Universities are finding new, innovative ways to engage with their student bodies and curate the school’s collective image. And it’s costing them.
The Columbia Missourian, a newspaper affiliated with the Missouri School of Journalism, explored the concept of a college-based ambassador program on their own campus, writing “Campus influencers part of MU’s plan to spread COVID-19 safety messaging.” At least four students had identified themselves on Instagram using the hashtag #Missou_Ambassador when the article was published earlier this month. These students will continue posting coronavirus-related content throughout the semester, including encouragement for their fellow students to wear masks, practice social distancing, use the school’s #CampusClear app for self-monitoring symptoms and stay updated with school policies.
The school’s Joint Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing paid a Canadian advertising company $10,300 to take over the ambassador project, according to the Columbia Missourian.
“We have spent money on various marketing materials, spreading the word about our efforts to fight COVID, as well as how we expect the community to fight COVID,” MU spokesperson Christian Basi told the paper. “We certainly have spent money to spread the word about what everyone can do to prevent this virus from getting worse. [Campus influencers are] another tool that we have.”
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coming back to campus is a large step, but I’m excited to see what this semester holds in store for me! through wearing masks, practicing proper hand hygiene, and familiarizing myself with Mizzou’s Renewal Plan, I’m confident that this semester will be awesome despite what’s going on in the world around us! Be sure to look at renewal.missouri.edu (link in my bio) to see what steps Mizzou is taking to ensure safety throughout campus #tigerssupporttigers #maskupmizzou
Missouri isn’t the only school doing this.
Baylor University reportedly has a paid promotions sponsorship with popular twin influencers Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight. The duo has 6.9 million subscribers on YouTube and over 5.8 million followers on Instagram. In 2017, the two announced they’d both be attending Baylor University in a video that’s not unlike most high school recruit’s commitment ceremonies (there are even hats on a table!), other than the fact it’s been viewed nearly four million times.
The two have not publicly responded to comments or questions regarding their ambassador-status with the university. However, Instagram guidelines for “influencers” require advertisements and paid promotions to be labeled as such. They’ve posted several pictures like this one, along with captions that encourage their followers to join them at Baylor, which include the advertisement label.
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Choosing where to go to college is one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever make. For us, @bayloruniversity was our decision because it was welcoming, Christian, had challenging academics, and was close to home! We hope y’all are able to make a decision that makes you as happy as ours has!!¨? Comment down below if you know where you are going!!
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Since school is online rn, we are definitely missing Baylor!!! ??? Especially all the fun traditions, SING, the sports (SIC’EM BEARS), and all of our friends. That being said… if you want to go to school with us this fall, the deposit deadline is on June 1st! See you on campus maybe kinda sorta?!
While they aren’t necessarily promoting Baylor’s COVID-19 procedures, they can’t critique them, either. Both women tested positive for the coronavirus in late August (just weeks after returning to campus). They shared the news with their followers in an Instagram post, making sure to emphasize they do not blame their school (which, friendly reminder, is paying them). The caption includes this blurb:
“As you guys know, Baylor chose to do some in person classes as well as some online classes. They have taken every precaution, including mandating masks, requiring students to test negative before coming back to school, and many, many more precautions. It is NOT due to in person classes that this happened.”
You may be asking (or commenting) “why is this on a sports site?” Fair enough. Well, while Missouri is dishing out over $10,000 to an international marketing agency for a few Instagram posts, and Baylor is sponsoring the twin’s social media accounts, student-athletes remain unpaid. That’s why.
This topic was broached by Tanya Chen for BuzzFeed, who makes the argument college athletes are also “influencers” for their schools.
Student-athletes are the faces of their schools and have a huge amount of influence. It’s why a school like Duke University has a lot more visibility and brand recognition than a school that has similar academic standards. So why aren’t student-athletes compensated for this critical role? People who play devil’s advocate may say, “well, many of them are given full-ride scholarships,” which is true, and that is the agreement that they sign off on. But the impact that college athletes have on their colleges is profound and lucrative, and they see none of the earnings. NCAA officials and those running athletic programs at prospective universities are pocketing most of it. It begs the question, is a full-ride scholarship enough compensation, especially when schools might now be paying students to be brand ambassadors?
ESPN’s Bomani Jones agrees with that argument, saying he believes collegiate athletes are the original influencers (even before the days of Instagram).
“If they weren’t, shoe companies wouldn’t outfit them in their gear. If they weren’t, applications wouldn’t go up when a team wins a championship,” Jones told BuzzFeed.
This week's newsletter: I write about students athletes being the OG college influencer. and if schools are specifically paying influencers now, they should be paying their players https://t.co/XITcFJpolf
— Tanya Chen (@tanyachen) September 18, 2020
“No other students, for any reason, are asked to pass up money. They are a wholly unique class of students,” Bomani said. “The schools are paying these influencers because they have to. They cannot procure their services without compensation. They don’t pay athletes because they don’t have to, and they are the only adults in America expected to work without receiving money in return.”
An individual’s “worth” (or at least how an individual’s name, image and likeness contributes to their university’s name, image, likeness and revenue) cannot be solely defined by a single number, even though that number generally represents how many other individuals are seeing their content. However, just for comparison’s sake… The twins at Baylor have nearly six million followers on Instagram. The current #Missou_Ambassadors have followings of between 1,162 and 2,239 people. BJ Boston has roughly 397,000 followers; Terry Wilson has over 50,000. Some of these people are being paid. Others, not so much.
Something to think about.