We've heard it again and again - "WE NEED AN AMBASSADOR PROGRAM"! This often accompanied by a half-baked plan that is focused on top of funnel activity that benefits the marketing team or sales folks or even recruiting, but not the community.

While there are many great instances of Ambassador (or Star, Rock Star, Explorer, or other insert name here) programs out there, it's almost become more of a checklist item than something built to benefit both the communities we work with and the organization we work for.

Let's take a look at some reasons why building up such a program may not be right for you and what you might be able to do instead so your community can grow.

Size Matters
When it comes to organizing a DevRel effort around a product or service, there are a few questions that determine the validity of finding help outside the organization itself. When we talk about size, there are actually a few different factors, namely size of the user base and community, maturity of the product and development, and size of the DevRel organization itself.

What exactly makes a "good size" community for an Ambassador program? Here we need to see where our community members are active. Do we have people answering support style questions in our public chat channels and forums? Are community members giving talks at their local meetups about our technology? Do we support these efforts?

If your answer to ANY of those questions are no, you may not be the right size for an Ambassador program. It could be you have one or two of these, but not the third and that actually makes all the difference. An Ambassador is generally someone who stand out, of their own volition, as part of the community. If you don't see one person as a shining example of taking on all these activities, you likely do not have an Ambassador - yet.

Add to that the factor of product maturity. Early adopter can often show as Ambassadors in a false-positive way. If you are still in beta or on early releases, your organization may be lacking in the stability required to create a truly valuable experience to the community. It may be too nascent, especially if you are still looking at an MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

This is often reflected in the DevRel team itself. When a product is not yet mature and the community is small, chances are you have a single Developer Advocate - and one IC (Individual Contributor) does not a team make. 

Foster First
The first and most important step to any DevRel is to focus on growing the entire community. Trying to grab or create an Ambassador when your active community base can have a few deleterious effects. There could be a misunderstanding one why certain individuals are selected as Ambassadors while others are not - this is especially true in Open Source based organizations where contributions are out in the open and easy to see.

To avoid this, it's often easier to nurture the entire community, making them all positive citizens instead of a few Ambassadors. Having a healthy, growing community is the best indicator of success when it comes to DevRel. 

Partitioning off too soon in order to create an Ambassador program can cause fractures and lead to further problems. Adding this to maturity and size issues and you could damage your relationship with the general community. And building a community and growing it only take one tenth the time of persuading a community to trust again after that trust is violated.

Focus on Internals
Probably the simplest solution for garnering what one thinks they might gain from an Ambassador program in an organization that either is not ready or really does not need one is to use the resources set aside for such a program and reinvest in the DevRel team.

Countless times we see a DevRel practitioner at an organization, working as a single person with four Ambassadors. Wouldn't the community be better served with a stronger and more well staffed DevRel team? 

Let's say an Ambassador does one fifth of the things a Developer Advocate (and that's extremely generous). It takes five Ambassadors to bring the same value as hiring a second Developer Advocate - or a Content Writer, Technical Writer, Community Manager, or other DevRel professional! The value to the community of having a well supported and properly staff DevRel team is only outweighed by the value that will be gained by the organization.

Your first Ambassadors are those people who are the face of the company to the community, your DevRel team! If they already exist, an Ambassador program can wait - until you are the right size, until it is time to grow. Focus on building DevRel right first, then reach out to your community to enhance the activities this team is already delivering.