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This 17-year-old Austinite Created Zfluence for Gen Z Influencers

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Targeting Generation Z nano-influencers, Ava McDonald is connecting influencers with brands in hopes of creating a more authentic social-media experience. 

By Harshita Avirneni

For many teenagers, social media is their whole world. One Austin teen took it to the next level. 

After seeing the lack of authenticity throughout the social-media market, 17-year-old CEO Ava McDonald created Zfluence, a platform that enables Generation Z influencers to partner and work with brands they love. She intentionally works with nano-influencers who have less than 10,000 followers on Instagram and are between the ages of 16 and 23. 

“We want to be sure that our influencers, or Zfluencers, are able to have real relationships with their followers,” McDonald says. “Being on social media a lot as a teenager, you see advertisements from Kim Kardashian and all these celebrities, and they are all copy-and-paste messages and are super inauthentic, so you don’t really know if the influencer is really using the product. I wanted to create something where influencers, who are real people who just have influence in their communities, can become ambassadors for their favorite brand.”

McDonald first got the idea for Zfluence in October 2018, spending the rest of the fall and winter researching the marketplace. After she spent five months planning the structure of the business and financial model, Zfluence launched in March. 

Ava McDonald

The platform currently has almost 200 Zfluencers and works with 19 local and national brands.

“We want to really have people who are leaders as part of our network,” McDonald says. “I think the biggest thing that we want out of a Zfluencer or someone who would make a good Zfluencer is somebody who is a leader or wants to do something outstanding in their generation.” 

To become a Zfluencer, each candidate must fill out an application with brands they are interested in working with, noting what makes them an influential and outstanding member of Generation Z. Once accepted, Zfluence introduces the brands to the Zfluencer. If the brand chooses to work with the influencer, the platform connects the brand and the Zfluencer. 

“My favorite part about Zfluence is that it gives anyone and everyone a chance to be an influencer for someone out there,” 19-year-old Mason Yarbrough says. “Zfluence is important because it connects driven people with great brands, giving them a chance to do great amounts of brand storytelling through social media.”

Yarbrough is currently a sophomore at the University of Texas and is majoring in advertising. She started working with Zfluence in February and has recruited more than 10 people to become ambassadors for Zfluence. 

“A member of my sorority sent a message out on Facebook about Zfluence, so I went to their website and applied to be an influencer, specifically for Snap Kitchen,” Yarbrough says. “Since then, I have loved working with Zfluence. The company really cares about their ambassadors.”

Similar to Yarbrough, 17-year-old Mae McMillin, a senior at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School,found out about Zfluence through a friend. McMillin has been working with Zfluence since it launched. 

“What first drew me to Zfluence was the opportunity to work with brands I love,” McMillin says. “I have been going to Love Cycling Studio for months before I applied for Zfluence, so being able to become an ambassador for my favorite spin studio has been an amazing experience. What really sticks out to me about Zfluence is that the influencer initiates the relationship and selects the brands that they love and want to work with. I also love how they promote authenticity and encourage us to use our own voices in our posts.”

Although Zfluence’s mission is to help nano-influencers partner with brands they want to work with, McDonald says she also hopes Zfluence helps brands find an ultrafiltered group of influencers who love their products. 

“I think the collegian [and] postcollege-age women are the future, and I like working with them,” says Kate Hersch, owner and designer of August Morgan. “I love seeing how the women style my clothing to fit their own style.”

She says Zfluence is different from other marketing companies because the younger audience helps expand her company’s visibility. Hersch started working with Zfluence four months ago, after McDonald reached out to her.

“I have known Ava and her family for 14 years,” Hersch says. “She comes from a very smart, industrious and creative family. Anything Ava does is [done] well and with style.”

McDonald plans to end Zfluence’s beta launch Aug. 1 and expand the company into other college towns. Right now, she’s hoping to expand with local businesses in College Station, Texas, and Dallas to target Texas A&M and Southern Methodist University students. According to McDonald, Zfluence has also received interest from students at the University of Oklahoma, Brown University and many schools in California. 

“I would love a million Zfluencers; that’d be pretty cool,” McDonald says, “So, we want to make sure [influencers outside Texas] have local brands in their areas that they can work with too.” 

McDonald says the most rewarding aspect of Zfluence is seeing her vision come to life through influencer posts. 

“I hope Zfluence encourages and empowers members of Generation Z to be their most authentic selves and helps them to understand that it’s not all about being a celebrity,” McDonald says. “You can still be influential by being yourself, just by achieving within your own community.”

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