College influencers see 15 percent engagement at 28Row, on average.

Launching this month, 28 Row is a college influencer marketing platform that hopes to connect apparel and accessory brands with influencers who authentically portray brand messaging.

Cofounded by chief executive officer Cindy Krupp and managing director Janie Smukler, the 28 Row business model capitalizes on the “trickle-down” trend in influencer marketing.

Redistributing influencer wealth and credibility down from traditional tiers such as the macro and micro-influencer — power is restored to nano-influencers at the collegiate level, through 28 Row’s “strategic, high-touch, vetted” solution.

28 Row has performed case studies with three brands including: faux fur coat brand, Apparis; Brazilian sneaker brand, Cariuma, and accessories brand carried by Bandier, Think Royln. With 19 billion dollars spent on clothing and shoes in 2017 by college students and some 80 percent influenced by social media in their shopping, the potential is clearer than a sponsored hashtag.

For brands today, discovering an engaging influencer is like searching for a needle in the haystack. Here, WWD speaks with Krupp, the cofounder of 28 Row, to see how her company is aiming to reconfigure the college influencer space. Krupp has more than 20 years of experience in brand strategy and public relations, previously heading public relations at Barney’s New York before launching Krupp group, and now 28 Row.

WWD: How does 28 Row work?

Cindy Krupp: The need became abundantly clear for many brands to not only effectively reach the macro and micro social influencers but also the nano-influencers at the collegiate level. However, most brands don’t have the man power to execute programs on the ground.

After much market research and due diligence, we identified that the approach needed to be changed in reaching the college community, and we’ve built a business that is effectively changing it. Over this past year we’ve built an exclusive network of peer influencers at college campuses nationwide, including — University of Wisconsin, Tulane, University of Pennsylvania, Michigan, University of Miami and many others.

We are working with a select group of closely vetted influencers who are leaders in their peer community. These girls — and a few guys — are very selective about the brands they are associated with. They want to be true to themselves and will only link to brands that they feel genuinely connected to, as that’s their top priority.

(From the Apparis case study.)

WWD: What does this look like for a brand?

C.K.: When a brand comes to us, we are able to create a customized campaign for their needs and goals. We identify the influencers inside our network who most closely and authentically align with their brand message and work with them to promote the brand utilizing their social network.

WWD: Why does traditional influencer marketing lack authenticity?

C.K.: At Krupp Group, we work with many “traditional” influencers who will only work with brands that they feel aligned with, but there are also many who aren’t mindful about the brands they promote.

Among the college community, for the most part, it’s not their full-time vocation. They utilize the network as a creative, fun outlet and a great way to communicate with their peers. Therefore, when they share product it’s coming from a place of genuine excitement and a desire to share what they have discovered with friends.

In addition to posting about a brand, their network has the opportunity to see them using the product on campus in their day-to-day lives as opposed to an influencer who has 500,000 followers, who lacks opportunity to connect with his or her followers outside of their social channels.

WWD: How is 28 Row solving this problem of authenticity with its college ambassador program? Describe your vetting process and why it’s unique.

C.K.: The students in our network aren’t your typical influencer — they have an average of 5,000 followers and an engagement rate, of on average 15 percent. We are looking for quality not quantity. Our influencers utilize their Instagram and stories to creatively represent their robust social circles as well as their lifestyle on their college campus. We also look for influencers whose feed isn’t riddled with random sponsored content. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, but we have been successful in building a very engaged network.

(From the Think Royln case study.) 

WWD: Why do you believe the college influencer is untapped potential?

C.K.: For the most part college ambassador programs have been mono brand focused. A lot of our influencers aren’t interested in becoming a brand ambassador for just one brand, and they aren’t interested in tabling on their campus quad and passing out flyers. That’s not how they shop, and it feels very inauthentic to them. They want to share brands they discover and love with their community.

Liz, a 28 Row influencer from Rutgers University, further validates the rationality, saying: “You know, these big brands like [Victoria’s Secret] Pink and Express are doing stuff on the ground and they’re handing out coupons, and you know what? Those coupons are going to the bottom of my backpack or in the trash.”

WWD: What values are important to Gen Z throughout their purchasing journey?

C.K.: Having a social [Instagram] presence is a big factor. Almost every influencer in our network says they discover new brands and products on Instagram. The archiving feature on Instagram is huge for them — they’ll save a post and when they’re ready to make a purchase and look at all the posts they’ve saved later to decide what to purchase from their own curated archive.

Also, discount codes are key. Since their followers are their friends, and they don’t have 100,000 daily direct messages they are able to communicate with their network in real time and answer questions regarding the brands they are posting about such as: fit, quality, discounts and more.

Even though follower count is fewer, impact may be larger when brands target meaningful nano-influencers on college campuses.