Mar 02 2022
28 Row is a college influencer marketing platform that wants to connect Gen Z females with brands that represent interests and values that align with theirs…
Most Gen Z females are nano-creators. YPulse’s New Content Creators trend report found that the majority of young consumers create their own social media content for a broader audience than just their friends and family, with 66% of 13-20-year-old females saying they do so. We told you that being an influencer / content creator is a top dream job for Gen Z,and many of them are eager to work with brands. But while they may be building their followings, there is little guidance out there on how to translate that into a career or side hustle.
Now, a new marketing platform is looking to help this demographic of female college students to help achieve their dreams of being an influencer, and connecting them with some of today’s biggest brands. When Cindy Krupp and Janie Karas co-founded 28 Row, they wanted to use the power of peer-to-peer influencer marketing to work with young women in college who aspire to be influencers to authentically build awareness and drive sales for brands in the fashion and beauty space, and are branching out into other industries. But beyond just being a marketing platform for college women to connect with brands, they’ve grown to become so much more: 28 Row also has an app that serves as a space and community for their young creators to connect and support each other. According to Krupp, their nano influencers have a community that’s real, made up of “their friends from high school. Friends from college. Their cousins, their mothers, their aunts. It’s real people that have a connection to them and are influenced by them because they know them and they trust them.”
We spoke to Krupp and Karas about how 28 Row got started, how nano-influencer and macro-influencer campaigns produce different results, what’s trending in the influencer marketing space, and more:
YPulse: How did 28 Row start and what inspired you to develop it?
Cindy Krupp: In addition to running 28 Row, I own Krupp Group, which is a public relations agency, and we focus mostly on fashion, health, wellness, and lifestyle, and we do a lot in the influencer space. If you ask me to find you a mommy influencer in the Midwest, I could find you 10. But when it came to the college demographic, they were like a needle in a haystack. It wasn’t so easy to access, but yet, we had brands that wanted to be able to connect with this Gen Z community, and so, that really was the impetus for seeing the opportunity and realizing there was a void. The first year was like going down a rabbit’s hole. Janie [Karas] literally went down an Instagram rabbit hole finding one influencer and another. In 18 months, we had 50 before we were able to grow the network, and now we have so many applications. It’s grown significantly from there. But it was really noticing that there was a need to reach this community for many brands and going out and deciding to build it.
YPulse: Why did 28 Row want to focus on college students?
CK: We do so much in the influencer space, and influencers are really key and important, and this demographic is really important to many brands reaching Gen Z. The reality is: they don’t read media, they don’t respond to advertising. They respond to peer-to-peer suggestions. So, it really is a community where we saw an opportunity—and there were brands that were wanting to reach them, and were struggling to figure out the entry point. And there are certainly companies that have a massive in-house marketing team, like PINK from Victoria’s Secret, Aerie, and Bumble where they do have an in-house team that oversees reaching this demographic. But most brands don’t have that, or have the budget to dedicate to building out a boots on the ground team, so we knew we could be that solution.
YPulse: How does 28 Row support its influencers?
Janie Karas: We launched an app in the fall—and our app is for all aspiring young influencers to talk about everything from the best new editing app, to how to grow their Instagram following, to how to create a media kit. So, we’re putting them in conversation with one another so they can learn from each other, and we’re also helping and offering them resources along the way.
YPulse: How does 28 Row differ from other influencer agencies?
CK: We really are creating a premium product. We hand-select everyone that is in the network. We’re looking for content creators. We’re looking for brilliant content creators. Other agencies or platforms that do it—anyone can sign up to be an influencer. They don’t really pay attention to what their following, engagement, or content looks like. We’re holding this network at a very different level. A lot of our brands, we create content and they put “paid” behind it—that’s the quality of the influencers we’re working with. For us, it is providing a top white glove level of service where we handle everything, from soup to nuts, we work closely with our brand partners to establish what their goals and objectives are, we build out a campaign that makes sense for them, we approve all content. We really handle it all. At the foundation of it, we have over 750 content creators, nano-influencers who are talented young women. They’re not your average college girl. This is a creative space for them. This is something they love to do, and it shows in the content they create for our brand partners.
YPulse: What kind of brands do you work with?
JK: Some of our brand partners are H&M, E.l.f Cosmetics, Cotton On, Waterdrop, Nurx, Mos.
CK: We’re doing things not only in fashion, but we’re working in the healthcare space and also in financial services. We are just kicking off a program with Mos, which is a debit card geared toward this demographic, but they also provide a service component where they help their users to qualify and to apply for student aid and scholarships.
JK: They have billions of dollars in scholarships.
CK: And they help direct students so they can get this money, which is incredible and so many kids don’t even know this exists—and that is their job, is to help students find and access this money. We’re excited to be kicking this partnership with them because we feel like it’s such a valued resource for the community.
YPulse: Our research found that one of Gen Z’s top dream jobs is to be an influencer / content creator. Are you seeing that more of this generation are aspiring to be influencers?
JK: Yes, that’s true. I mean, they grew up on social media, so they’re much more drawn to it than me, for example. I’m not that far from their age. I’m 28. But I didn’t have Instagram until my senior year of college, so I didn’t grow up with it—and I’m still not super comfortable with any sort of social media. I like to be a voyeur more than a creator. But I think it’s the exact opposite for these young people. I think they realize there’s a lot of opportunity and money to be made, more so than a traditional 9-to-5 job.
YPulse: Our research also shows that the majority of Gen Z and Millennials create content for an audience beyond their family and friends, that these are generations of nano-influencers. Do you think creators with smaller follower counts are ones that brands should pay attention to?
