Universities are paying student influencers to warn their peers about coronavirus. A social psychologist explains how that could backfire — and how schools can get it right.

Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight YouTube and Instagram influencers twin sisters

Summary List Placement

When “twin-fluencer” sisters Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight tested positive for Covid-19, they announced it to their 5.8 million Instagram followers in a caption with a disclaimer about their school, Baylor University: “It is NOT due to in person classes that this happened.”

The twins have posted regularly about their time at Baylor, including paid partnerships with the university. As Baylor’s vice president of marketing and communications and chief marketing officer told the Dallas Observer, the school’s Instagram account gained 3,000 followers when the McKnights announced they were attending Baylor.

Consumer brands have used influencer partnerships for years, but now colleges and universities in the US are hiring their own students to influence their peers to wear masks, practice social distancing, and stay healthy. It’s an ambitious move, but not one that’s necessarily guaranteed to succeed.

According to some experts, when an educational organization starts pulling from the marketer’s playbook, it can register as inauthentic — especially in the middle of a pandemic. Will students really listen to influencers if they come off as mouthpieces for their schools?

“As a general principle, it makes a lot of sense to want to try to shape opinion using spokespeople and role models who students feel a connection to,” Dominic Packer, social psychologist and professor at Lehigh University, told Business Insider. But, he said, colleges will need to keep certain priorities in mind for the method to have the best results.

On the surface, it seems like an effective approach

Colleges have an easy explanation for trying the influencer approach: Students usually pay more attention to Instagram than the informational email they receive from the school. But as one student at the University of Missouri told the New York Times, some people may question whether an Instagram post promoting university-branded masks is really the best use of their tuition. 

For Packer, the issue comes down to identity. People seek guidance from those with whom they share an identity, he said. It’s why some of the most effective influencers, whether they are social-media stars or politicians, are genuine and personal — those who reveal the imperfect, just-rolled-out-of-bed parts of their lives, as much as they show the jet setting and designer wardrobes. 

In addition, people tend to follow leaders they view as “one of them.” If a student influencer appears inauthentic by using a caption scripted by their school’s administration, for example, that influencer may lose legitimacy in the eyes of their peers.

“It’s a tricky balance of how do you amplify influencers’ voices without co-opting them and making them seem like they’re actually not part of that group anymore,” Packer said. “They’re part of some other elite set of people, which would not work very well.” 

Not only might they come across as elite, Packer adds. They might not look like their peers either.

Colleges must represent the diversity of their student body to be as effective as possible

Packer makes the case that college campuses are not monolithic communities, so schools must reach a diverse set …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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