Anyone with a TikTok addiction can argue: the internet is the best place for shopping recommendations. Products go viral upon influencers’ recommendations, and accompanying this trend is a new era of online marketing. But how do influencers find these products and collaborations?
Several Ohio University students are finding out for themselves. Students on campus share their experiences as brand ambassadors with social media partnerships in this modern, mutually beneficial sales technique.
Emily Hurd, a junior studying fashion merchandising, works as a brand ambassador for Outline Ohio. The company originally connected with Hurd through Instagram and now sends her samples of new merchandise in exchange for posting the items on her Instagram.
While it sounds simple, each exchange has a set system of advertising, with Hurd posting one Instagram post and two Instagram stories for each new item, typically at least once every two weeks.
“I feel like this is the perfect mix of being in the fashion industry but more the social media side of it, which is what I'm really interested in,” Hurd said.
Hurd said she looks up to many online influencers, so the opportunity to work in a similar vein is exciting for her.
“I get a lot of my fashion (inspiration) off of influencers I've been following on Instagram for a really long time,” Hurd said. “Seeing them having all these things that they can post about, I feel like it's cool … that college students are given those opportunities too to network.”
While many students participate in extended partnerships, one-time collaborations are also common. Erin Bishop, a freshman studying media and social change, earned her first brand deal through her TikTok. Bishop worked with Moon Pals, a shop selling weighted stuffed animals that can help with anxiety.
Bishop said the company sent her a direct message on Instagram asking to collaborate. When she agreed, it then sent her a free product in exchange for her posting a TikTok with it. Once the video reached 1,000 views on the app, she was paid for her work.
While Bishop creates content for fun, she enjoyed working with Moon Pals because it helped her realize content creation could be more than a pastime.
“I like feeling like my content is a feasible job,” Bishop said. “Not just that I'm doing it for fun — I can actually work hard and make money off of it.”
Kassidi Dominick, a junior studying marketing, also loves how her partnership with Curology feels more like a job than a hobby. Dominick works as the campus manager for the brand, and while she said the money does not feel like a full-time job yet, the experience certainly does.
“Curology, I do probably only five hours a week right now because it won't be in full force ‘til spring,” Dominick said. “But for my Instagram, I do probably spend every day on it, probably five hours a day. Then on days that I actually want to post pictures, a lot goes into what it is, what I'm going to post and what the purpose behind it is.”
While Curology is Dominick’s largest brand collaboration, brands often reach out to her through her Instagram for one-time collaborations. Then, she sends them her rates and media kit. Once both Dominick and the brand feel the partnership is a good fit, they will move forward with it.
Dominick said authenticity was important to her when choosing what to post on her feed and whom to work with.
“I base off brands that I'm actually loyal to, and I could see myself shopping at,” Dominick said. “If I would not shop there or if I would not buy something on my own, I tend to stay away from the collabs because I like to stay true to what I want to be.”
Dominick said she loves working with brands, especially as someone who has never been drawn to the idea of a traditional 9-to-5 job. However, she recognizes it’s a lot of work and warns anyone looking to participate to dig in and do in-depth research before making any brand commitments.
“I would say that it's really easy to get scammed and, when a brand reaches out to you, it's not always that you should say ‘yes’ to it,” Dominick said.
Sophie Ballou, a junior studying fashion merchandising, works as the trendsetter for the OU campus branch of Victoria’s Secret ambassadors. Ballou works with her fellow ambassadors to host campus events and promote on social media.
“Their brand is basically empowering women to do a lot of different things and just bringing them together,” Ballou said. “These events not only promote their brand as a whole but also do things that will get people thinking about their goals or bring people together.”
Ballou applied for the position in order to get more involved on campus and said her favorite part is the social aspect of her work, gaining the opportunity to get close with her fellow ambassadors and introducing the brand to people on campus.
Friendships, gifts and marketing experience make the hard work put into student brand partnerships worth it for OU student collaborators. Student brand ambassadors have to put themselves out there, often in person along with online. Dominick said she appreciates the acceptance she’s found in college above all.
“I always was afraid to do it because I was in high school, you're like, ‘Oh, I don't want people to make fun of me, or what if I don't do it right?” Dominick said. “Now, coming to college and just being surrounded by so many other people who do it also, it really inspired me to just start to be myself and do something that I love because it's something that I want to do the rest of my life.”