Students pose, post for payment as social media influencers

Photo via @traciemariep instagram.

Photo via @traciemariep instagram.

Rachel Duthie

Looking in the mirror, Tracie Pfrogner does a quick once-over of her outfit and makeup before working for the day. Satisfied, she picks up a couple skin care products and holds them in front of her friend, a photographer, as she snaps a couple of pictures.

Pfrogner, a senior fashion merchandising major, is a rising star on Instagram. With 2,000 followers and a fashion blog, she is living her dream — and businesses want in on her platform. After reviewing the photos, she’ll pick out the best and upload it on her Instagram, where her followers will see what’s in her hands.

“It hopefully gets my name out there as a blogger, and I enjoy it,” she said. “Collaborating with brands works both ways because we both get the coverage we want.”

Social media influencers are taking over the online marketing industry as more and more businesses are using popular online figures to sell products.

The growing trend was popularized by celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Michelle Phan and is generally successful, even if the product is less than subpar.

“Influencer marketing is becoming a staple in the advertising world,” said Colin Campbell, a marketing and entrepreneurship assistant professor who specializes in social media and online brand management. “It raises interesting questions about what makes someone want to buy a product, and right now the answer is Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.”

Campbell said influencers are successful because their content doesn’t appear as an ad. Instead of having a flashy image telling audiences to buy a product, influencer marketing is much more subtle, featuring brands indirectly through a series of selfies and personal product reviews.

“Audiences have always responded more positively to word of mouth, as opposed to regular advertising,” Campbell said. “Instagram is great in this regard because it’s so visual and the use of hashtags can attract a large audience.”

Consumers respond positively to it, too. According to a 2012 Nielsen study, 92 percent of people trust recommendations from individuals over brands, even when they do not know that person personally.

“Social media personalities are communicating in ways that are similar to how people interact in actual, face-to-face interpersonal relationships,” said Rekha Sharma, a communication studies assistant professor. “Even though the viewers may not actually know this social media personality in a traditional sense, they may feel like they know this person.”

Pfrogner has advertised for Ole Henriksen skincare, Boohoo and even Coca-Cola. Since gaining a large audience from her blog, she started to get requests from companies like Influenster to produce content about certain brands. She started receiving so many that she had to link her email to her Instagram account.

“A main con of sponsored posts is that you have to make sure you’re featuring ones relevant to your brand,” she said. “It is tricky because sometimes I had to turn down opportunities because it doesn’t appeal for what I stand for.”

Pay for social media influencers is based off of popularity, as it can range from $50 to $100,000, according to Since Pfrogner is considered a small to mid-size influencer, she enjoys free products and enough money to pay for gas every week. In some promotions, she gets paid every time someone clicks on a link featured in her picture.

While most brands are flexible with promotions, some are strict about what they want. When promoting Coca-Cola, for example, there was a lot of expectation. Location, outfit and even photogenic quality come into play.

“How the pop was displayed and even the description all mattered,” she said. “Some people think this job doesn’t come with its challenges, but it does.”

As for losing followers for sponsored content, Pfrogner has never had a problem.

“My opinion doesn’t change of them (when they feature sponsored content),” said Lalie Jones, a junior fashion merchandising major and follower of style gurus on Instagram. “I love their clothes, and how they are always so busy and doing something with their life. I hope I’m like that one day too.”

Rachel Duthie is the student life reporter, contact her at [email protected].