Influencer Marketing in Higher Ed: A Crash Course

By: Lora Polich Oct 22, 2021

Influencer Marketing in Higher Ed: A Crash Course

Influencers are the new big idea in marketing. Spurred by the boom in social media platforms and consumers’ increasing frustration with more overt ads, many businesses are turning to influencer marketing to reach their target audience. 

Maybe you’ve heard of influencer marketing and thought, “Well that’s fine for selling soft drinks and makeup, but it won’t work for higher ed.” You’re not alone. Only a few forward-thinking colleges and universities have experimented with influencer marketing. But they’re the crest of a rising wave. Here’s what you need to know to start exploring this new frontier.

The Basics 

Influencer marketing is a social media marketing strategy that partners with a social media personality to spread your message to their audience. When you work with an influencer, they create content for their audience but convey your message.

This might sound like a brand ambassador, but there are some key differences. While a brand ambassador is likely to be a current student or alumni, an influencer doesn’t have to be. Also, a brand ambassador might become the face of your brand, but an influencer has their own brand. When you work with influencers, you essentially borrow their audience. That audience is more likely to listen because the message comes from someone they already trust or admire. 

Trust is the keyword here because that’s what drives purchasing decisions. Nearly 15% of people aged 18 to 24 had purchased something that an influencer recommended within the six months before the survey, according to CivicScience. That number drops to 11% millennials (aged 25-34) and keeps declining with age. Younger audiences tend to feel the most trust toward influencers. Respondents aged 25 to 54 are most skeptical.

Putting Influencer Marketing to Work 

In the past, most influencers were celebrities. Social media has shifted that paradigm. While many celebrities still influence their audiences, not all influencers are celebrities. Anyone can grow an audience on social media. TikTok and Instagram are particularly welcoming to influencers. Bloggers, YouTubers, and other content creators can also build engaged audiences.

That’s good news for higher ed marketing teams. It means that you can leverage influencers and reach new audiences without a celebrity-sized budget. 

Influencers most often charge based on their follower count and engagement rates: 

  • Nano-Influencer: 10,000 followers or fewer
  • Micro-Influencer: 10,000-100,000 followers
  • Macro-Influencer: 100,000 to 1 million followers
  • Mega-Influencer: 1 million+ followers

Influencers with smaller audiences usually require smaller budgets. But the decreased cost of these partnerships doesn’t necessarily make them less valuable. Even Nano-influencers can achieve positive results if they have the right audience. Influencer marketing isn’t about casting a wide net. It’s about picking the influencers who will help you reach a specific type of potential student. 

An Instagrammer who regularly posts about Christian topics might be a good fit for a Christian school, while a community college might partner with an HVAC technician who shares TikToks from the back of her work van.

Influencer Marketing in Higher Ed

You’re probably already using social media platforms as part of your awareness strategy. Influencer marketing is an evolution in social media marketing. It helps you reach specific audiences and expand into new demographics. Here are a few ways colleges and universities could use influencer marketing: 

  • To raise awareness of your school. Ask an influencer to talk about their college decision-making process, test prep, or financial aid application. Take them on a campus tour or give them a look at your online class environment. Then link to a blog or other branded material on your website. 
  • To promote a specific program. Find an influencer who is already working in the field. Ask them to talk about payscales, a day in the life, or their training. Link to your program page. 
  • To highlight your values. Find an influencer whose values align with yours. Ask them to react to or talk about a presentation, blog post, or video created by one of your instructors or students. Link to the original content. This is also a great way to revive content that is older but still relevant. 

Whatever your ultimate goal, the influencers you choose absolutely must align with your brand values. The most effective influencers inspire trust and create authentic connections with their audience. Influencer marketing works because it feels more authentic and less obtrusive than traditional advertising. Make sure you’re working with someone who strikes the right tone. 

Getting Started with Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is a rapidly evolving channel that may help you reach your awareness goals, but there are legal and compliance issues you should consider before moving forward.

Keep an eye on this blog for more information about influencer and awareness marketing in higher education. If you are ready to learn more about ways you can leverage social media and influencer marketing to increase your brand awareness, reach out to the social media marketing experts at EDDY. We have the insight you need to launch a successful influencer marketing campaign.