At a time when youth unemployment is at a record high in South Africa, brand ambassadorship has the ability to provide a new, expanding job niche for students.
Strike a pose for the camera. What was once a simple passion for fashion and beauty has turned into something so much more. When one wants to follow one’s passion but still obtain a degree, the solution is simple: Do both.
This was the case for Iman Coovadia (22), a fourth-year LLB student at the University of the Witwatersrand. Besides chasing the legal dream, Coovadia began her journey as a beauty influencer on the side for fun, because she genuinely loved to do it.
What started out as free photoshoots and modelling for companies has been transformed over several years, and Coovadia now represents brands such as Chanel and Dior, along with many others, and gets paid to promote her passion.
It’s a world driven by image and perception; a world of glamour and fun on screen driven by likes and follows. If you had access to an outlet that lets you utilise your creative juices, show off a little bit and make a bit of money on the side, would you jump at the chance?
Click like, follow, share. Three simple steps that take only seconds of your time but have the potential to influence a career. With the expansion of technology and social media, there are now new job niches available to the world, including students, such as becoming a brand ambassador.
The real question when it comes to brand ambassadorship as an expanding job niche for students: Is there enough job security in it to maintain a full-time, or part-time, paying job?
With South Africa’s youth unemployment rate between the ages of 15 and 35 at a record high in 2021, with Stats SA putting it at 46,3%, the global increase in the influencer marketing sector poses a new technology-driven job opportunity that students can easily access.
According to a 2021 study conducted by World Wide Worx, the covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the social media behaviour of South Africans, with Instagram’s active users jumping from 4,3 million to a staggering 7.1 million and TikTok’s users jumping from five to nine million. TikTok and Instagram are key social media platforms for influencers and brand ambassadors because of their popularity and engagement.
“I 100% think there is [a growing demand for student brand ambassadors]. Student influencers are so few, and it is sad because they are very relatable and very helpful,” says Odirile Mahlangu, a University of Cape Town (UCT) accounting graduate and brand ambassador.
Ultimately, the level of job security depends on each influencer and the way in which they approach being an influencer and ambassador.
According to Tamiq Houston (22), third-year BCom marketing student at Vega and brand ambassador, there is job security to be found in brand ambassadorship, but it comes back to your discipline, how far you want to take it and the effort you put into it.
Houston began her side career as a brand ambassador in grade 11 when she got her first deal with Converse. To date she has grown her Instagram following to 11 500 followers and represents multiple brands through hard work, quality content and consistency.
Social media and influencer marketing has shown a significant growth since the start of the covid-19 pandemic.
With strict lockdowns in South Africa limiting the number of people on the roads, businesses have turned to social media to market to the masses. Angela Tomaselli, the campaign director at R Squared agency, an influencer marketing creative agency, says that turning to social media marketing, including influencer marketing, allows brands to track reach, engagement and how many people actually see the advert which is supposed to be an authentic post.
Brand ambassadors gain job security by generating these authentic posts, which reach a community they have built trust within. This increases engagement and brand awareness through social media.
A requirement of being a brand ambassador and influencer is content creation. The job security offered to those who go into influencing and brand ambassadorship extends further because of their ability to create content.
“Content creating and social media influencing both offer good job security in the long run. Content creating really teaches you to be the photographer, the set designer, the editor and the muse all at once, which develops your skill set,” says Mahlangu.
According to Mahlangu, these are skills that can be monetised by helping other influencers create their content or by creating your own content and monetising it through social media influencing.
“You do need to be reputable to actually have good job security. Brand managers need to know who you are to put you up for jobs or long-term campaigns,” Mahlangu tells Wits Vuvuzela.
“Your income is not guaranteed the way the income of a nine-to-five job is, but the more reputable you become, the more people know you, the more brand managers will know you and the more opportunities you will receive,” she says.
Your income also becomes intertwined with your job security, and it ultimately comes from the work you put into growing your account, because the more followers you have, the more money you make.
A rule of thumb is that what you charge is based on a percentage of your followers, says Coovadia. But it is not a rule set in stone. According to Coovadia, she charges roughly R350 per post, between R450 and R550 per video and significantly less per story.
She also charges roughly R1 000 for a photoshoot package where she books everything needed, from hair and makeup to photographers, and the brand pays only the set fee. Coovadia’s Instagram currently stands at 7 922 followers, so it is easy for her to set her own prices.
Houston, on the other hand, charges based on her following and engagement. According to her, there are websites that help you calculate how much you should be charging based on this. Houston, with her 11 500 followers, is able to charge anywhere in the R1 000 range per post.
