Chapman students paid by university to create promotional YouTube videos

YouTuber and sophomore creative producing major Megan Umansky (MegsUmansky), has received about 2,700 views on the video Chapman paid her to do promoting the school. A video she made showing her bedroom at her family home scored more than a million views. Photo obtained via YouTube.

Chapman’s digital marketing team is employing a new strategy: soliciting student YouTubers to tout the university in sponsored videos. It’s a new way to sway potential recruits and convince accepted students to commit to the university, according to Assistant Director of Digital Marketing Michelle Leslie.

At least three Chapman-sponsored videos were uploaded to YouTube in the days leading up to May 1, or National College Decision Day. Student influencers, including Megan Umansky, Lindsey Rempalski and Casey Naranjo, uploaded videos discussing their experiences at the university and why they chose to attend.

‘I’m in love with this school. It’s been such a great time and I seriously can’t imagine myself anywhere else,” Umansky says in her video. “The academics are amazing and the teachers are here to help you.”

The increasingly common practice of paying students to promote the universities they attend has raised ethical questions.

“The payment might send the message that positive words can be bought. The value of that testimonial might be called into question,” said Marcia Layton Turner, a freelance writer for the Journal of College Admission.

But who better to sing the praises of a place than the students attending? “Chapman really has shaped me to be a better person,” Naranjo says in her sponsored YouTube video. “The professors here genuinely care about you so much that they’ll go out of their way to meet you after class to help you.”

Neither the influencers or Chapman’s marketing department would disclose how much the creators were paid for making the videos.

Umansky, who often shares videos about her college experience on her YouTube channel, which has 85,000 subscribers – many of them high-school girls –  said she was paid to promote the college, but would not say how much.

“I said yes [to the sponsorship] because I really do love my school, and it fits my channel,” Umansky said.

The other student YouTubers, Rempalski and Naranjo, both agreed to email interviews but failed to follow through after three follow up requests.

“We are satisfied with the [influencers’] excitement to share the reasons they love Chapman, the content they developed and the opportunity to reach prospective students with an authentic account of ‘life at Chapman’ for students,” Leslie wrote in an email to Prowl.

“We chose YouTube because that is the most popular channel for prospective students,” Leslie wrote. “It’s about meeting the audience where they are with the content they are interested in.”

While some people are uncomfortable with the idea of campus influencers being paid to lure recruits to their university, the use of social media to promote colleges is clearly increasing. Universities across the country are testing the waters in marketing with YouTube postings.

The University of Southern California has posted shorter, more traditional advertisements on its YouTube channel to appeal to prospective students. Other schools, including Yale University, have opted to produce longer videos which make the school seem like a social paradise. In Yale’s video, scenes of students playing board games and jazz music evoke a happy summer camp vibe.

Video helps prospective students get introduced to the campus environment, and having real students talk about how much they like their school gives viewers an authentic take, Layton Turner said.

“Awareness campaigns like this spark the interest in younger audiences who are searching for universities, applying for college, or may not have started the consideration at all yet,” Leslie said.

Leslie added that the marketing team hopes to include more influencers in future campaigns.

“Advances in technology and increased use of the internet, social media, etc. are developing new opportunities in these areas,” Leslie wrote. “We hope to explore those new opportunities and evaluate if they align with the University’s Strategic Priorities.”

“Chapman really has shaped me to be a better person, a better creator, more open, more outspoken, more inspired and just better as a human being.” sophomore Casey Naranjo says in her video. “The professors here genuinely care about you so much that they’ll go out of their way to meet you after class to help you.” Photo obtained via YouTube.