influencers and ambassadors are all distinct, they all play a valuable role in influencer marketing. Together they drive engagement, recruit new audiences and shift purchasing behavior.

Today’s brands need to be savvy about picking the right influencers for their needs – and develop campaign strategies that can tap into all three categories.

Need to brainstorm ways you can leverage influencers or wondering what it takes to start implementing an influencer campaign? Let’s chat!