Ohio college student grows profile as micro-influencer

By Kelsie Horner/Kent State NewsLab

Ahnna Frank, a senior marketing student at Kent State University, has loved snapping photos since she was a little kid.

“I’d say from a young age I would take a picture of the grass or a dandelion,” Frank said. “But as I got older I was like, ‘Oh, this is a cute outfit, I want to take a picture’ or I’m with my friend, we should take pictures.”

Known as @ahnnalea on Instagram, Frank began her content-creator career by tagging the clothing stores and brands she was wearing, like Target, Franchescas and Old Navy, in her Instagram posts

Today, with almost 5,000 followers, Frank works as a micro-influencer, partnering with brands in exchange for content. 

Micro-influencers are defined as social media users with anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 followers. They average higher engagement rates per post compared to mega influencers, users with over one million followers.

“These influencers are relatable, they are inspirational, and they provide tips and I think college students trust them,” said Kent State University public relations professor Stefanie Moore, who studies content creators. “There’s this sense of authenticity with some of our micro-influencers. People tend to trust people and their friends and family more than traditional institutions, and these influencers sort of fall in that friend bucket.”

It took months of consistent posting before brands started to reach out to her, she said. She spent a long time working as an ambassador for brands, buying merchandise at a discounted rate. 

Frank earned her first brand deal with Doughnut Official, a backpack brand, where she received a free backpack in exchange for an Instagram Reels posting. 

“I showed myself marking a spot on the map and filmed the rest in Colorado,” she said. “I was so excited to get this backpack, which I still love and use to this day. I loved being able to create fun and creative content with it.”

Influencing is a passion project for Frank, but the occasional compensation is a plus. Frank has worked with brands like CVS, GrubHub, TreeHut and Pura Vida. A brand relationship typically consists of receiving free products or discount codes in exchange for a certain amount of posts. Influencers can also get paid in exchange for the posts.

“Sometimes I feel like it comes in waves,” Frank said. “But once I started to become more serious about it and consistent on my platform, I was able to work with more brands.” 

Frank’s primary audience is college-aged women. 

Ahnna Frank photographs herself for Instagram in spring 2024. (Photo: Kelsie Horner)

“Smaller influencers that have smaller audiences are more valuable in that most of them have more engagement with their audiences, versus a larger celebrity or mega-influencer like a Kim Kardashian,” Moore said.

A typical shoot for Frank can range from a simple few pictures, to videos, detailed shots and more. Frank has become accustomed to not allowing the changing weather to deter her plans for photo shoots, incorporating fun umbrellas or jackets for rainy and snowy days.

When Frank received her first paid offer from a brand, she questioned whether the offer was a scam or not.

“It was hard to know if it was real or a scam, but luckily I know the tips and tricks,” she said. “I was shocked someone wanted to pay me and I was so excited, like a dream come true.”

Frank will look for emails coming directly from a brand’s website, as opposed to from gmail.com, and only accepts emails that directly address her. Frank said this helps her be sure she is working with reliable brands and not scams.

Social media has been dragged for having a negative impact on mental health, opening the door to body and image comparison. The risk of harm on mental health doesn’t just affect the people scrolling, but the people posting, too.

“I suspect that there is probably a lot of pressure there,” Moore said, “in terms of always being on and living a filtered life in a way.”

The lack of confidence for Frank can creep in sometimes.

“Sometimes it’s a little bit of impostor syndrome,” she said. “Sometimes I’m nervous. So when I post something, it’s hard to be confident sometimes. Some people I feel like have a negative view of influencers and they think that they just do it for money or something like that, doing something dishonest.”

Moore believes there are negative sides to influencer marketing for the brands as well. If a public figure is promoting your brand, and makes a damaging mistake, your brand can automatically be damaged as well.

“These are human beings and they may have missed steps,” she said. “That could potentially tarnish your brand that partners with an influencer that made a mistake and received a lot of backlash.” 

But for now, Frank thinks experience in influencer marketing will help her career in marketing in the long run.

“I’ve experienced a lot of big brands and how to adhere to branded content policies and the way that social media marketing works,” Frank said. “I feel like that’s definitely something that I can bring to the table in the future, that most people don’t have that experience.”

Taking pictures for brand posting is also an opportunity for Frank to spend time with her friends. For a collab with Grubhub, Frank and her friends headed to a local park, laid out a white picnic blanket, and sat down to enjoy Swensons and laughs. 

For Frank’s friend Christina Brandenstein, joining Frank for the photoshoots allows her to see her be passionate about what she’s doing.

“When Ahnna is doing a photoshoot, she is always enjoying it and having fun,” Brandenstein said.

Currently, Frank said she is working on brand deals with Fabletics, Free Prints, Katie Loxton and others.

“I’m just excited to keep getting more experience and expanding my portfolio,” she said.

This story was originally published by the Kent State NewsLab, a collaborative news outlet publishing journalism by Kent State students.

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