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In recent years, a major shift toward honest content and authentic personalities has made influencers – including nano and micro influencers – more effective than high-profile or celebrity endorsements. And with the introduction of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rules, a new type of influencer has entered the industry: student athletes.

In this post, we will define who NIL influencers are and how they differ from traditional influencers, ways brands can work with them to elevate their messaging, and why it is essential to incorporate NIL influencers into your social media marketing campaigns.

What Are NIL Influencers?

NIL Influencers are college athletes who can now earn money for use of their influencer NIL (name, image, and likeness). Previously, college athletes were not allowed to profit from endorsements, but with the new NIL rules, these athletes are able to become content creators and influencers, accept endorsements and sponsorships, and even start their own businesses built around their personalities.

The reason this rule change is having such a major impact on the influencer marketing industry is that college athletes were influential before they were allowed to be influencers. Their careers as student athletes garnered organic attention that they weren’t previously able to monetize.

What States Have Signed NIL Laws?

Currently, 32 states have passed Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) laws, with many basing their legislation on California’s “Fair Pay to Play Act”, the first law of its kind to be enacted. Additionally, bills currently under consideration in California and New Jersey seek to amend the NIL laws already in place in those states.

How Do NIL Influencers Differ from Traditional Influencers?

The fact that NIL influencers entered the game with a built-in audience of passionate fans is what sets them apart from traditional influencers. Plus, these athletes have a unique level of influence over their fan base, which translates into a powerful marketing tool for brands. NIL influencers also have the benefit of being viewed as leaders and role models, which can add to the power of their endorsement.

NIL influencers: college athlete swimming in an indoor pool.

How Can Brands Work with NIL Influencers?

While student athlete influencers have developed fame from their collegiate careers, their self-made foundation gives them a layer of authenticity and relatability that speaks to what current consumers are looking for in brand marketing and social media content.

Ways Brands Can Collaborate with NIL Influencers

1. Sponsored Social Media Posts

You can pay NIL influencers to create content that promotes your brand’s products or services.

2. Brand Ambassadors

Brand ambassadors incorporate brand products and services into a variety of content across their social media pages. This type of long-term relationship and lifestyle integration will help cultivate brand loyalty among your chosen influencer’s fan base.

3. Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing opportunities are a great way to further incentivize NIL influencers to collaborate with your brand. Not only will this allow the student athlete to earn commission from product sales, but their fans will be moved by the opportunity to support them by making a purchase.

4. Giveaways and Contests

Since NIL influencers have highly engaged followings, giveaways and contests are a great way to capitalize on that engagement. A giveaway allows the influencer to give back to their audience, and the interest/attention from their audience will increase your brand awareness.

5. Collaborative Content Creation

Instead of sending your NIL influencer a brief for a campaign, consider how a collaboration can showcase your brand while reflecting the influencer’s personality and voice in a deeper way.

Plus, platforms like Instagram now have a collaborator feature, which allows you to go a step beyond tagging another user to invite them to be a collaborator (co-creator) for a post. The post will show up on both parties’ feeds, and allows for a different type of exposure.

6. Event Appearances

Invite student athletes to brand events. This can be especially beneficial for local brands or businesses looking to drive foot traffic to their in-person locations. Host a meet-and-greet or an in-person product demonstration, performed by the NIL influencer. Loyal fans will attend the event and are likely to follow the endorsement of their favorite athlete!

Bonus: If you’re a brand with a brick-and-mortar store, consider what colleges are near you. You can research the major sports and prominent athletes at those schools as a way to investigate potential partnerships that can lead to easily accessible in-person marketing opportunities.

7. Capitalize on tentpole NCAA sporting events

Capitalize on tentpole NCAA sporting events like March Madness basketball tournaments or football Bowl games when student athletes visibility and stardom can grow exponentially allowing brands to jump on new and trending influencers. Also, consider working with the entire team for even greater reach and saturation.

What Kinds of Brands Can Work with NIL Influencers?

In the same way that professional athletes can partner with and endorse brands outside of the sports industry, so can athlete influencers. Plus, as collegiate athletes, NIL influencers are a great gateway for brands to target younger generations.

A few obvious examples of college athlete partnerships:

  • Sports and Athletic Apparel Brands: These brands can leverage a college athlete’s passion for sports and performance.
  • Food and Beverage Brands: Brands that offer healthy and nutritious foods and drinks can partner with college athletes to show how their products play a key role in a healthy and active lifestyle.
  • Fitness and Wellness Brands: These brands can work with college athletes to showcase how their equipment, supplements, and wellness products improve performance and overall well-being.

A few non-athletic industries that translate to NIL influencer partnerships:

  • Technology Brands: Tech brands can partner with NIL influencers to increase brand awareness and to specifically highlight how their products enhance athletic performance, track progress, and provide entertainment.
  • Beauty & Fashion Brands: Off the field and out of uniform, college athletes get to showcase their personal style. An everyday wear brand can position itself as a great choice for college students or young adults on the go. An upscale brand can market to a younger target audience by partnering with a college athlete for an awards ceremony or banquet.
  • Travel Brands: College athletes have to travel for games and appearances, making them an excellent choice for travel brands (especially ones looking to target younger audiences).
  • Auto Brands: Many student athletes are featured in local to their university auto dealerships given local tie-in. Aspirational auto brands also use student athletes to appeal to alumni with greater spending power.

Why You Should Include NIL Influencers in Your Social Media Marketing Strategy

The social media and influencer marketing industry are constantly evolving. NIL influencers are a new demographic of creators to partner with and play a major role in reaching Gen Z, Millennials, and more. To stay on the cusp and to stay relevant on social media, brands have to consider how NIL influencers can fit into their campaigns.

To break it down, here are a few concrete reasons why brands should work with NIL influencers.

1. Highly Engaged Audience

NIL influencers have a highly engaged audience that they built organically (before monetization could play a role in their growth and reach). That organic engagement and investment from their followers is the kind of loyalty that translates to sales.

2. Authenticity

Since student athletes were not previously associated with commercial endorsements, their followers view their content and opinions as genuine and authentic. Thus, when they do endorse a product, it comes off as more sincere and is more likely to generate action among their fans.

3. Cost-Effective

Between all of the sports at all D I, D II, and D III schools, there are enough athletes to meet a variety of marketing budgets. This means NIL influencer partnerships can be a cost-effective way to reach a highly-engaged audience, which is beneficial for smaller brands.

4. New Audiences

As mentioned before, college athletes have a massive following among college students and younger generations, which makes them an ideal partner for brands trying to reach those audiences- college athletes also attract alumni making them very beneficial for brands to partner with.

5. Compliance

The new NIL rules allow brands to partner with college athletes while remaining in compliance with NCAA regulations. This is an unforeseen opportunity to engage with a previously untapped influential demographic.

NIL Influencer Marketing

The introduction of NIL rules has opened up a new world of influencer marketing opportunities for brands. The level of authenticity and engagement NIL influencers have can make their endorsements more impactful: increasing your brand awareness and engagement, and even driving sales. Now, brands can fearlessly work with and reward these hardworking students, all while growing their presence and reach online and on social media.

Work with Sway Group

As the influencer marketing landscape continues to evolve, it’s essential for brands to stay ahead of the curve and incorporate new trends and strategies into their campaigns. In addition with NIL, brands need to understand state and university compliance.

Work with Sway Group if you want to create competitive, successful influencer marketing campaigns for your brand, and be NIL compliant. We are a full-service influencer marketing agency that has been partnering brands with professional influencers for 12 years. Our experts will help you discover the best influencer for your brand and develop a campaign that is both effective and compliant.

Contact us today to start your next NIL influencer campaign!