College students make up a large and valuable demographic in the U.S., with more than 20 million enrolled in four-year universities. They spend about $420 billion each year, and their cultural impact extends well beyond that. It's no coincidence that Facebook, now a $300 billion company, started out on college campuses.
Although my company, Influence & Co., doesn't market to this college student demographic, our relationships with the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri have led directly to some of our best hires. So even though it doesn't make sense for our team to promote our services on a college campus, we've still found that it pays to create a pipeline for young, fresh talent.
And for companies looking to tap into that $420 billion in spending power, a campus representative program can serve as a marketing, public relations, and sales strategy all in one. Just as important, it can give your business a head start on vetting and hiring the best young talent in the country.
WayUp, a New York startup that helps college students find jobs, runs one of the most successful campus rep programs in the country. Its 900 student ambassadors have accounted for more than 50 percent of the company's user growth in the past year and otherwise serve as an endless source of user-generated social media content, part-time talent, and on-the-ground expertise.
I spoke to WayUp's director of student marketing, Nikki Schlecker, to learn how she manages the program, and these are the tricks she shared with me for running a campus rep program that works:
1. Choose the Right Influencers
The beauty of a campus rep program is that college students connect with one another in a uniquely authentic way. But students aren't a homogenous group.
Beyond screening for basic traits like reliability, it's important for campus rep leaders to figure out where these students spend their time outside the classroom. A fashion company probably won't get as much traction out of students in the astronomy club, for instance, as they would from a group focused exclusively on clothing design and development.
2. Clearly Outline the Metrics
Running a campus rep program means managing hundreds of part-time workers in as many locations. It's a management project that can't be scaled without a comprehensive, quantitative plan that you outline and share with your campus reps to set clear expectations.
You should be able to benchmark any student rep's progress and achievements across your program. To do this, Schlecker recommends digging into the details and communicating exactly what you need from students right from the beginning. From the number of app downloads you expect from each rep to the amount of sales each is responsible for bringing in, be sure to explain it early on.
She even adds flexibility into her expectations by tweaking incentives each week, almost like extra credit that students easily understand. If your company wants a push for more downloads, increase compensation for each signup that week. If you need more social media posts, do the same. Clear numbers and adaptability can help students fit your company goals into their ever-changing college schedules--and achieve your metrics.
3. Establish Accountability
Most college students have never had a "real" boss before. Sure, plenty of students probably babysat their neighbors' kids or mowed lawns while in high school or worked for their college in a work-study program, but few have actually dedicated substantial time and energy to a growing company that demands their critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and effective time management.
For these students adjusting to employment by a "real" boss, enforce the expectations you set and help establish accountability. Even basic behaviors, such as responding to an email within 24 hours, need to be clearly outlined ahead of time. Otherwise, both sides are doomed to confusion and disappointment.
After you've set expectations, follow through with one-on-one phone calls once a week to check in, and supplement your conversations with content from your company. The key here is to constantly reinforce the value of students' contributions to the business so they feel like integral components. Schlecker adds that, "the act of contributing to a larger organization is still new to a lot of college students, so that kind of validation can be just as valuable as compensation."
4. Organize Your Resources
Although one-on-one contact with your campus reps is important, you shouldn't bog down your full-time employees with the responsibility of personally answering every individual request for materials and information--especially when there are options to organize resources for your campus reps that don't require the time and energy of your full-timers.
Just as you would do with content and other critical resources for the rest of your team, organize and store information that your campus reps need in order to do their best. My team uses knowledge banks and a resource library to access articles, whitepapers, guides, and templates that our sales team and account strategists can share with leads and clients (to create a bank for your team, download our custom knowledge management template). This empowers our team members to find the exact resources they're looking for without having to ask their direct supports or our marketing team for content, and the same idea can (and should) be applied to your campus rep program.
Schlecker suggests assembling in one central location resources such as marketing manuals, social media guidelines, photos, templates, and anything else your reps need to meet their goals. WayUp has devoted a website to housing these resources, but a simple set of Google Drive folders organized in a way that's easy to understand and access should work just as well.
5. Trust Students to Pursue Natural Opportunities
Now that you've given your campus reps all the tools they need, it's time to put your trust in them to deliver. Reps know their colleges, and every school has a unique culture and social schedule. So while a football game might provide a big marketing opportunity at one university, an annual Halloween activity might be the big event of the semester at another.
Campus reps are there to provide on-the-ground insight so you can adjust your marketing program accordingly. The more attuned your marketing becomes to the culture of that campus, the more natural it'll feel to the student body, which means more sign-ups, sales, positive branding, etc.
One tool that can help you take advantage of these tricks is Go Commando. This technology platform helps users create and manage their campus rep programs and handles everything from recruitment and proof of deliverables all the way to your finances.
A campus rep program can act as a hugely powerful tool for all kinds of businesses. More than that, though, college students are hungry to learn and to improve their skills, and by giving them a meaningful introduction to the world of business, you can develop a network of lifelong brand advocates--and potential new hires down the road.