Growing Influence: Students share their journey to social media clout
While most college students are only worried about the amount of likes or followers they have, some Central Michigan University students are building their own brands on social media.
They aren't just using their accounts to interact with friends and family, but to make a name for themselves and spread influence.
"A social media influencer is an avid social media user who has access to a broader audience and can influence others either by her/his level of expertise, fame, and or resources possessed," CMU professor Zulfia Zaher said.
Zaher specializes in research of mass communication and social media. In order for someone to become an influencer, they need to establish an "authenticity or genuineness," Zaher said. Becoming an influencer also depends on a shared interest between an influencer and influencees.
"Anyone can be an influencer... if they have something interesting to share," Zaher said. "It’s all about the right network, right crowd and right time."
Zaher believes social media is such a highly effective communication platform on a college campus because of shared interests and locality.
Three CMU students shared their unique experiences with social media with Central Michigan Life.
Most students know almost exactly how many Instagram and Twitter followers they have at any time. According to the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of people ages 18-24 use Instagram. Even more use Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube. Twitter is just below Instagram in popularity. And despite a decline in popularity, Facebook is still one of the main social media apps among 18-24 year olds.
According to a study from Experian Simmons, more than 98 percent of people ages 18-24 use some form of social media. In 2014, a UCLA study found that just under a third of college students spend more than six hours on social media per week.
One of the most well-known Twitter accounts at CMU is @CMUConfessions3. The controversial, anonymous leaks account has more than 3,000 followers, more than CMU's president, Robert Davies.
Students can use the Tumblr link in the account's bio to anonymously submit a confession, whether it's about a crush who they saw in Anspach Hall last week, or to complain about how there's nothing to do in Mount Pleasant.
CM Life interviewed CMU Confessions.Due to the account's anonymity, the fifth-year student who runs the account, will be kept unnamed.
A mark of pride for the full-time student who runs the account is that she has never let a confession sit in her inbox for more than 24 hours. Every morning and night she runs through her system where she copies and pastes all the confessions she receives in her direct message inbox and email, despite working two jobs.
CMU Confessions has never seen someone send in a submission about themselves through DM's, but it's possible those submissions come through the Tumblr account that is fully anonymous.
Some days, she said there might be only about 30 entries and other days, there can be more than 100. These topics are normally concerned with what students are talking about. For example, on football Saturdays, CMU Confessions sees complaints about the football team. Over the past two weeks when school was canceled, many submissions were about the polar vortex that swept over the Midwest. Some of the more generic popular topics include roommate problems and class crushes.
Despite some hopeful attempts, CMU Confessions said that it is rare that a relationship ever comes out of a confession. Some students try to get others to "like this tweet" so they can find their next love on social media.
"Hookups like that? I mean come on. Nothing ever comes out of a post on twitter," she said.
Because some tweets can get vulgar and inappropriate, CMU Confessions is forced to filter some of the nastiest submissions the account gets. For example, the strangest was about a girl who wanted her name to be included in a tweet about a fetish for her siblings. This tweet did not make the cut.
CMU Confessions doesn't want to make people feel uncomfortable either, she said. If you think a tweet is about you and would like it removed, she said it is as simple as messaging the account and asking for it to be taken down. Because of its anonymity, CMU Confessions receives a lot of backlash, which prompted the warning tweet, which is pinned to top of the account's page.
"I’ll say it again for the people in the back," the tweet reads. "If you don’t like this account un-f****** follow it. If you have a problem with what I do or don’t post, feel free to start your own page. I have absolutely zero obligation to post your s***."
CMU Confessions is dedicated to staying anonymous, she said. But the purpose for this account is clear: She wants this to be a way to spread positivity among students in Mount Pleasant.
She said she started the account because @CMUConfessions2 was no longer posting anything. The account manager speculated that the student might have graduated. Bored on a weekday night after classes, her and her roommates decided that she was going to make a new account.
"I would say there is about 10 of us or so that know (about the account)," she said.
The account took about a year to get up and running with more followers and submissions. Currently, the account has 4,802 followers.
"I just kept following as many people that I could and basically every year or semester now I get a jump in followers from the new class coming in," she said.
After graduation, she is considering passing the account information off to a younger student to keep the tradition alive. She is considering either a competition or application process, but nothing has been finalized.
