People, especially influencers, present their best selves on social media. Their pictures are photoshopped, their captions are thoughtfully crafted, and their aesthetics are carefully developed. But, things aren’t always as they seem! The recent college admission scandal, known as “Operation Varsity Blues,” is proof that what collegiate influencers put out on social media does not always translate to real life.

Each year, more brands are turning to Gen-Z collegiate influencers—like Olivia Jade, who we followed in the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal—to promote their products through social media marketing and partnerships. And, given the current industry climate, it’s extremely important to thoroughly vet your collegiate influencers.

The following are five ways to evaluate future collegiate influencers to ensure that they’re a great fit for your brand and can effectively engage with your targeted audiences on campus.

1. Seek out on-campus involvement

In order to promote a brand on campus, a collegiate influencer needs to be plugged into their campus community. So, it’s a good idea to look for students who have a variety of involvement across different campus groups.

Ask each student about the leadership roles they hold and what their responsibilities are as a member or leader in each group. Meaningful involvement in on-campus groups can be leveraged for the brand, so make sure you delve deeper into their connections.

2. Look into secondary social media channels

While your brand might only be searching for collegiate influencers to assist with campaigns on a single platform, it’s important not to forget about other social media sites. Your brand should evaluate potential student influencers’ online personas as a whole.

Many students use different channels to express different sides of themselves (ex: Twitter = politics, Instagram = lifestyle, YouTube = beauty). Evaluating each of these channels in close detail is a simple way to ensure that each of your future influencers embodies the values of your brand—on each and every platform. Not to mention, it will help your company to avoid any not-so-happy surprises down the line!

3. Ask them about their studies and career aspirations

Evaluating influencers is much more than exploring their online personas. It’s important to have thoughtful conversations with potential collegiate partners to get to know their personalities.

The best influencers are those who are passionate about what they do. We encourage brands to ask students about their studies and career aspirations. Often times, students interested in social media, marketing, and public relations turn out to be fantastic collegiate influencers.

It’s always a great idea to seek out highly-ambitious students, but be sure to ask them about their course load and schedule. Students with too much on their plates may not be able to devote the necessary amounts of time and energy to your brand’s campaign.

4. Make sure their brand is aligned with yours

Collegiate influencers use their personal brands to promote products and services. Gen-Z has grown up surrounded by influencer marketing, and they can tell when posts feel forced or inauthentic.

To ensure a successful campaign, evaluate potential college influencers’ social media content thoroughly—this includes reading through captions and looking at Instagram stories. Also, look for diversity in your influencers’ content. Great student influencers are well-rounded (i.e. they post a variety of photos that show different aspects of their lives).

Lastly, if you have very specific content requirements for your campaign, make sure your potential student influencers already meet those requirements. It’s unlikely that influencers will change content or posting style drastically for your brand.

5. Take cues from your interactions

If potential influencers don’t sound interested in an interview, then it is highly unlikely that they’ll be able to convey authentic enthusiasm for your brand when it’s time for them to begin posting. So, don’t let content quality blind you. Trust your gut in initial conversations and interactions. You can help someone craft better posts, but you can’t craft excitement.

The takeaways

As brand managers, there are two very important lessons to take away from the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal. First, social media reality doesn’t always equate to a potential influencer’s real life. And second, it’s important to thoroughly vet each and every individual that represents your brand— including any collegiate influencers.

At YMC, we work with a network of thousands of thoroughly-vetted collegiate influencers across the country, so you can feel confident knowing that we have the right college connections for your brand. Our team carefully reviews each potential hire to ensure they are right for the brand, motivated about the job, and are involved in campus life.

If you’re tackling collegiate influencer recruitment internally, we hope these tips serve as a great starting point for properly evaluating your future collegiate representatives. If you’re still feeling nervous about where to start, YMC can help!

Want to learn more?

Check out a few other articles we’ve written on this topic:

As a Millennial, I’m on my phone pretty much all day. The first thing I do when I wake up, and the last thing I do before bed, is scroll through my Instagram feed. I basically like to live vicariously through photos from my favorite influencers, celebrity girl crushes, and friends. What’s crazy to me, though, is that while I’m scrolling through this curated bunch of images, I’m also being exposed to a bunch of Instagram ads (often without even noticing).

