Brand ambassadors: When the personal is professional
Creative Content Editor
If you are following any of the Kardashians on Instagram, you have likely seen an Instagram post with “paid partnership” in the header and #ad in the caption. Recently, companies have turned to a new way to market to and through college students: brand ambassadors.
Alyssa Kuchta, an alum of the university and the founder of eff.Y.bee, a New York-based jewelry line, mobilizes the power of strong networks through her brand ambassador program.
Kuchta started eff.Y.bee when she was a student at the university in 2011. She credits her sorority sisters as a huge source of encouragement and inspiration during her first trunk shows. According to Kuchta, that network was part of what motivated her to create a community of girl power within eff.Y.bee.
“It started as being about having these girls represent the brand on campus,” Kuchta says. “Now it is a huge part of our company and our mission. It’s not just about us, it is about what we can do for the girls — our program is really focused on mentorship, networking opportunities and a chance to boost their resume.”
At the university, there are over 42 eff.Y.bee brand ambassadors; nationally, there are over 106 eff.Y.bee brand ambassadors, according to Kuchta. Responsibilities include posting once a month about eff.Y.bee on Instagram and hosting trunk shows on campus. A portion of the proceeds from trunk shows are donated to a charity chosen by the host.
The position is not paid, but after a certain amount of sales are made using a personalized discount code, the brand ambassador is rewarded with a free product.
Kuchta, a millennial herself, understands the anxiety and pressure that some university students feel about curating posts on Instagram.
“Now there is so much pressure around an Instagram post and I think it is important to understand the mind of a college girl and not expect her to post so much,” Kuchta says. “And every post doesn’t have to be ‘shop, shop, shop eff.Y.bee.’ There are little ways to incorporate it, like wearing bracelets with friends and tagging us. We just give them a guide of suggested content ideas, but really what is important to us is getting the exposure and having it be organic and creative.”
According to Kaitlyn Giori, a senior marketing major and the campus manager of eff.Y.bee, authenticity is what makes the brand ambassador program successful.
“I feel like it is more wholesome,” Giori says. “A lot of girls post about eff.Y.bee because they want to post and get excited about it, not because they are forced to.”
Accepting a position as a brand ambassador often not only means posting on Instagram more frequently, but also overlapping a professional identity with a personal identity on social media.
Shannon Brady, a senior fashion merchandising major and brand ambassador for Cotton Inc., a non-profit organization that promotes the use of cotton, says that she has learned how to find a balance between the two.
“At the beginning of the position, it was kind of a transition because I had never used my personal social media for anything like that before,” Brady says. “It taught me that employers really are looking at your social media. They’re going to see your Facebook and they’re going to see your Instagram. Now I know how to send a message professionally with my social media, even if it is mostly personal.”
As a brand ambassador for Cotton Inc., Brady’s job is to promote the company’s educational resource, CottonWorks, by speaking with professors, hosting events and making posts on social media.
But for some brand ambassador programs, social media is the least important aspect of the job.
This was true for Kara Humphreys, a senior marketing major, who was a brand ambassador for Xfinity, a free TV streaming service available to all students living in on-campus housing, when she was a sophomore.
Humphreys decided that social media marketing was not the best way of reaching her target audience, because most of her friends no longer lived on campus. In order to connect with first-year students and others living on campus, she visited residence halls, hosted tabling events and held TV-watching parties.
Although future employers were impressed by her event planning and marketing experience as a brand ambassador, Humphreys often had to explain the details of her job to parents and friends who thought that being a brand ambassador was only about social media.
“There is a stigma about brand ambassadors that it is kind of an easy job to get,” Humphreys says. “For this, I had to apply, I had to be interviewed — both online and over the phone — and I ended up getting paid. There was more planning on my part than being told what to do, so I think that is different from the stereotypical brand ambassadorship.”
Although many people believe that brand ambassadors are like Instagram models and influencers who post on Instagram and get free products, it is not that simple.
“A lot of people don’t realize that you don’t just get free jewelry for posting on Instagram,” Giori says. “You do have to earn it through sales. It isn’t easy — you really learn how much advertising and social media marketing it takes to get your name out there.”