Studies have long shown that word-of-mouth recommendations are some of the most lucrative ways to increase applications coming into a college or university. Word of mouth advertising is so effective, in part, because it’s a personal way for people to learn about a school in a way that comes across as more authentic than traditional advertising strategies.
That being said, many schools are turning toward college brand ambassadors and ambassador programs to incentivize students to promote their schools through word-of-mouth advertising. These programs have seen massive success in the schools that have utilized them, but they do require a fair amount of planning and robust program implementation to succeed. Here are some tips for getting started with brand ambassadors and how to launch a brand ambassador program at your school that will thrive for years to come.
What are brand ambassadors?
College students almost always need sources of income. Access to income is one of the biggest hurdles in graduating, either at all or on time, as students often face financial difficulty while going to school that can make finishing their education hard or impossible. Social media or online advertising is an excellent way for students to earn income on their own time, as it enables them to work with their college schedules while making a living.
Brands eager to tap into younger, college-aged audiences often create incentive programs to help students earn a living while promoting their products. The opportunity gives students the ability to work with more prominent brands—as companies like Amazon or even Chipotle have been known to offer brand ambassador programs to students—while working around their busy class and study schedules.
Brand ambassadors at schools are students that are paid or incentivized in some financial way to promote their school, or a product, to a large group of people—usually through social media. The most effective brand ambassadors for universities will be students that are documenting their college experience online. These students offer an extremely valuable demographic of followers that are often interested in learning about their college experience by following them online as they document their journey. Their followers are usually not tied to a specific geographic location and are often similar in age and interest and other factors like religious affiliation or program of study.
Brand ambassadors play an important role in marketing and advertising schools and universities to potential students. Studies have shown that this type of advertising leads to higher conversions than other types of marketing. Where alumni programs can help pair students with a member of your alumni network to answer questions about the campus experience, brand ambassadors can do so on a larger scale.
They can also help increase brand awareness to more significant swaths of potential students. Where alumni networks can help students seriously considering your school or university, brand ambassadors can help pique interest among students who may have just heard about your institution. Think about brand ambassadors as a way to advertise to prospective students and act as direct contacts for any questions they may have.
When it comes to campus social life, brand ambassadors are often the best resource that prospective students have in getting a good sense of what they can expect on campus. Take, for example, the virality of Rush Week content on TikTok during rush week for Greek life at The University of Alabama in August 2021. While this may not have been through a brand ambassador program, the content gave prospective students a look at on-campus Greek life in a way that traditional advertising could not.
How to create a brand ambassador program:
The first step to creating a brand ambassador program is determining what you would like your brand ambassadors to communicate about your school. From there, you can determine the target demographics that your ambassadors should be reaching to pick who you should be taking on as ambassadors. Ideally, ambassadors will already have a solid social media or web presence and be creating content about their experience at your school, to begin with.
The second step to creating a successful brand ambassador program is determining how your ambassadors will be compensated. Students should, ideally, receive financial compensation for their work as brand ambassadors. You can also incentivize students to post content about your school by offering a tiered program, such as free parking on campus in exchange for creative content, a free meal plan, or direct payments for their time spent on advertising your school.
Once you’ve found brand ambassadors, it’s crucial to train them accordingly. Make sure that your ambassadors have all of the tools they need to answer questions, present information and portray your school in a way that not only feels authentic to their experience but in a way you want future students to perceive it.
Good brand ambassadors can help pique interest in your school in ways you were previously unable to. Generation Z is often credited as one of the most challenging demographics to market to because of their reachability. Still, studies increasingly show that younger generations are mainly influenced by social media marketing—particularly influencers. Younger students want to hear that the schools they’re interested in applying to are a good fit for them. If the influencers they follow already or are familiar with are educating them about your school, it could help them decide to apply to your school faster.