Instagram ads aren’t like most ads on the internet—they aren’t obvious or blaring. They don’t pop up and disturb me while reading an article, or make me wait 10 seconds before I can skip the ad and get on to the content I actually wanted. Generally, they blend right into my feed.

Considering creating an Instagram ad campaign for your business? As a 23-year old Millennial, here’s my take:

Ad Type

There are four types of Instagram ads: photo ads, video ads, carousel ads, and stories ads. To be honest, I don’t really mind the photo and carousel ads. Like I mentioned, they blend right into my feed and don’t disturb my endless scrolling. I’ve also stopped to take a look at carousel ads when they show me products from a brand I like or create a cohesive message that you have to see all the photos to understand.

It’s the video and stories ads that aren’t my favorite. Videos often cause my feed to skip when scrolling past or even crash my app. If I don’t have a good WiFi connection, they won’t even play at all. In stories, I almost always swipe past the ads unless it’s a product I’m really interested in. Aesthetically, these ads are usually very similar to those on YouTube and I don’t feel like watching them.

Campaign Objectives

When setting up an Instagram ad, you’re allowed to have one of three objectives: awareness, consideration, and conversion. In my experience, all three can be met, but conversion is the toughest. I’ve definitely stopped to look at an ad if a product peaked my interest and I wanted to learn more. I’ve even considered purchasing something through an Instagram ad. However, I don’t usually follow through. I may visit the company’s website or screenshot the product to come back to later, but I generally do not make a purchase solely based on the ad. Which makes sense because if you’re in the world of marketing, you’ve probably heard of the Rule of Seven—a potential customer needs to “hear” the advertiser’s message at least seven times before they’ll take action to buy that product or service.

Ad Setup

The process for getting started with Instagram advertising is “quick and easy.” You must have a Facebook Business page in order to then create a Business Profile on Instagram, which is makes sense as Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion. After that, you can set up an ad in their Ads Manager. Then you determine your budget to dictate how long your ad will run and who will see it before clicking publish. With such a simple process, it’s surprising that I don’t see more ads than I currently do.

On a side note, I like that this setup invites small, locally-owned businesses as well as larger companies the opportunity to advertise on Instagram. As a Boston-based Millennial, I enjoy seeing ads for restaurants and shops in my neighborhood, and more often than not will throw them a like.

Precise Targeting

This is the most interesting part of advertising to me. Instagram can use specific options to reach the exact audience that you want to see your ad. This includes factors such as location, demographics, interests, and behaviors. You can also design an ad to reach a custom audience, lookalike audience, or automated target. Basically, Instagram has all of these creepy, but effective ways of reaching the right people. Ads for products I’ve searched for or clicked on in my browser history often come up on Instagram within minutes. Sometimes I’ll talk about something outloud and it will show up in my ads. Is Siri or Cortana or Alexa or whoever always listening? I think that’s a debate for another article.

While I am one Millennial in a sea of many, it’s important to get to know what resonates and performs with your audience. Always be testing!

Want more? Check out these blogs:

How can YMC help?

Want to engage the coveted Millennial and Gen-Z demographics? Finding the right partner is key to your success. Here at YMC, we’ve been helping brands connect with 15- to 29-year-old consumers for two decades—and we’d be happy to share our wealth of knowledge with you. Contact us today!

As buzzworthy as the word “influencer” has become, influencer marketing is nothing new. Celebrities have long served as poster children for the influencer model. But with the rise of social media, it’s now possible for an average person to become an influencer. Instead of being discovered by a talent scout or moving to NYC or LA, social media has democratized who gets to be famous and serve as an influencer. All you really need nowadays is an Instagram handle and iPhone Portrait Mode.

Over the past several years, there has been a rise in influencers (AKA Instagram celebrities with millions of followers and a perfectly curated online persona), replacing the long standing reliance on celebrities for endorsements and marketing campaigns. We are beginning to see another shift that is set to rock the the evolving industry.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Instagram celebrities are becoming increasingly expensive and are often personally disconnected from their audiences, causing brands to question ROI and look for alternate avenues to maximize it. As authenticity dictates what breaks through the social media marketing clutter, brands are turning to the support and clout of micro influencers to not only help further their marketing endeavours, but also to help build a brand story, raise awareness, and connect with consumers in an engaging, relevant way.

