What students wish brands understood about campus marketing

We're proud to present a guest blog post from #YMS16 NYC event partner, Go Commando. Read on to reveal what students really think of your campus marketing:

Kevin Wang at The Next Great Generation wrote a scathing post about campus brand ambassadorships. While the post is a few years old, it could have been written yesterday—not much has changed in the world of on-campus marketing activities since 2012.

In the post, Kevin recognises the advantages of using student brand evangelists and the many reasons to launch a campus rep program. But he accuses brand ambassador campaigns of assigning meaningless tasks, spamming their target audience, and abandoning their student reps.

“Most of these programs are run remotely,” he writes. “Aside from a few emails and the occasional phone call, students are essentially left to figure things out on their own….It doesn’t help that brands seldom provide reps with proper (or any) resources to execute a good campaign.”

Kevin also says that brands misuse social media in their campus marketing campaigns. “These programs are often measured solely on vanity metrics, such as Facebook likes or Twitter followers….Most social media ‘marketing’ efforts consist of getting friends to do the ambassador a favor by clicking a button for them. What brand wants those kinds of fans or followers? What student wants to bother his or her network with brand spam?”

For Kevin, it comes down to the fact that agencies don’t care about the students they’re using to represent the brands. He concludes by stating that student brand evangelists are nothing more than sellouts. Many of the commenters agree with him, and thank him for finally saying what everyone on campus has always thought.

Are campus ambassador programs broken?

We asked our own college brand ambassadors for their thoughts about campus marketing. Here’s what we heard.

“Brand ambassadors are to college campuses as lobbyists are to government buildings,” Lily Gordon (University of Oregon) said. “They’re generally nice, friendly people who have lots of friends, but once their idea or product comes into conversation, everyone runs for cover.”

She said her worst experience with a brand evangelist was at a party. “I was chatting with a cute, friendly guy I’d just met….Then somewhere between talking about Deadpool and his cranky Accounting professor he started talking about this great opportunity he’s just happened across the other day. I could buy this product for the low price of [whatever amount] this weekend only! It was uncanny how fluidly he swung from charming party-goer to infomercial man. Needless to say, the appeal of both him and the brand he was pushing were squashed.”

Martez Davis (Arizona State University, Tempe) said that as a brand ambassador, his worst experience required him to hand out fliers or posters with no other incentive. Nobody likes to be interrupted by advertising that’s stuffed in their hands. Campus marketing campaigns that ask student reps to do those kinds of tasks only irritate their target audience and disincentivize the brand reps they rely on.

How to fix your campus marketing campaigns

We completely agree with Kevin and these students. The traditional college brand ambassador model is outdated and broken. That’s why we built the Go Commando app—to completely transform the campus ambassadorship model so that brand evangelists and entire campuses can have amazing experiences with brands.

With our app, students get to choose their assignments, so they’re only working on projects they see value in. And to facilitate seamless communication between brands and students, a messaging platform is built into the app.

Kevin also makes a great point about vanity social media metrics. Because the Go Commando app is a marketplace, our own team is vetting jobs and working with brands to help them understand what type of ROI they really should be trying to achieve. So tasks like pointless “liking” and following are thrown out. Instead, we help brands find creative campaigns that make smart use of social media—and we help them identify the right metrics to achieve their goals.

Martez’s favorite campaign with Go Commando was completely different from the typical ambassador experience Kevin writes about. He said, “I was able to have fun with the students, have them play a game, ask about spring break activities, and even made friends from it. The crew I worked with on this one was nothing shy of perfect.”

Lily also believes ambassadorships can work well, if they’re done creatively and use social media well. “Events are a great way to go…Pull a Yik Yak and infiltrate the student body….Then the brand will be ubiquitous on campus, people will wonder what the heck is going on, and natural curiosity will create the buzz a brand wants.”

You can run a successful campus marketing campaign!

Campus ambassador programs don’t have to be spammy experiences, and you can give jobs to your brand evangelists that are rewarding for them and you. Ditch the traditional model, get creative, and understand how college students are experiencing your campaigns. Make sure you use social media properly, and know which metrics to monitor.

The brand that follows these best practices will have tremendous success on campus.

Next steps

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