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Student Athletes as Social Media Influencers: The Issues They’ll Face

Athletic admins need to be aware of the issues student athletes will face monetizing their social media.

What a student athlete as a social media influencer could look like

As someone who has built much of my career on blogging and social media, I engage in quite a few groups for female influencers and entrepreneurs. With name, image and likeness legislation going into effect in at least 17 states over the next two years—and the potential for NCAA or federal legislation—many student athletes are preparing to monetize their NIL through social media marketing.

While this is a welcome opportunity, it also brings with it new questions and issues. In an effort to educate both student athletes and administrators seeking to understand the landscape, I asked some of the influencers I saw seeking advice in Facebook groups if I could share their posts to give further insight into those questions and issues. I’ve redacted their names and brand information where requested.

Below is a sampling of what I see in Facebook groups I’m in every single day. For those interested in educating and protecting student athletes from those who will seek to take advantage in the marketplace, I thought it might be helpful to review some of the issues that come up frequently, especially since many of these student athletes won’t be receiving deals that rise to the level of involving agents or other representation. I’ve included screenshots detailing the issues, which I break down in further detail below.

All images below can be enlarged by clicking.

Pricing for social media marketing

As you can see from the screenshots above, newcomers to the social media marketing game often struggle to determine their prices. Many student athletes won’t have agents in these situations, but that doesn’t mean they should have to simply settle for what the brand offers. Even if there’s a social media marketing agency involved, it’s important to remember they usually represent the brand, not the influencer.

As an entrepreneur, one of the toughest things for me has always been pricing. While the wage gap in the corporate space is well-documented, studies also show women who are self-employed are still out-earned by men by 28% thanks to women setting lower rates for their work.

Many student athletes are going to be thrilled to make any money after years of not being allowed to monetize their name, image and likeness. However, many of them—both male and female— are also going to be ill-equipped to price themselves correctly in the marketplace. It’s a struggle virtually every entrepreneur and influencer I deal with on a daily basis expresses.

As you can see from the screenshots above, it can be difficult to know what to charge. Social media collaborations with brands aren’t one-size-fits-all. Using Instagram as an example, a student athlete might be asked for a feed post, a story, a video post, a live video or any combination of those things. It might only be one piece of content, or it might be multiple pieces over a period of time.

Obviously, the type of post should influence price, as well as the number of followers someone has and their engagement rate. However, there’s also the matter who the audience is and how difficult they might be to find and reach through other types of marketing.

A formula for pricing for student athletes as social media influencers

Brittany Hennessy has a great formula in her book, Influencer (which I highly recommend for every student athlete and admin preparing to navigate the NIL era):

Distribution Fee + Talent Fee = What You Should Charge

The distribution fee is many of the factors discussed above, such as follower count and engagement. However, many of the influencers I see discussing pricing miss the talent fee portion. Hennessy says that includes things like any props that need to be purchased (flowers, balloons, clothes, etc.), the cost of where you need to shoot (if you have to rent a hotel room, vacation rental or office space).

The talent fee also includes pay for the time spent creating the content. Hennessy suggests that might start somewhere around $25/hour for new influencers and increase from there as they have more campaign experience. The hourly rate should include not just the time it takes to create the content, but also time spent reviewing any materials the brand sends over, researching the brand, brainstorming content ideas, etc.

Free product as compensation

For student athletes with smaller followings, money may not be part of the exchange in the beginning. Instead, they will likely be offered free product or clothing in exchange for a post. One of my Instagram accounts has approximately 1,400 followers and a 9.23% engagement rate (average is 1.22%). I receive comments on at least half my posts from boutiques that want me to be a “brand ambassador.”

Example of Instagram message from a brand looking for social media influencers
An example of comments I receive on my Instagram from brands looking to recruit ambassadors/brand reps

When you drill down with these folks via DM, it usually boils down to getting a 20-50% discount—or occasionally one free piece of clothing—and a discount code or affiliate link to make commission on sales generated from your posts about the brand.

Here’s the response I received when I sent a DM to this account that commented on my photo about wanting to work with me.

Example of ambassador offer for social media influencer
Example of ambassador offer for social media influencer

One woman in a Facebook group I’m in shared a scam she unknowingly bought right into.

A social media influencer shares an issue with a brand

A good rule of thumb I’ve learned is that any brand that comments on your photo and asks you to DM is 99.9% likely to make this sort of offer. The offers that involve monetary compensation generally DM you directly versus leaving a comment on your post asking you to DM them.

Licensing and Rights

The examples above with regards to pricing questions also bring up issues related to licensing and the types of rights conveyed with initial agreements with brands. Particularly with smaller brands or startups that reach out to potential influencers via DM on social media platforms, there may not be a formal contract at all. This leads to a host of potential future issues with regards to how a photo can be used.

For example, if an influencer took a photo of themselves with the product to be used in their Instagram feed, can the brand then use it for a billboard in the future? What happens when the brand decides to use photoshop and add something the influencer didn’t have knowledge of, much less approve of? Imagine if drug paraphernalia or a Confederate flag were to be added after the fact. What rights would the student athlete have to demand it be removed if the content added was offensive?

Even for a $50 Instagram feed post, there needs to be a contract between the brand and the influencer that clearly outlines what is expected from each party. Although I am a lawyer, this is not legal advice. Laws varies from state by state, and influencers should have their own representation.

The following list is not exhaustive but attempts to list some of the main terms that should be in any contract, regardless of how “small” the deal is:

  • Payment: both the amount and timing of the payment should be clearly spelled out, as well as any invoicing requirements.
  • Deliverables: anything the brand will provide (i.e., product) and what they expect the influencer to produce (a feed post, stories, video content, a blog, a :30 mid-roll podcast spot, etc.).
  • Term: when each party will deliver any assets it is responsible for and how long the content should remain public. This section (or the one next one detailed below) should reference how long the brand can continue using the content, but most will be in perpetuity unless negotiated otherwise.
  • Usage: this should break down exactly how the brand can use any content the influencer creates (social media, website, billboards, brochures, etc.) and can also include terms related to any editing the brand can/can’t do and whether the influencer has to approve those edits. If the influencer wants name (and potentially social media handle) credit each time the content is used, this should be spelled out as well.

Usage can also be an issue when the influencer isn’t even working with the brand but instead has their photo used by a brand without prior permission or compensation. Tamara Kalugina in one of my Facebook groups gave me permission to share an instance that happened to her recently.

A social media influencer with usage issues

If the brand is the one presenting the contract, it may also contain an exclusivity clause. It’s not uncommon for brands to exclude an influencer from working with its competitors for some defined term. However, exclusivity (especially for extended time periods) should be taken into consideration when a student athlete influencer sets their price because it may foreclose other opportunities for the length of the term.

Chasing Payment

Example of a collection issue from a social media influencer

It’s probably no surprise that influencers encounter issues collecting their fees from brands, particularly from smaller brands and startups they haven’t properly vetted. I don’t know about you, but I certainly wasn’t equipped to pursue collections against brands when I was 18. I expect this to be an issue many student athletes face as they begin working with brands, so it’ll be important for them to have access to resources that advise them on how to collect these payments.

Many college athletic administrators are still trying to determine how to provide education to student athletes without taking on the role of advisor. It will be a delicate balance, for sure. However, I do think it’s important for college athletic administrators to educate themselves on the issues student athletes may face. I hope this provides some baseline knowledge for those who haven’t encountered these offers and issues through their own social media accounts.

Interested in having me speak to your coaches, administrators or student athletes on these issues and others related to student athletes monetizing their NIL? Contact me here.

About Kristi Dosh

Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more
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