How Brands Are Working With College Students As Nano Influencers

  • Apps like BeReal and TikTok often recruit college students to be the first faces of their brand.
  • As the creator space becomes more congested, one way to stick out is to actually have fewer followers.
  • An industry expert breaks down why nano influencers rule college marketing.

Social-media companies like BeReal and TikTok often target college students in their early growth phases, but they’re not necessarily looking for brand ambassadors with the biggest followings. Instead, they seek out those with the most genuine influence.

A BeReal ambassador recently called it having a “pull” on campus.

Adam Dornbusch, the CEO of creator engagement company EnTribe, said he’s seen nano influencer college students recently became more attractive to social-media apps. Because the creator space is becoming more cluttered, and plagued with growth hacking, a young person with a couple thousand followers can signify authenticity that can be valuable. And college itself can be a draw.

“The networks students create at higher education institutions become their temporary family and they are just truly becoming independent consumers for the first time,” Dornbusch told Insider. “But more so these students go on to a wide variety of careers and take their brand affiliations with them.”

He added that new social-media apps are recycling tried-and-true college marketing that legacy brands like Ambercrombie & Fitch and Red Bull helped pioneer.

‘Influencer fatigue’ and the value of personally knowing your followers

Social-media newcomer BeReal has tripled its downloads this year and has been helped by its guerilla marketing strategies focused on US colleges, following predecessors like Tinder and TikTok.

Three of BeReal’s campus ambassadors, who have Instagram followings from a few hundred to a few thousand, said that BeReal recruiters were not concerned with their online clout, but more about how they engaged with their social circles.

“College students are really good at networking and getting the word around,” said Tiffanie Johnson, a BeReal rep for Old Dominion University. “During my interview they asked … how much of a pull I have on campus with different organization. My first task was to get contact information for every sorority and fraternity.”

Johnson, despite having just a little over 2,500 Instagram followers, said she’s well-connected at school. She’s naturally social and enjoys networking.

Dornbusch said brand ambassadors, like Johnson, are key to selling an app like BeReal as organically as possible to other students.

“More and more brands are looking at smaller influencers because they’re not charging a market rate for reach, and we also don’t know if [an influencer’s] reach is authentic,” Dornbusch said. “There are a lot of bots out there for reach and engagements.”

He estimated an average college marketing campaign can cost a company $50,000 to $100,000 per university, which includes hiring ambassadors, sponsoring Greek life parties and various other events, and free swag.

College students with a lot of social equity on campus can create similar content to a major influencer, Dornbusch noted, but their smaller reach shows a more authentic sense of community since most of them are likely people they genuinely know.

“We’re seeing a lot of influencer fatigue,” Dornbusch added.

Abigail Velez is a senior at the University of Incarnate Word, a Catholic college in San Antonio. With 9,000 Instagram followers, she’s an EnTribe client who helps her school and brands reach students.

She told Insider she feels pressure to continue growing her Instagram following, but that being a nano influencer has given her an authentic edge that she’s also hoping to maintain.

“We know our followers on a more personal level,” she said of nano influencers like herself.

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