Over the course of the last decade, social media has become a new normal. A large portion of Generation Z all the way through the Baby Boomer generation has at least one, if not multiple, social media profiles. Even so, the 18–29-year-old demographic has the highest percentage of adults that use at least 1 social media platform. When it comes to finding the right tactics for a company’s marketing mix, it is important to understand where their priority audience resides. While the target demographic varies for each company and campaign, young adults are critical for companies to target. Young potential customers who are starting to form their buying habits can be gained as long-time or lifetime customers if properly nurtured within the sales funnel.
A large portion of the young adult demographic is made up of college students and recent college graduates. Pairing the importance of this demographic with the continued growth of social influencer campaigns points toward why so many brands are starting to embrace collegiate student influencers. College students are often some of the best choices for influencers that target young adults. They already have a built-in community and can relate to the same circumstances experienced by their peers, thus forming a bond between influencer and follower.
Influencers can be categorized by the number of followers they have garnered. Infinity Marketing’s award-winning Micro-Influencer Program has established several successful campaigns for various clients in recent years. Micro-influencers are defined as having between 1k and 100k followers and are highly effective for driving engagement due to their strong relationships with their followers. Most micro-influencers are also local experts and well-known members of their community. You can think of them as the sweet spot for local brand awareness: a large enough following to make an impact but small enough to have meaningful relationships with their followers.
As social influencers became more common, colleges were quick to notice that some of their students were part of the movement and had first-hand knowledge of the power of social media and the schools they attended. Colleges began partnering with their students who had larger followings to help communicate initiatives to the rest of the student body, promote events, recruit prospective students, and build awareness of their campus lifestyle. The same capabilities that allowed these students to help build awareness for their schools could also be used to boost a variety of brands through authentic and relatable content.
In many ways, student influencers are the “ultimate micro-influencer.” Most importantly, they are authentic to their audience and hold a similar perspective. This helps them build trust with their followers and establish commonality. The size and specificity of their followers also help their campaigns to be more targeted. Their content can be curated with a specific perspective in mind, thus generating a more impactful message without a significant number of wasted impressions from those who don’t share similar experiences.
Most brands have a product or service that connects to college students, even if the connection is not obvious at first. The two posts below serve as an example of this. Quizlet’s applicability for students studying for an upcoming exam and the benefit of a student testimonial is straightforward. However, it may not be so obvious why Belk using a student influencer, as opposed to a fashion influencer, is a viable strategy. During the back-to-school season, students are inevitably going to be buying new clothes for the upcoming semester. Utilizing a student influencer to share content about this specific task can lead to a greater connection in the mind of students between Belk and their journey to buy clothes for heading back to campus.
A game changer for the student influencer tactic came earlier this year when the NCAA made changes to their regulations regarding the ability for student athletes to be compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). Now, arguably the most influential students on a college campus are free to become social influencers. Many of the benefits provided by utilizing other student influencers are amplified due to the attention that many university sports teams receive. While the intimate local focus is still very much alive with student athlete influencers, the number of potential student influencers with a national following immediately increased. Within one month of the change regarding NIL for college athletes, companies were offering six-figure endorsement contracts to the most well-known athletes. With the most high-profile college games being broadcast nationwide, the role of student influencers began to find more footing with those whose products and services touched more than just a local community.
The top student influencers have gone beyond being a micro-influencer, with follower counts in the hundreds of thousands on each platform. Even further, more than a few have eclipsed the million-follower mark, many of which are student athletes. These influencers provide a viable option for brands, such as Invisalign and ZOA Energy, to have a single influencer share a message across their entire footprint. These national campaigns continue to add to the legitimacy of student influencers in the eyes of many. While the performance metrics of micro-influencer campaigns have proven for years that they are an effective tactic, many organizations that operate within a single region or market are guided by the tactics they see used by larger, nationwide brands. This means as more ‘big’ brands use student influencer campaigns, momentum and traction will see even greater growth for student influencer campaigns.
Student influencers epitomize the advantages of influencer marketing. They have a built-in audience that relates to their experiences and lifestyle on several levels, thus strengthening the trust and bond between influencer and follower. In addition, the new opportunity to partner with student athletes further adds to the momentum student influencers have been gaining in recent years. Brands are now able to use student influencers as part of both local and national campaigns, thanks to the customization and scalability of social influencers. Pair all of this with the importance of gaining customers in a critical demographic; there is little reason for advertisers not to investigate the use of student influencers for their brand.
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