When it comes to staying informed about consumer products, 48% of college students prefer to receive details by word of mouth versus internet advertising, according to a study by Student Monitor. One way retailers address this is by hiring campus brand ambassadors — college students paid to promote a specific brand to their network of fellow students.
Brands such as Dell, Victoria’s Secret, Coca-Cola, Google, and Red Bull have “campus rep” programs that hire students to carry out marketing initiatives on campuses around the country. Brand ambassadors’ responsibilities might include hosting in-store and on-campus events, encouraging peers to become customers or members of loyalty programs, posting pictures of products on social media and reporting back to the brand with opinions and insights about college trends.
Ben Detofsky, managing director of Youth Marketing Connection, which assists brands like Express, Adidas, and Timberland with campus ambassador programs, says the secret to success for this type of initiative is to “treat it like an investment.”
“It is a marketing channel and can drive real business results, but it needs to be treated that way,” Detofsky said.
Check out these important tips to consider when implementing and hiring campus brand ambassadors.
Enlist the Right Students
When hiring campus brand ambassadors, it’s helpful to hire students based on their personality traits, how involved they are on campus, and whether they are active on social media.
Adam Grant, founder and CEO of Campus Commandos, a company that matches college students with brands, explained in a Forbes article, “we have to remember that these are college students, not entry-level team members.” Because many don’t have enough work experience for a resume, they “shouldn’t fit into the traditional interview process.”
He suggests looking for extrovert traits if your rep will attend big events, and asking questions from a personality test like Myers-Briggs during the hiring process. Other qualities to look for:
- Involvement in popular on-campus organizations like a sorority or fraternity
- A marketing, business or communications major
- A proven track record of engaging in social media
- A lifestyle, based on personal interests, that’s a good fit with the brand’s messaging.
Detofsky suggests companies create a persona of their target customer, which includes who they are as a person, what type of music they listen to, what they do in their free time, their social media habits, and who they interact with. Then seek campus ambassadors that best fit this character sketch.
“It’s super important to find students who match all of the qualities, and don’t make compromises,” Detofsky says.
Companies can also outsource the hiring and implementation process to a marketing firm that specializes in creating and maintaining brand ambassador programs.
Provide Brand Training
The Victoria’s Secret PINK campus rep program, which selects about two brand ambassadors per campus at 100 colleges across the country, holds a training event for all ambassadors in its Columbus, Ohio headquarters. There, brand ambassadors learn about the history and goals of the brand, gain marketing and sales skills and have an opportunity to network with other campus reps. Sometimes, friendships form among ambassadors from different schools. These relationships continue to grow long after students return to their own campuses, providing a supportive network that helps to inspire ambassadors throughout the year.
Providing an onboarding event and continued training helps to keep students informed about recent company developments and product launches, promotes enthusiasm for the job and better positions reps to be successful. This kind of training, along with encouraging students to enroll in marketing courses on campus, can help increase the success of the program.
Arm Ambassadors With the Right Online Platforms
Enlisting ambassadors with the right online platforms, such as private Facebook pages or Youtube channels, can further the reach and influence of an individual rep. Enlist the help of tracking referrals and unique invite codes to monitor business coming in from particular brand reps—and reward reps accordingly.
In a survey spearheaded by Andrew Watts, 90% of former ambassadors say they used at least one social media platform in their marketing efforts. Facebook was the most popular — “all of the ambassadors used it,” he wrote — followed by Yik Yak, a location-based social network, and Instagram and Twitter. About 73% of the campus ambassadors reported that their social media efforts were successful (although the survey didn’t specify how that success was measured).
For example, take a look at Maddie Spensieri’s Youtube channel. As a college brand ambassador for Victoria’s Secret, Spensieri uploads videos examining the merchandise the brand sends her, garnering thousands of views. Her brand ambassador efforts also extend to Instagram.
Provide Instant Gratification
There’s a lot of competition for students’ time, from classes to social events. Providing quick payment and rewards for referrals could be extra motivation for cash-strapped students to spend their time as brand ambassadors. Grant recommends using PayPal or direct deposit so that students receive compensation quickly.
However, it’s important to keep in mind—and emphasize to ambassadors—that it’s not all about the paycheck. First and foremost, students need to be passionate about the brand.
Plan Engaging Events
Regardless of how amazing your campus brand ambassadors are, it’s just as important that the events they participate in are engaging and fun for their peers. Detofsky details a successful denim bar that the company recently set up on a campus, taking over an entertainment space with a photo booth that posted directly to Instagram, food catered by a popular local venue, and music.
“Try to stay away from anything too traditional or boring,” Detofsky warns. “If you’re going to set up a table, today that table needs to have an experience wrapped around it.”
With the right ambassadors, your brand can quickly grow a presence on college campuses—and a growing network of customers.