CK: Yes. I can tell you, I think different things accomplish different goals and objectives. We work with macro-influencers in Krupp Group and Studio Beauty in our day job, and work with influencers with 500,000 followers. I can tell you that the engagement rates when we work with the nano community of 28 Row are so much higher than any campaign we do in the macro space, and we’re able to track conversion, and it’s strong. In some cases, it’s through the roof, so I can speak specifically to this generation. Like I said, there’s so much data out there showing that the thing they respond to the most, pay attention, and trust the most is peer-to-peer recommendations. By virtue of that, which is fact, brands must be paying attention to them, and this is the way to reach them. They’re not looking at the Facebook ads. They just don’t care. That’s not it. It’s about their sorority sister saying “I’m obsessed with this lipstick color.” or “Does everyone know about this new birth control?” Our nano-influencers have a community that’s real. It’s their friends from high school. Friends from college. Their cousins, their mothers, their aunts. It’s real people that have a connection to them and are influenced by them because they know them and they trust them.
I want to be clear that when we do a macro campaign, there’s great brand awareness. If you do something with someone that has 500,000 followers, you’re gaining brand awareness. You just are. And with nano, you’re gaining something different. You’re definitely gaining more of the engagement, the conversion, and the authenticity in the partnership.
JK: There’s more trust when a nano-influencer is posting about a product. It comes off more authentic because it’s not her full-time job. Her followers know she’s not getting paid a million dollars to post about this. Also, her followers can ask her about the product and she’ll respond to them. It’s not, like, she has 5,000 DMs. She gets a few from her close friends and she answers. So, if someone asks “What size did you get?” or “What color did you get? Does it look like this in person? Because on the website, it looks like this.” So, I think there’s more trust and more communication around the product.
YPulse: What’s one thing that brands should understand about working with Gen Z and Millennial creators?
CK: They want to work with brands they believe in. If you’re a brand that is focused on sustainability, then focus on influencers that in their feed are talking about the lifestyle they live and how that’s important to them. Or if you see girls who are beauty junkies and you’re a beauty brand, target those. Again, for so many of them, this isn’t their career, it’s their passion or their creative outlet. They don’t need to promote a brand that they would never use in real life. For us, we are targeting women who love these brands. Sometimes, we execute campaigns and there are girls who realize it’s not their jam or it’s not their style—and that’s totally cool. We want it to be as authentic as possible. So, I would say to brands: Pay attention to the content. Pay attention to what they’re putting out there. Really only target the women or influencers that are aligned with your brand mission and your brand voice. Because they can smell inauthentic content—and it doesn’t translate.
YPulse: We have talked about the ways influencer marketing has changed over the last few years as brands look for more authenticity and relatability from the people they choose to collaborate with. Is this something that you’re seeing as brands work with this generation’s content creators?
JK: Yes, we’re definitely seeing the rise in nano-influencers and brands are paying attention to them. As Gen Z gets older and starts becoming bigger forces in the consumer world, brands need to pay attention to them, and that’s peer-to-peer recommendations less so advertisements, or celebrities on TV. It’s more about getting recommendations from their friends.
YPulse: What trends are you seeing in the influencer marketing space?
JK: I think because of TikTok, a lot more video content is important to brands. We used to do pretty much all static, in-feed Instagram posts. But now, TikTok is super important to brands and getting that video content to re-use on their TikTok or Reels. Now that the link sticker and the “swipe up” feature in the Stories is available to influencers with under 10,000 followers, we’re seeing a lot more brands wanting influencers to utilize their Instagram Stories.
CK: I think that’s it. Definitely a mixed campaign of different platforms.
JK: We’re definitely seeing that it’s not just Instagram feed posts anymore.
YPulse: Aside from helping emerging influencers find potential business opportunities, 28 Row also serves as a community for young women to forge friendships and support each other emotionally. We recently talked about how young women’s mental health has been especially impacted during the pandemic. What are the ways young women on the app are connecting and how has the community grown since its launch?
JK: We’ve actually had a lot of people meet through 28 Row and they end up traveling together or going on trips together, which is amazing and heartwarming to see. We also have users that post “I’m lonely at school. I don’t know how to make friends when I’m a commuter and it’s COVID and I can’t meet anyone.” So, it’s not just people talking about how to be an influencer, but also these women who are interested in being influencers and content creators connecting with each other because they’re all young women going through the same transitional period in their life.
CK: We’re seeing downloads [for the app] everyday. We just started doing on-campus activations, which we haven’t been able to do because of COVID. But it’s growing steadily through word-of-mouth, and different women are coming in seeking different things. It’s definitely a common denominator of women who want to be content creators, but they’re also searching for support from a community. It’s been a very steady growth, and we really haven’t put it out there. It’s very organic.
YPulse: What’s next for 28 Row?
CK: I’m thrilled we’re working with fintech and healthcare. We want to make sure we continue to bring fashion and beauty to this community, but also expand it. We want to give them more resources as far as content creation goes. Many of them are looking for tricks of the trades, so we want to make sure we continue to give them those resources. We’re hoping that at some point, when COVID is a thing of the past, that we can do summits. Like Janie said, this community has really enjoyed getting to know each other and we just want to be able to get them in-person.
Cindy Krupp, Co-Founder of 28 Row and CEO & President of Krupp Group
Cindy has more than 20 years of experience in brand strategy and public relations. Before founding Krupp Group, she rose through the ranks at Barneys New York, ultimately overseeing its PR department. There, Cindy developed her passion for launching high-end designer brands and honed her skill in working with nascent creative talent to conceive ideas that drive deep customer affinity. She believes in going with your gut, staying nimble, firing from all cylinders and making it look effortless.
Janie Karas, Co-Founder & Manager Director
Janie began her career by building 28 Row with Cindy. She knows the ins and outs of this influencer network and manages all daily operations for the company, including campaign management.
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