Unlike “Instagram celebrities,” who may have millions of followers, micro influencers typically reach an extremely targeted group of followers. While they tend to have fewer followers than Instagram celebrities (anywhere from 1,000 – 100,000 followers), they normally enjoy a higher level of engagement, likely because they are perceived as being more relatable. Since they’re able to create and cultivate a kind of relationship that isn’t likely for individuals with millions of followers, they’re 4x more likely to get a comment on a post.

The Student Sweet Spot

Student micro influencer sips tea

The student demographic is where micro influencers flourish because students are particularly interconnected and social. As a group of digital natives, Millennials and Gen-Z are used to sharing their lives on social media. They’re constantly creating their own content and building their following while managing to make it to class and pass exams.

And long gone are the days of the “broke” student stereotype. In fact, college students spent $523 billion dollars in 2015, 39% of which was discretionary spending (food, entertainment, clothes, transportation). Research shows that students are more than willing to spend their money on the brands they love and are looking to their friends for honest recommendations. Brands would be wise to embrace the “less is more approach,” and fully lean into the power of student micro influencers.

Higher Engagement

Students tend to have higher engagement rates than celebrities due to their ability to be more interactive, responsive, and build stronger relationships with their followers. They aren’t strangers—they’re your sorority sister, your lab partner, your class president. According to a HelloSociety study, these campaigns can deliver a 60% higher engagement rate than the average campaign powered by a celebrity or Instagram celebrity.

While celebrities definitely have a larger reach (potential number of people who could see the content organically), the demographic makeup of their followers can result in a lost message, as many people may not care about that they are trying to promote or it may not be relevant to their lives.

Authenticity

84% of Millennials don’t trust traditional advertising and Gen-Z places the most trust on messages from their peers. These demographics have refined B.S. meters that allow them to spot when promotions are solely based on a contract. When students feel like they are being sold to or that the content doesn’t directly relate to them, their built-in adblock is activated.

Instead of a brand reaching out to desired customers directly, brands can use student micro influencers to accomplish this task in a more natural way as a peer. They can give more authentic endorsements because they like a product, not because of a contract or compensation (although typically both are involved). When it comes to celebrity accounts with millions of followers, no one actually believes that they are a real fan of the product…they’re just trying to get paid.

To incorporating this level of authenticity and accessibility, it’s important to do your research. Recruiting and selecting student micro influencers on college campuses can be tricky business. It doesn’t matter how much strategy and thought went into the campaign—if you select the wrong students, it can be detrimental. Showcase students who reflect the lives of the target consumer and you’ll connect your brand to that target consumer in a meaningful way.

Content Creation & Ownership Rights

Millennials and Gen-Z respond best to content that looks like them, so there’s no better way than going straight to the source for content. Student micro influencers are content generators for a brand. Student content can outperform celebrity content while maintaining authenticity (and it comes with a smaller price tag).

Brands can also repurpose student content to generate additional revenue from a campaign. Repurposed content increases the value you get from your campaign, and has been proven to drive further sales. Depending on the contract, your brand may be able to secure unlimited, royalty-free rights to content, instead of having to pay usage fees.

Offline Conversion/Word-of-Mouth

Student micro influencers have a unique power to take their online conversations offline and power them through word-of-mouth, striking up conversations with their networks on campus (hello thousands of college students) and directly influencing their networks face-to-face/peer-to-peer. According to a Nielsen study, 92% of consumers value referrals from friends or family members.

Cost

According to HelloSociety, micro influencers are 6.7x more efficient per engagement than influencers with larger followings. You can generate the same (or larger reach) by assembling a team of student micro influencers on varying campuses for a fraction of the cost, while adding a more diverse, yet still targeted audience.

While celebrities and mega-influencers hone their monetization strategies to make their social media presence a sustainable business with well-developed pricing structures, the average college student will be more than happy with free product or services and a small stipend.

Want more? Check out these blogs:

How can YMC help?

Want to recruit student micro influencers for your brand? Finding the right partner is key to your success. Here at YMC, we’ve been helping brands connect with 15- to 29-year-old consumers for two decades—we’d be happy to share our wealth of knowledge with you. Contact us today!