Loyola Dining Services Launches Student Influencer Program

Loyola Dining Services and Aramark are launching a program for paid student influencers to promote Loyola’s dining halls online.

Loyola Dining Services is partnering with Aramark to launch a student influencer program for all Loyola dining locations. Students in the program will be paid to produce social media content promoting campus dining halls beginning this semester. 

Any student with a meal plan and strong network of social media followers is eligible to apply for the program, but accounts with at least 1,000 followers are preferred, according to Loyola Dining Services marketing manager Cindy Valdez Barrios.

Aramark contracts with Loyola to provide its dining hall food and event catering. The program’s content is based on monthly activations, which are social media campaigns influencers are invited to participate in, Valdez Barrios wrote in an email to The Phoenix. Each activation will feature two student influencers who are compensated after the content is submitted, according to Valdez Barrios.

The activations typically ask for an Instagram feed and story post along with one reel or TikTok, but student influencers also have the option to post on additional networks such as Facebook, Pinterest and X, formerly known as Twitter, Valdez Barrios wrote.

The content covers all Loyola dining locations and topics include dining events, menu options, guest surveys and meal plan promotions, Valdez Barrios wrote. Student influencers can produce content on their own accounts and based on their own brand, with guidelines provided in each activation on the use of hashtags, photos of the event and tagging, according to Valdez Barrios.

The program is an initiative launched at various colleges by Aramark Collegiate Hospitality, Valdez Barrios wrote.

Valdez Barrios wrote Loyola is one of the first colleges to partner with Aramark for the program and was chosen because it was identified as a campus with an engaged and creative student body where the program could succeed. She wrote each activation is managed by the dining team on campus, making the content unique to Loyola.

Third-year Ethan Grassia, a computer science major, said he wouldn’t be interested in applying for the program, but he thinks its content will be effective in appealing to students because the influencers are students themselves.

“You feel like you’re supporting something that you really do have a connection to, similar to supporting an influencer that you’re familiar with,” Grassia said. “Because there’s that connection to the school, I feel like that would appeal to the school and the students in general.”

Jing Yang, an associate professor of digital advertising, said she thinks the program is a smart marketing strategy because influencers build their fanbase on authenticity and are considered more persuasive than traditional brand-generated content.

“The similarities between the student influencers and the daily students are basically identical, so that closeness between the two identities, the influencer and the consumer, will help people to pay attention to this type of content on social media,” Yang said.

Grace Kubek, a second-year, said she’s a vegetarian and would prefer to see the dining halls focus resources on expanding food options rather than marketing. However, she said she hopes the program will lead to a student feedback process which helps improve the dining experience. 

“I’d be really in support of some sort of collaboration between students, even if they are still doing paid promotions and stuff,” Kubek said. “If those students then also got to take feedback and give feedback to the company that provides the food, I think that would have probably a positive effect on especially people with dietary restrictions.”

Kubek said she thinks the program may be more limited in its ability to reach a large audience of students than the preexisting dining hall Instagram pages, which contributes to her doubts about how effective the program will be.

Sociology and criminal justice major Jonathan Dixon said he thinks the program will help bring jobs and experience to campus, but these opportunities should be prioritized for students who would benefit from them such as marketing majors. He said it’s better for the advertising to come from a student than a faculty member or company owner but thinks the authenticity of the content will determine its effectiveness.

“I think if they’re not scripted, if you give them the free rein to kind of say what they want to say about the food, in a good way of course,” Dixon said. “If they’re getting paid for it, then I think that it’s a good form of advertisement if it feels real. If it’s like a commercial, then no.”

Yang said in addition to the influencers’ identity as students, other factors like their originality, style, behavior and tone of voice will play into students’ perception of the content’s authenticity.

Valdez Barrios wrote the program enables Loyola’s dining services to formalize the content creation process which already exists with students sharing information online and allows students to be paid for the information they share.

“Word of mouth and peer reviews are among the most powerful and reliable forms of advertising,” Valdez Barrios wrote. “By empowering influencers to create content, our dining program is presented in a more authentic light to our guests.”

Aramark is aiming to launch the first activation within the next month and students can apply online with influencers hired on a per-activation basis, according to Valdez Barrios.

Featured image by Holden Green / The Loyola Phoenix

Colin Hart

Colin Hart