How Belk’s Student-Athlete Influencer Program on Instagram Exceeded Industry Benchmarks, Powered by Mavrck
Belk began working with Mavrck at the start of 2021 after facing challenges when it came to influencer marketing measurement, time constraints, and proving return on investment (ROI). By leveraging Mavrck, the brand was able to successfully launch an influencer program that generated over 1,700 pieces of influencer-generated content (IGC) throughout the year, with averages exceeding benchmark engagement rates. During the first year of the program, campaigns were primarily focused on activating creators on Instagram — to produce in-feed and Stories content — and Facebook. In addition, most of the campaigns revolved around specific products, fashion, and select holidays, such as Easter and Black Friday.
Heading into 2022, the teams sought to build on the program’s initial successes while enhancing all creator partnerships. Based on the data and insights collected from 2021 activations along with the brand’s 2022 goals, Mavrck’s team of experts proposed piloting a name, image, and likeness (NIL) program revolving around student-athlete activations across key universities. And with Belk’s location in the heart of the South, this strategy of activating college-level (and beyond) athletes was a clear choice.
Thus, the goal of Q1 2022 was to identify and activate NIL athletes in select schools who play specific sports, all chosen based on Belk priorities and locations.
Key program objectives revolved around reach, impressions, engagements, and engagement rate, with a focus on activating creators across Instagram to produce in-feed static, Reels, and Stories content.
Belk’s target audience included loyal and diverse sports fans interested in purchasing apparel to support their school and/or team. With this consumer base in mind, the brand sought to leverage student-athletes for their expanded reach and strong engagement to ultimately spread awareness of Belk products across their most popular social media channels.
Therefore, recruitment needed to focus on finding a mix of student-athletes of all levels to maximize reach and turn these diverse sports fans into consumers. Creator partners would be asked to amplify product messaging, share a video talking about the featured product, and/or highlight how the product integrates authentically into their daily life.
When it came to the highlighted products themselves, Belk carries a wide variety of sports paraphernalia available through their Fan Gear shop, including items from historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs) and beyond — another reason to focus on this influencer persona and product line.
Mavrck’s Services team was involved in running this program from start to finish — from establishing the strategy, to developing the creative brief, to recruiting influencers, to communicating with them throughout the entire campaign process, and more. When it came to finding student-athlete partners, Mavrck started the process by sending a survey to gather general information about the creators, their social media usage, desired payment, and overall interest in the collaboration.
After identifying the perfect creator cohort and the Belk team finalized influencer selections, each student-athlete was sent the creative brief. The campaign prompt was purposely kept high-level to allow the athletes more freedom when it came to selecting products that seamlessly integrated into their everyday lives. This strategy stemmed from the idea of tapping into the power of athletes as “celebrities” and aspirational figures. The brief also included some inspirational content that intentionally leaned more towards lifestyle than sports-focused.
Each influencer was asked to produce one Instagram in-feed post — either static, carousel, or Reel — and one Instagram Story, and to submit the original high-resolution image or video to the brand. After the Belk team completed a draft review and all content was published, the IGC was then repurposed across Belk-owned channels for additional reach and awareness.
In the end, the seven student-athlete creators produced 43 total pieces of content, generating 99.3K total impressions and 7K total engagements. Their IGC resulted in an average engagement rate for in-feed Instagram posts of 16.1% — surpassing industry benchmarks within both retail/ecommerce (9.4%) and fashion & apparel (13.4%).
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Average Engagement Rate