Influencers are an important part of the marketing story in all walks of life, and that’s starting to include areas you may not expect – such as higher education. Influencers are representing their colleges, and vice-versa; CNBC highlights the work of Kahlil Greene, the Gen-Z Historian, who has become a star posting from Yale University. Conversely, however, some colleges have been accused of lowering standards for already-famous influencers to come in; a New York Times report from 2019 highlighted a handful of such cases. Finding the right balance is key, and that will establish a beneficial, healthy ecosystem between influencers and colleges.
An influential voice
The benefits of bringing together influencers with colleges to help promote one another’s brands are fairly clear. College can be an extremely anxious and nervy time, especially for those in undergrad school; finding methods to help manage stress are often crucial. TikTok and other influencer outlets can be valuable means of expression that give those users a different way to approach their stress and manage it, as well as providing a powerful tool for other students to help manage their own workloads. According to Wired, colleges have harnessed the powers of their influencers to help spread good news on campus and raise awareness of important tools, as well as acting as brand ambassadors for the college.
Conflicts of interest
Acting as an in-person brand ambassador is invaluable to any company. Colleges, which can have a harder time than most when it comes to advertising (the rules and regulations governing colleges, and their funding, impact their ability to market), can make more use than most out of these influencers. Unfortunately, as the New York Times report highlighted, there can be conflict of interests. Influencers and actresses who would otherwise not have found college spaces are, reportedly, finding space in college where they might otherwise have gone to other students. While preferential treatment is nothing new where money or fame is concerned, finding the balance is key.
A healthy influencer strategy
In September 2020, the New York Times highlighted efforts by the University of Missouri to use their big-name influencer students to promote coronavirus awareness and safety. Other similar stories popped up around the country, with the original plan influencing a viral-style wave of new purchases. This is clearly a force for good, and shows the way forward for colleges. Using influencers has to be ethical; money can, of course, be exchanged, but the academic side of affairs must be left to the side. Regardless of the success of the student, their image and name can help to spread good messages, and benefit both parties.
Keeping higher education and business separated is key. Influencer work must be identified as such, and cannot have any influence on academic success. Therein lies the key to a healthy college-influencer relationship, and one that will continue to bring successes for both parties without risking the integrity of the college or the assurance of the student’s education.
Freelance contribution especially written for Find Your Influence by Karoline Gore.