Social (Media) Cues, Part III: Influence Me!

On Instagram (like anywhere else), it pays to be famous.

A recent study by socialbakers showed that users are more engaged with content when it comes from celebrities. Like, way more engaged.

According to the data, we double tap and comment on influencer posts 200% more than other media and brands combined.

For those of us in higher ed, though, what does an influencer even look like? College fits differently into people’s lives than Ray Bans or sneakers. And it’s hard to imagine Kim Kardashian repping liberal arts programs, or a popular meme artist making branded GIFs about student-faculty ratios.

Avoiding influencer endorsements might boost our sense of integrity as higher ed marketers, but it’s a missed opportunity in our branding playbook, especially since the numbers so clearly show influencer marketing gaining ground on social.

At SimpsonScarborough, before we even talk about possible social campaigns, we dive into the data and help our clients think through the big questions about their target audiences and the role that influencers play in their daily media consumption. Here are three suggestions for identifying and leveraging influencers to build your brand:

  1. Find out who really influences your target prospective students’ college perceptions. Is it an A-list celebrity? Or a 17-year-old YouTube-and-Instagram Artist with a million subscribers and a big decision coming up about where to go to college? What if you invited the latter influencer to tour campus and stream the experience? Whatever you do, invest some time in finding out who is capturing attention in your media space and imagine how you might engage your target audience directly through their social channels.
  2. Tap the idea, not the influencer. Jerry Seinfeld’s phenomenal web-turned-Netflix series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has legions of young fans of the graduate-school age range. So if you’re working on a campaign for a grad school program, for example, you could concept ideas that leverage the show’s influence, show you’re tapped in, and further the university brand in the process. That could mean anything—maybe a web series where admissions officers have silly conversations with prospective grad students at coffee shops before getting to more serious discussions about their aspirations and how the program can help them achieve those goals.
  3. Try making something in the real world. Think beyond videos and hashtags. In fact, who says you have to even create a campaign ON social media? Instead of reporting the news, become the news. You could make a bigger splash — and make your overworked internal media and brand teams very happy — by sponsoring a real-world experience for your audiences to discover and then spread the message on social. Get an art class to paint a mural in an off-campus neighborhood. Or build a giant installation in the dining hall using only discarded plastic straws to raise awareness of their environmental effects and highlight your school’s commitment to sustainability.

It’s become a truism that all forms of media now compete with all other forms of media — books with movies, movies with television, television with social, social with advertising, and so on and so forth. Instead of fighting that reality, what are you doing to stand out today?

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