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How to Use Campus Influencers in Higher Ed

Influencers are an important part of the social listening conversation. They create a connection between audience and content, providing experiences their audience can relate to. As more and more people turn to social media to connect with others, share experiences, and search for help in making decisions, influencers have an enormous impact. In fact, a 2019 Edelman study found that 63 percent of people trust what influencers say about brands more than what the brands themselves say. 

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What Exactly Are Influencers?

Social media influencers are people and organizations with an expert level of knowledge or social influence in a particular field. They often have access to a large audience and are able to persuade others based on their authenticity and reach.

Influencers are people you can strategically reach out to and partner with to help your organization achieve specific marketing goals. They provide the opportunity to harness the power of peer influence for strategic impact, and they:

  • Have the trust of their community or audience.
  • Drive discussion around key topics.
  • Answer the questions their audience is asking.
  • Are highly engaged with their community.

Using Influencers in Higher Education

Mobile phone with a conversation bubble signifying an influencer postIn higher ed, this means spreading your institution’s message through the people who experience it—current students, alumni, counselors, faculty, and others. And influencer marketing can be a great way to spread your message, build your brand, or promote fundraising. 

Research tells us that three factors generally influence college choice:

  • Institutional Communication. The traditional work marketers and recruiters do day in and day out—and the research on this subject specifically identifies web content, advertising, and print communication as influential.
  • Student-Related Factors. Many practical determinants affect college admission, such as academic ability, test scores, GPA, and cost, as well as demographics and socioeconomic status.
  • Greater Social Environment. This factor differs from the first two in that the findings are less clear on the impact of social environment on college choice. Family influence is fairly well understood by researchers, but peer influence is not—particularly when adding social media to the mix. Signs indicate that peers influence college choice similarly to general consumer choice, but the research hasn’t had time to catch up and come to a consensus on this.

With social media emerging as a college choice influencer, peer influence and social media are that much more important in the higher ed marketplace. This means that the people, personalities, and stories represented through social media influence students, alumni, and the overall higher ed community.

Finding Influencers

Whether you do your own social listening (or work with a company like us!), you'll likely run across two main types of influencers:

  • People who post about your university often but may not necessarily have a large following. These are often the school's students, employees, or athletics fans.
  • People who only post about your university once or twice but have a larger following, so their posts reach a bigger audience.

Both of these types of influencers could impact the conversation about your school, but you need to determine if they have the ability to be strategic influencers who can create authentic advocacy for your campus. The influencers who will have the most impact are those who:

  • Are reachable. Do they have a real connection to the university or someone who can connect you to them? Someone whose family member is a student or employee at the university would be more reachable than someone making an appearance on campus.
  • Have a vested interest in your school, such as alumni. Perhaps your university has a celebrity alumnus with a large Twitter following, but often those with a more modest number of followers (1,000–5,000) are more reachable and a more viable influencer, since they're likely to be more connected to their followers.

Computer monitor with social media posts from influencersAt Campus Sonar, our data analysts search your online conversation to identify authors from your desired audience. We segment based on your institution’s goals to provide you with a list of influencers you can use, such as top active individual authors on Twitter, organizations, journalists, forum authors, or blog authors. 

Now What?

Once you find your influencers, follow our best practices to integrate them into your marketing strategy. You can also research what other institutions are doing and how they’re using influencers to build their brand. Some good examples are:

Now that you've found viable connections to your school, start to work with them to impact your social media and brand strategies. And if you want help locating social media influencers for your school, get in touch with Campus Sonar.

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Subscribe to Brain WavesThis post was adapted from Influencers: What They Are and How to Use Them on Campus Sonar's Brain Waves blog.

Michelle Mulder

Michelle Mulder is Campus Sonar's Content Strategist, building, managing, and creating content that aligns with the Campus Sonar brand. Michelle works with Bri to understand our audiences’ needs and provide them content to help them make an informed decision. With more than 10 years of higher education experience and 20 in educational publishing, Michelle enjoys the ongoing learning environment of Campus Sonar. In her “spare time” she gets a break from her three high schoolers by reading, going to barre class, and catching up on Netflix with her husband.

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