Can you learn to be an ‘influencer’ at university?


Inés Hernand was one of the presenters of the program that RTVE Play (the internet streaming service of Spanish public radio and television) dedicated to the last Goya gala (Spanish Film Academy awards). His performance was the subject of debate, since Hernand is not a journalist, but rather an influencer on social networks, and therefore was unaware, as recognized by the RTVE News Council itself , of the standards of quality and neutrality that are included in the book of Corporation style.

Although the ability of these content creators to act as journalists is debatable, it is not so debatable to act as publicists. Precisely, influencer marketing has become a key strategy for the advertising sector. In 2023, the investment in advertising in influencers has been 79.1 million euros , which represents a growth of 23.9% compared to the previous year.

That leads us to ask ourselves: is being an influencer a profession? What is necessary to learn? Do influencers have training? Are universities prepared to train this group?

Through a questionnaire applied to 290 micro- influencers (those who have between 1,000 and 100,000 followers) about their needs and aspirations in education, we have found that, although some have university training, they have not prepared themselves for the specific tasks of digital creation. In fact, many have expressed a strong desire to improve their professionalism through university and it is the Degrees in Marketing or Advertising that they consider most appropriate for this. The main obstacle they encounter in doing so is economic and lack of time.

But can you learn to be an ‘influencer’ at university?

Universities face the challenge of contributing to the professionalization of this new figure within the advertising industry, a training role that until now has been fulfilled primarily by the sector itself through courses from associations, agencies or media, among others. An example is the aforementioned research in which almost 40% of those interviewed have expressed their need to know how an advertising agency works and 52% to find out about the work of a brand’s communication department.

Influencers work for brands, thus connecting advertisers and consumers To do this, they need to know the fundamentals of marketing and be familiar with concepts that are part of the day-to-day advertising activity: target , briefing , communication objectives, advertising formats, consumer insight , etc.

They need to understand the client’s strategy to be able to communicate it appropriately through content creation. Contents that, on the other hand, must comply with the ethical and deontological standards of the sector, as well as the social network in which they operate.

Digital prescribers also need to know the characteristics of each social network as well as tools that allow them to create, edit, publish and evaluate their publications.

On the other hand, in addition to training in advertising, other skills that are learned at the University are required, such as communication skills -both oral and written-, teamwork -in this case with the client- or creativity.

Classic subjects and new subjects

The work of influence marketing is known to students of the Degree in Advertising through classic subjects such as Advertising Writing, The Advertising Agency, Branding or Advertising Photography. But also through digital subjects such as Digital Marketing; Management of virtual communities or transmedia narratives and storytelling .

However, the main efforts made in the Advertising and Public Relations curricula in Spain have had to do with training students in digital skills such as SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or community manager .

The Irish university South East Technological University (SETU) has been a pioneer in launching the Degree in Content Creation and Social Media , a career to become a professional influencer and where we find the aforementioned subjects of the Degree in Advertising.

In this sense, only for universities that have updated their study plans to the demands of the sector and incorporate the aforementioned subjects, being an influencer is another job opportunity and, therefore, they can face the need to train this professional. .

Professional ethics

Finally, training is key to the professionalization of this sector. It should be noted that influencers have the ability to connect with thousands or millions of people. Therefore, it is important to do it responsibly, especially in the case of minors, who especially follow the content created by these digital prescribers and who represent one of the most vulnerable audiences.

Author Bios: Erika Fernandez Gomez is Professor of Advertising and Academic Coordinator of the Degree in Advertising and Beatriz Feijoo is Professor of Advertising at the Faculty of Business and Communication both at UNIR – International University of La Rioja