Companies like TikTok and Bumble are hiring college students to work as brand ambassadors on campus. These jobs pay better than typical college jobs like food service and retail — and provide valuable career experience.
Students say they've learned about marketing, content creation and management while working as brand ambassadors — and grown their network by connecting with other campus representatives across the country. And, in a hyper-competitive internship and job market, brand ambassador experience is one way to stand out, the students said.
"My life changed because of the TikTok ambassadorship program," said Bita Motiie, a senior at the University of North Texas studying marketing.
Motiie has been working as a campus representative for the social media platform since the fall of 2019 and says it helped her identify her interest in branding and building online communities — and jumpstart her career.
"I have had so many new job opportunities," Motiie said. "Even the place that I currently work at, they specifically hired me because I had experience as a TikTok brand ambassador."
Campus ambassador programs benefit brands, too. A study by Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and research firm Keller Fay Group, found that 82% of consumers were likely to follow a recommendation made by a micro-influencer (a person with more reach than the average person — though not a celebrity — in a very specific category or demographic like college students).
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"These programs are a win-win proposition because they give valuable exposure to brands while students gain marketing experience as they move closer to graduating," said Julie Jatlow, a partner at Fuse, an agency that runs college ambassador programs for TikTok, Amazon and other brands.
Depending on the company, campus ambassador duties typically include posting content on social media, handing out merchandise or samples, hosting branded events and reaching out to student organizations.
"Finding creative and passionate students who have qualities that specifically align with the brand's DNA is paramount," Jatlow said. "We're always looking for proactive students with drive and enthusiasm."
Student representatives are typically compensated by an hourly rate or a monthly stipend, and able to work on their own schedule. Wages for campus ambassadors range from roughly $15-25 per hour, according to job postings on employment website Indeed. That's well above the hourly rate for jobs common among college students such as food and beverage service, which pays around $11 an hour, and retail sales, which pays around $13 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"It's a lot more flexible than a standard work-study job," said Cedoni Francis, a 2020 graduate of Vanderbilt University who worked for brands including TikTok, dating app Bumble and beer company Anheuser-Busch when she was in school.
Francis, who is now an associate product marketing manager at Google, said her experience in campus ambassador programs helped her develop skills like time management and stakeholder engagement.
Her experience with TikTok, in particular, gave her a crash course on viral marketing, expertise that she uses in her current job.
"It's a good primer," Francis said. "There are certain things that other people need to be taught how to do that I don't need to be taught how to do."
Peter Corrigan, associate director of employer and alumni connections for University of Arizona's Student Engagement and Career Development, said working as a campus brand ambassador helps students build key skills.
"Students strengthen communications skills as they talk to a lot of people trying to create brand awareness on campus," Corrigan said. "It stretches students out of their comfort zone and gives them sales experience with companies they may want to work for."
Candice Nguyen, a third-year public administration student at Drexel University, represents brands like Bumble, Victoria's Secret Pink and Red Bull on her campus.
Like Francis, Nguyen said her work as a campus ambassador translated into professional experience. She recently completed a certification in project management and is interning full-time in a project management role.
"I realized a lot of the work I've been doing was project management, like running events and being able to supervise and coordinate with teams," Nguyen said of her brand ambassador experience.
Michigan State University senior Montserrat Lewin Mejia got her start in campus ambassador programs as a representative for retail brand Rent the Runway during the second semester of her junior year before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the program. She's now a brand ambassador for Bumble and fashion start-up Qatch.
As an engineering student, Mejia said campus brand ambassador programs introduced her to the world of influencer marketing and helped her realize new career goals.
"Since I've started doing all this, I have a really big goal of potentially becoming a full-time influencer," Mejia said.
TikTok campus representative Tatum Riley, a junior at Duke University, sees how college ambassador programs help build brand awareness. Riley and her fellow brand representatives on campus tried to "personalize the promotion" by catering events and outreach to Duke students specifically.
"It's a cool way of humanizing the app and bringing it to life in the eyes of your peers because seeing someone close to you enjoying something makes you more likely to engage with it," said Riley.
CNBC's "College Voices" is a series written by CNBC interns from universities across the country about getting their college education, managing their own money and launching their careers during these extraordinary times. Hannah Miao is a senior at Duke University studying public policy. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.