image01This is a guest post by Krista Gray. When she’s not building community at Tilt, Krista loves connecting with fellow community builders. She enjoys travel, photography, and writing. Say hi @thekristagray or follow her adventures here.

With many companies embracing influencers to spread the word about their product or service, it may be worth trying your hand at encouraging the most passionate and influential customers to help.

So where do you begin? A branded ‘pilot program’ is a sound place to start, offering a safe chance to experiment, while letting the group guide you toward building something that could become a core part of your strategy.

While working to spin up my own pilot program called “Playmakers” at Tilt over the last eight weeks, I’ve learned new lessons outside of some of the best articles I’ve read. These can be applied to any early effort toward setting up a pilot program.

1. Finding the right people to serve as the face of the company is worth the time

The best programs flourish because they provide value to both the company and the influencer. Finding the best people can be difficult, but it pays major dividends later.

Spending time and energy on someone who isn’t a natural fit or excited to be a part of the program is emotionally draining, and can be costly in a variety of ways. Be transparent from the beginning, and don’t be afraid to let someone go if need be. Similarly, let early members know that they’re welcome to leave the pilot program if they lose interest, but be sure to get feedback as to why before they go!

2. Structure is essential, and it doesn’t have to feel like “work”

Creating the right kind of on-boarding materials and setting up regular time to talk with each person who joins the pilot program will be critical in retaining influencers, as well as ensuring that goals are met.

I started our Playmaker program with an incredibly loose approach without specific goals and materials because I didn’t want to task early, unpaid influencers with ‘work’ – and it was a very confusing experience for everyone involved. Today, our Playmakers have specific goals, templates, and metrics that they feel excited about.

Pilot Program

3. However, early flexibility is key

Creating structure is essential as a starting point, but a flexible mindset (and a willingness to change the way you’ve initially set things up) goes a long way. Empowering people to take the reins and do things their own way can yield valuable results, both in terms of product feedback and growth metrics.

Playmakers have done some really creative things, like ’tilting’ a piece of furniture to a group of buyers on Craigslist and letting us know about their favorite “hack” — tilting tabs with friends to amass credit card points. All of these use cases are outside of my early recommendations, but have helped me realize how versatile Tilt is!

4. Remember that people love to help, so don’t be afraid to ask!

A specific ask can feel daunting, but collaboration and learning is what a pilot program is all about. Most people interested in working with a brand often appreciate a direct connection to a product they love as much as an extra paycheck. It’s a cool experience for them to help make things better.

Tilt Playmakers in Austin, TX have helped me with so many things. Examples include connections to local press, event contacts for SXSW planning, and content distribution. It goes beyond their realm of duty, but has deepened our connection while making them realize how truly valuable they really are.

5. Embrace the possibility of failing

The beauty of a pilot program is that it’s branded as an experiment, and you’ll learn something whether it blossoms into a full-scale, permanent part of the company’s community or not. While it can be scary to put something new and different together, all of the reasons it works (or doesn’t) are valuable takeaways that can be applied to something else later – sometimes even bigger and better than your original idea.

Have you created a pilot program that successfully grew into a permanent part of your company’s marketing or community building efforts? Leave a comment and share your own tips.

When she’s not building community at Tilt, Krista loves connecting with other community builders and sharing stories about how awesome people are. She enjoys travel, photography, and writing. Say hi @thekristagray or follow her adventures here.

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