Torrence From Florrence
Victoria Alonge, a senior in Marketing from Mason, makes hundreds of dollars each week by running a thrifting company on social media.
Florrence Finds is a vintage thrifting company on Instagram with more than 2,000 followers. Alonge, also known by her Instagram handle @torrencefromflorrence, runs the company solely through social media. Florrence Finds isn’t just for CMU students — it has attracted attention from buyers in New Mexico, Utah, California and Florida, Alonge said.
On weekends, she travels to bigger cities to find more selection at thrift stores. Alonge spends hours searching for “vintage finds” that she knows there will be interest for on her account.
What sets her business apart is the vintage aspect of the clothing and jewelry that she finds and resells, she said. There aren’t many other thrifting companies or thrifting pages on social media in Mount Pleasant, either, so Alonge tries to maximize on an unsaturated market.
Alonge realized she would need to find a job in her junior year of college. But she didn’t want to work at a fast food chain or at retail store in Mount Pleasant.
“Last winter break I really just needed a job,” she said. “I am really good with style and fashion merchandising.”
Using her former merchandising minor, her family and friends recommended that she should start thrifting.
Alonge collects anywhere from 10-15 items each weekend, while collecting inventory at thrift stores around Michigan. Then, she chooses from the items she collected and her existing inventory to put together a “drop” — a set of about 10-15 clothing items that will all go on sale at the same time on the Instagram page.
Typically, jeans and shorts sell the best and sell for about $75-100. After the clothes go on sale, customers contact the Instagram page’s direct messages to purchase.
“People always think that I have a lot of money coming in, but I put a lot of money into this business, too,” she said. “I go to three thrift stores in a weekend and spend almost $100 at each store.”
Alonge requires the transaction to be made within 10 minutes through Venmo, a popular mobile payment service, or the next customer will have an opportunity to purchase. Some items sell within minutes of being uploaded.
“It’s just me watching everyone DM me,” Alonge said. “I can’t be watching all my DMs and comments at the same time. Everything is high demand, so it’s hard to hold items for people.”
With help from her Zeta Tau Alpha sorority sisters, Alonge was able grow the business after its inception. Some of her sorority sisters have thousands of followers and they all promoted her brand for free.
Michigan Made Media
Jackson junior Kenny Harris and his friends Paul Berkemeier, Coltan Brennan, Jayden Stiles and Mike Callendar started a company in May 2018, which is responsible for many large followings on Instagram.
Michigan Made Media, comprised of the five co-owners, is “a team of social media and content specialist who provide individuals and small businesses with services, including social media growth and product marketing,” according to its website.
The business began after Harris and Berkemeier started growing Instagram accounts for some friends. Harris said the two decided to “go all in,” started building a website and eventually added Brennan, Stiles and Callendar as equal owners and contributors to the company.
Harris said during the company's first week it had zero sales. The team credited this failure to the high cost for services, decided to change their business model and lowered their subscription rates.
Michigan Made Media started with 5-10 influencers from CMU, Harris said. Harris considers an influencer someone who has at least 10k followers and are promoters or brand ambassadors, whether for clothing, nutrion or fitness companies.
The company now has 40-50 influencers, many of them female.
“I am not saying girls like attention, but girls love attention,” Harris said, jokingly. “It is kind cool seeing our influencers say, ‘I did not think (gaining 5,000 followers in a month) was possible.’”
The company has expanded beyond CMU and manages somewhere between 100 and 200 Instagram accounts across the United States, Harris said. Collectively the accounts have over 1.2 million followers.
Katlyn White gained 6,000 followers in three months from Michigan Made Media’s services. The fitness model said in a testimonial that increasing her followers opened up several modeling opportunities.
While the company primarily grows personal accounts, small businesses, like Wayside, O’Kelly’s, insurance agents and car dealerships, take advantage of Michigan Made Media’s services, Harris said.
Michigan Made Media promotes their services, festivals and parties through their influencers. The festivals and parties are put on in partnership with Prime Social Group, which Harris said is the 3rd largest festival company in the United States.
Harris hopes by 2020 the company is making $125,000 in revenue but realizes building a business upon a business is risky. Harris said one update could change everything, much like “that one infamous Snapchat update.”
Although there are some foreseen risks, Michigan Made Media continues to grow. Its newest addition is an office in Jackson where the team spends most of the day on Instagram and playing video games while their accounts grow.