This sponsored post is produced by Ben Kosinski, founder of Sumpto.

I cringe when I see some brands or companies trying to talk to college students. Cringe. That’s the problem; they’re talking to the college student. No one wants to be spoken to, let alone a 18-22 year old who is finally independent and living on their own. Think you know how to connect to college students? Probably not.

“Who is this guy talking like he’s just out of college?” Well, me. Because I am. I played two years of college basketball at Clark University, a small, liberal arts school in Worcester, MA. I blew out my knee my sophomore year and transferred to The U (now, if you’re asking what The U is, well, come on). At the University of Miami, it was a completely different type of student: 60% came from out of state, comprised of a very wealthy student body, and I also joined a frat (see: Greek Organization).

This gave me a very unique experience in college that most people just don’t get. Shooting hoops with hippies and also getting fratty in Range Rovers.

And although these students were completely different, in basically all aspects, they shared one common characteristic; how connected they were to each other.

College students are the most connected, yet isolated, demographic; and oh yeah, they spend a lot too. How much? About $70 billion a year in discretionary spending and over $300 billion in annual spending power. They also represent the beginning of brand loyalty and are starting to make independent purchasing decisions. Mommy isn’t there anymore to make dinner; so what’s a bro to do when a bro is hungry? He’s going to buy your brand, and if he likes it, chances are he’ll continue to buy it for the rest of his life. Getting your product or service in front of a college student is essential in creating and maintaining brand loyalty, and probably even brand advocacy due to the tight knit community and close proximity of college

With that said, brands must be throwing money at this demographic, right? They are. But in extremely ineffective ways.

Facebook ads are largely ignored by college students. So are Twitter ads. They just don’t work for college students. Sure, you can get impressions, and maybe even a few clicks. Most of that just comes either from mistakes or our ADD; when you have 20 different windows open, it tends to happen.

We really just don’t want a brand intruding on our social networks with an announcement or broadcast. These advertisements lack the necessary credible and personal introductions when marketing online. Our social networks are a direct reflection of our actual relationships in real life; tread carefully.

Students don’t care what you tell them; they care what their friends and classmates have to say. They also care about the now; it doesn’t matter if you call them irrational, because that’s what they are. How can you help them now, this exact moment? Stutter and you’ve lost their attention, and they are already moving on with their friends to another brand.

We also grew up with technology. You created your Facebook profile, at what age? Probably after college?

I created mine in high school. Back when I had to be invited in by someone in my high school network. And I graduated college in 2011; current college students probably created theirs even earlier. (Which is why a lot of them are moving on to
Twitter, due to the over saturation of Facebook friends, identity/privacy concerns, constant social discovery available on twitter, and the need for immediate responses i.e. tweets). It was the exclusivity factor that drew most of us early adopters in; if one of our friends does it, or likes something, hey we’ll give it a shot and maybe even like it too.

We grew up with these social networks. We are the early adopters.

Our real life relationships have become infused with our online social identities. My Facebook friends are friends whom I’ve known my entire life. The majority of my Twitter followers are the same. College students are using Facebook for two reasons: social maintenance and social discovery. What other demographic uses it for both? None. College students use it to maintain high school/hometown friendships while also discovering new relationships in their college.

What does this sound like to you? To me, I call it peer influence. The ability to change the original course of action by one’s influence; I trust you, I know you, so you want me to check out this brand because you think I’ll like it? Sure.

Can uber influencers do that? Nope. Sure, they can reach hundreds of thousands of people in one tweet. But it doesn’t have a true word of mouth recommendation component involved in it.

So how can you get students to do the talking for your brand?

Identify the influencers.

Students are easily influenced by their friends; these peer influencers are friends and classmates they have in real life, or just in college doing basically the same thing they are. They use their offline influence and leverage it to the online, immediately providing whatever they speak about (i.e. your brand) with credibility and authenticity.

And if you’re thinking that students from MIT, Harvard, or Stanford are the most influential, you’re wrong. Outside of (all) technology blogs, students from ASU or FSU have no interest in what those students are studying and learning. It’s about finding specific students that other students identify with; Greek life, student organizations, athletes, and different personalities. Most of these students have created large Twitter followings on their anons. For example, a twitter handle named blondebarbieSEC might have, let’s just say, 50,000 Twitter followers. Why? Because there are 50,000 other girls who can relate by going to school in the SEC, who are blonde and think they’re barbies.

Finding these influencers and infusing your brands message into these conversations can create a credible social voice for your brand or company.

Yes, college students think differently.

Peer influencers can cultivate their social influence and transform normal followers and friends into consumers, increasing user adoption, and possibly even into brand advocates and loyalists.

The way to these college students is through, well, college students. They care about the now, the immediate, and are quick to act.

See what happens when you can identify specific influencers in the college demographic, and have them do the talking for your brand.

It’s pretty cool to see the outcome.

Ben Kosinski is the founder of Sumpto, an online platform that measures the social influence of college students. He can be reached by e-mail at ben at Sumpto dot com.

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