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Campus influencers part of MU's plan to spread COVID-19 safety messaging

  • 3 min to read
MU has hired five students as social media influencers

MU has hired five students as social media influencers to spread safety messaging related to COVID-19, using their following and platforms. The students are, clockwise from the upper left, Caleb Poorman, Sarah Kerns, Erin Marquino, Annie Vukotich and Niki Tajik, with an additional photo of Marquino.

Freshman Caleb Poorman has enjoyed being on Instagram and using his platform to spread positive messages. Now, he and four other MU students have jobs using their social media platforms to help spread COVID-19-related safety messaging to the campus community.

Influencers have the power to affect buying or other action decisions of the people who follow them online through platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

“Social media in general is a very powerful tool for communication,” Poorman said. “If used properly and correctly, you could do a lot of things with social media.

“With mine, I try to display positivity,” he continued. “The fact that I was given an opportunity to be an influencer through the University of Missouri was a special opportunity that I really wanted to jump on.”

In addition to Poorman, who is majoring in biology on the pre-med track, the influencers are health sciences junior Erin Marquino, biology senior Sarah Kerns, communication senior Annie Vukotich and business senior Niki Tajik.

They identified themselves on Instagram using the hashtag #Mizzou_Ambassador on Wednesday and will continue posting content, encouraging the MU community to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines such as wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, using the #CampusClear app and staying updated with MU policies.

“On and off campus, it’s important to stay safe while still having fun,” Poorman posted on Instagram. “I am partnering with @Mizzou to ensure we keep campus safe and accessible for everyone! Using hand sanitizer, wearing a mask, and washing your hands regularly is key in fighting off this virus! Be sure to check out MU’s COVID symptom checker, #CampusClear, too.”

Since Aug. 19, when MU began receiving student data on from the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, 822 cases have been reported as of Friday. Of those, 551 cases remained active.

Cases among 18- to 22-year-olds have been surging. On Saturday, Boone County reported another daily record high of 221 cases, 182 of which were in the 18-22 age range.

The campus influencers are part of a campaign MU created to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The campaign includes the Show Me Renewal website, which has campus COVID-19 data.

“We have spent money on various marketing materials, spreading the word about our efforts to fight COVID, as well as how we expect the community to fight COVID,” MU spokesperson Christian Basi said.

MU was not directly involved in selecting the influencers. Through its Joint Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing, MU paid Glacier, a Canadian company that specializes in high school and student advertising, $10,300 to take over the influencers project.

The contract between MU and Glacier began the week of Aug. 17 and ends Sept. 25. Glacier may choose up to six influencers for MU, Basi said.

Glacier selected the students and, as part of a three-month contract with them, is compensating them in some fashion. Basi said he did not know the breakdown of how Glacier is using the money. Poorman declined to comment on compensation for the students. Glacier did not respond Friday to an email or phone requests for an interview.

To communicate COVID-19 safety to students, MU also has sent students mass emails; started the social media hashtags #MaskUpMizzou and #TigersSupportTigers; purchased sidewalk clings and stickers with messaging to place around campus; paid for signs around campus encouraging positive behavior; and had videos made by MU administration and student leaders.

Students also received kits including two face masks, a packet of 45 sanitizing wipes, a 2-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer refillable around campus and a magnet with a list of symptoms meant to be used for daily self-monitoring.

Other colleges and universities around the country are taking similar steps to encourage their communities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Among them, Auburn University in Alabama created a site similar to MU’s Show Me Renewal website called A Healthier U and has shared videos made by student leaders and campus administrators urging its campus community to practice safety guidelines.

“We certainly have spent money to spread the word about what everyone can do to prevent this virus from getting worse,” Basi said. “(Campus influencers are) another tool that we have.”

All influencers were contacted to comment on their roles, but two declined and two did not respond.

Online responses to the influencers project have been mixed.

“Being an influencer on any platform, promoting any general idea, you’re going to have both positive and negative feedback,” Poorman said. “It was expected, but it hasn’t changed my mind about this role. Regardless of the negative feedback, I’m going to continue to post on Instagram and play my part in stopping this (pandemic).”

  • Fall 2020 Education Reporter Studying Investigative Journalism Reach me at rsandurkar@mail.missouri.edu, in the newsroom at (573) 882-5700 or on twitter @rsandurkar731

  • Elizabeth Brixey is the Columbia Missourian's education editor and an associate professor in the Missouri School of Journalism. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and brixeye@missouri.edu.

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