Certain skills can give students an edge when it comes to getting noticed by a university. Often, those skills are related to sports or academic achievement. But now, another skill is helping some students get noticed – and rewarded: social media influencing.
Colleges are partnering with students who have large social media followings to boost the colleges’ own brand awareness. Students are compensated, often with merchandise or university “experiences.” And University of Louisville strategic communication expert Karen Freberg told Texas Standard that universities need influencers to help their brands stand out online.
“What we are seeing is more universities kind of realizing, Oh, the traditional channels of communication that we have been using may not necessarily be effective,” Freberg said.
Student influencers are attractive because they attend the university themselves. But they’re also skilled at gaining attention and followers online.
“They are already in the mindset of building a community,” Freberg said. “But it also is another way for them to be evaluated on how successful they are in terms of using social media strategically to perhaps get a job, an internship.”
And rather than financial compensation, Freberg said these students trade in merchandise, or swag, and campus experiences like exclusive tickets to football games. These are all things the influencer can then share with their followers.
“If they’re able to get a really good experience firsthand because they’re an influencer, and share that with the community, that is more valuable to them than basically getting a paycheck,” Freberg said.
But there are ethical considerations. Freberg said universities have to be careful who they partner with because an influencer could be fake, or their following might not be as strong as it appears online. Influencers also need to be transparent about their relationship with the university. If not, they could violate Federal Trade Commission rules.
“The worst thing a university could do is partnering with an influencer that, one, is either fake, or gets themselves into a crisis,” Freberg said.
She said universities will have to carefully evaluate which influencers are trustworthy as well as persuasive.