by Madelyn Reiter
Photographs by Claire Schaper
Ava McDonald — prolific Instagram user, St. Stephen’s High School incoming senior and budding entrepreneur — believes there is a flaw in social media marketing. Authenticity, she explains, is lacking from many marketing partnerships. She developed Zfluence, a company that connects high school and college students (Gen Zers) with local and national brands, as a solution.
“I wanted to create something that would give the influencer more agency in the relationship,” McDonald says. “The posts are super-authentic.”
How does it work? Companies pay a monthly fee to Zfluence, and McDonald matches them with an interested Gen Z nano-influencer. “Nano-influencers are people with less than 10,000 followers. Studies show that as your follower count increases, your engagement rate goes down,” McDonald explains. Brands then give Zfluencers their product in return for a shoutout on Instagram.
The catch is that companies have to trust the Zfluencer to advertise on their behalf. The Zfluencer writes his or her own posts with limited guidelines from the company. So far, 200 influencers and 18 brands have partnered with Zfluence since its launch in March – P. Terry’s, Mighty Swell and August Morgan, to name a few. “[Brands] want to be sure that they’re marketing with this generation and not to them,” McDonald explains. “It’s been a really cool experience.”
The young CEO has the normal life of a high school student. She juggles working, studying and extracurricular activities. “I try to make use of some unconventional work times, like passing periods, lunch and the weekends,” McDonald says with a laugh.