How to turn students into brand ambassadors

NEW YORK— Targeting students? You’ll need campus ambassadors for your brands. The best part? About 68 percent of 5M college students wouldn’t mind.

That was the key takeaway in the meetup hosted by AlleyBoost + University Beyond, an influencer marketing event geared toward Gen-Z and the college market, last August 31 at Workville near Times Square.

Doug Messer, CEO of University Beyond, spoke about the best practices of starting and scaling a college ambassador program, along with other panelists.

Campus ambassadors are students who work as an advocate of a company to enhance its brand awareness. The work may involve marketing and sales; product feedback/testing; financial management; or event planning. 

As brand ambassadors, they can help increase on-campus brand presence, brand loyalty and customer lifetime value while also leveraging student’s social presence.

Messer develops its talent pipeline by transitioning Campus Ambassadors to Summer Interns to Full-time hires, trying to reach them as early as their freshman year.

Many of them are taught how to do product testing and giving feedback, even sampling products. One can also ask them to do app downloads and doing surveys through focus groups. Other marketing initiative they learn doing include content creating, social media marketing, and email marketing.

Learning organizational complexities involve determining a program structure like spending per campus, student management, and team structure.

The associated costs include student recruitment, student compensation, management costs, and setting a marketing budget, federal and state regulations, among others. Compensation methods include, well, getting free stuff; an hourly pay; stipends; commissions; internship fulfillment; a letter of recommendation; or university credit.

Hiring a minor has legal implications, of course. University Beyond recommends seeking the guidance of a legal counsel. Below are recommendations on how to structure a program that complies with state and federal requirements:

  • Students who work more than 20 hours a week are legally obligated to receive minimum wage
  • Students who are compensated more than $600 a year are required to report their salary on their taxes.
  • Salary and wage laws as well as internship regulations vary by state. Prior to expanding the demographic reach of an ambassador program, check the specific requirement to ensure your program is within state standards.
  • Encourage campus ambassadors to approach their university about receiving credit to their work. This alleviates the need for monetary compensation and ensures your program is within the legal limitations

These tips from University Beyond are designed to help companies recruit, hire, communicate with, manage, and evaluate ambassadors in one centralized location.

The other panelists in the meetup included Katie Sanfield, executive director, Student Brand Ambassador Program of Kaplan Test Prep; Joljit Tamanaha, CMO & CFO of Fresh Prints, a custom apparel startup with "campus managers" who build and run the business at their schools.  

George Garcia, founder, All Axcess Tour & Management has focused on curating and directing collegiate-centric initiatives on both a national and international scale. All Axcess T&M serves as a boutique marketing and management firm that specializes in management, branding, and the curation of artists, brands, events, media and entertainment concepts.