Paid Courtesy Photo

Stephanie Barber, 22, and Casie Wiggins model for Maude Boutique, based in Fayetteville Arkansas. 

Through brand sponsorships on Instagram, some students have turned their social media presences into profitable pastimes, accruing products and paychecks with every post.

Brooke Bradford, a freshman majoring in agriculture communications and leadership, said her personal blog with around 4,000 followers in high school launched her into the world of sponsored posts. Her first big collaboration with a national brand was with JustFab, a shoe subscription company.

“They sent me two free pairs of shoes for a month, in exchange for an Instagram post,” Bradford said. “Once I got my first big national collaboration, more started to follow.”

With over 70% of Instagram users being between the ages of 18-24, according to the Pew Research Center, both local and national businesses are collaborating with college-aged creators on sponsored posts and stories. While post compensation varies from free clothes to flat fees, creators continue to find innovative ways to grow their brands — and side-cash flow.

In addition to receiving free products, some companies pay her through the commission made from her discount codes, but in other cases, she is paid a flat fee per post, Bradford said. To avoid any later confusion, Bradford makes sure to know exactly what is expected of her from each company she works with.

“You sign a virtual contract, an agreement on how many posts you're making, if it's a tag post on your feed, an Instagram story, a TikTok, or whatever,” Bradford said. “I always make sure we talk about what they are requiring me to post before they send me the product.”

For Bradford, she said that all the brand collaborations she has done have been with national brands. For other students, a majority of their collaboration is working with local brands and boutiques.

Stephanie Barber, a senior majoring in journalism, said she started doing paid posts after being crowned Miss Teen Dallas 2016 in high school. Barber said after being crowned, she generated a lot of social media interest, which is how she got into doing sponsored posts.

Barber said while she does not consider herself an influencer, she does still do occasional work with local brands that she loves and supports.

“I really care about what the company stands for, and (I) especially love Northwest Arkansas and want to support local businesses,” Barber said.

Barber started working with Maude, a local clothing boutique, after tagging them in an Instagram post encouraging support for the business, she said.

“I already know Maude and so I was following them, and then they reached out to me because I had posted something about them to support them for small businesses Saturday,” Barber said. “So they asked me to come in a couple of days later to come in and model.”

Other students found paid-post opportunities after tagging brands on non-sponsored posts.

Cameron Parow, a senior majoring in marketing, started doing sponsored posts when the pandemic first started, she said. She has since made around $500.

“I just started getting dressed up and taking fun pictures and tagging brands,” Parow said. “With that, boutiques started reaching out and small brands, so that's how I got into it.”

Barber, Parow and Bradford said they get compensated with free products, money or gift cards.

“Some brands are super small and they don't have a budget to pay me on top of the free clothes or the free product,” Parow said. “But for the most part, I will get either a bunch of free clothes, or I'll get paid through Venmo or PayPal.”

When collaborating with a brand, Barber said she is assigned to create a certain number of posts and stories, she said. She earns roughly $100 for each one-time deal.

“I had a contract with (Rent the Runway), and it was four stories a month and two posts to my feed, and that was contingent,” Barber said. “They would send me free clothes as much as I wanted, but it was contingent on me posting four times on my story and two times on my feed.”

Parow does not consider her paid postings a full-time position, and collaborating with her friends and family to take her photos is part of the job, she said.

“I know a lot of influencers or bloggers who have a ton of followers and have content posted every day, (they) will go out and use a tripod just because you can get more done and shoot more looks,” Parow said. “But for me, since I'm not posting 24/7, it's just here and there, I'll just ask (my friend) Raegan or my mom to do it.”

With 6,000 followers, Bradford is considered a micro-influencer, and until she attracts more followers, she is subjected to earn less money in her side-hustle, she said.

“You're really considered a micro-influencer until you exceed 10,000 (followers), so until I am no longer a micro-influencer, I just don't get paid as much, nor do I get as much opportunity or have as much time to invest,” Bradford said.

Marketing herself to various brands has given Parow insight on professionalism that she hopes to take with her in her future career, she said.

“I feel like it does give me experience and something I could put on my resume and make it like a full-time thing,” Parow said. “Even though it is a fun side gig, I feel like I've learned a lot of valuable lessons from it.”

Although Bradford knew people who did sponsored collaborations, she never expected to be given the same opportunity.

“The first email I got, I was like, ‘holy cow is this really happening,’” Bradford said. “It’s one of those things that you’re like, ‘oh this would be really cool’, and then it happens and you're like oh this is real.”

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