A big part of the influencer marketing world is agencies such as R-Squared. Although agencies can be very beneficial in connecting influencers and brands, they do take a percentage of the influencer earnings.
According to Tomaselli, if an influencer has enough organisation, which most do, it is easy to do it independently and there is the potential to make more money because you are not giving some of it to an agency.
Typically, most agencies mark up the influencer cost by 20% to the brands and keep that extra money themselves. So, influencers have control over income in choosing their rates, and whether they branch out independently or with the help of an agency.
Ultimately there is good job security and money to be made, but it comes down to your passion, consistency and drive to build up your platform and brand to make it a lucrative reality.
Mahlangu received her first paid campaign in 2020 when she had 6 000 followers. Since then, her account has grown to 8 369 followers and represents four brands. Despite her studies being her number-one priority, Mahlangu has put in the time and effort to grow her platform and create a degree of job security for herself.
The rise of influencer marketing in 2021
Although the use of influencers as marketing tools has been around for years now, there has been a recent spike in the use of influencer marketing, as well as the market worth of it as a marketing tool.
According to recently released figures from Statista, influencer marketing is a fast-rising market that reached a global value of US$13.8 billion in 2021. In 2020 this figure was shown to be US$9.7 billion, showing the rapid growth in the value of influencer marketing in this time.
A growing market such as this means there is higher demand for social media influencers to become brand ambassadors. This opens the market to students to represent brands that are targeting a student age demographic.
“Brand ambassadors become advocates of the brand… this can contribute towards building a strong brand…. It is important that brands choose brand ambassadors who are aligned to a brand’s personality and values,” says Dr Neo Ligaraba, a senior marketing lecturer at Wits University who specialises in brand management, advertising, consumer behaviour and digital marketing.
Business Insider: South Africa compiled statistics at the beginning of 2021 that show the influencer industry is on a fast upward trend and on track to be worth up to 15 billion US dollars by 2022.
An article written by Top Women says lockdown has taught the world that social media are a primary source of information and entertainment in a world that has come to a standstill. This is a time when influencers are building a bond of trust with the community that is spending hours on social media.
According to Tomaselli, influencer marketing in South Africa was not as popular as it has become since the covid-19 pandemic, “when everything started to move onto social media because obviously people weren’t on the roads all the time”.
“Over time it is getting better and better, because businesses are seeing the return on that investment,” says Tomaselli.
When it comes to finding a balance between being a student and being an ambassador, it ultimately comes down to your
commitment or what your long-term goal is. Is being an ambassador more of a hobby? Or is it what you are aiming to do full-time going forward?
Either way, finding a suitable balance between creating the content required as a brand ambassador and being a diligent student is crucial when dipping your feet into this job industry while studying.
“Time management is key,” says Melissa Gwatidzo (22), a third-year organisational and industrial psychology student at UCT and brand ambassador for Cotton On Africa.
“[I don’t struggle] in terms of keeping up with school but more being motivated for my degree and career path,” she says. “But I never missed a deadline or didn’t do work because of creating content.”
For Mahlangu, balance between the two is something she has found difficult since her first paid social media campaign during the 2020 covid-19 lockdown.
As being a student is her first priority, however, “when I take on jobs or campaigns, I am always careful that they will not take place when I am under immense pressure academically, such as when writing tests or exams,” she says.
This sentiment is echoed by Ruth Jantjies (22), an MBChB student at Stellenbosch University and a multi-brand ambassador for companies such as Cotton On, Woolworths and Sportscene, among others.
“To be very honest, this is not a major income source for me, but rather one of the things I enjoy doing apart from my studies. My degree has always been my priority and considering the many other things I juggle, other than social media, I work around my priorities first and then the rest follows,” says Jantjies.
She has been modelling for more than four years, but began working on curating her social media feed according to her passions, her faith, med school, fashion and makeup, in the last year.
“It was never my intent going into social media to get brands to notice me or get PR drops. I have always remained true to who I am, and my journey, and try to authentically create content.”
For others, the direction they choose is to pursue content creation and being a brand ambassador long-term and full-time. “When you get a taste of the influencer/model life you really want to carry on because it’s fun and it becomes your passion and everything else just becomes second best,” Gwatidzo told Wits Vuvuzela.
The success and balance that emanate from a student emerging as a brand ambassador ultimately comes down to their priorities and commitment. There is good money to be made and job security to be had, as long as one dedicates consistency and time to building one’s platform.
“You are your brand,” says Coovadia. Choose what you are passionate about and find brands and products that fit seamlessly with that image.
FEATURED IMAGE: A student uploading an Instagram post promoting a brand’s products. Photo: Jessica Bunyard