Higher Education Marketing

The Best Social Media Ad Platforms for Recruiting Students

Date posted: May 17, 2017

social media ad platforms

Social media advertising can be a vital part of a school’s overall digital marketing strategy. With more versatile formatting and targeting options than paid search campaigns, social ads can allow you to reach a far more specific demographic of users in more creative ways, often at a far lower cost.

However, with so many different social networks out there, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out which platforms will offer the best return on your investment. Schools need to consider what sites their students are most likely to use, what ads formats they offer, and how effective they are in generating serious inquiries for your school.

Read on to find out more about some of the most popular social media ad platforms, and their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to student recruitment.

Using Facebook Social Media Ads to Recruit Students

As the world’s most popular social network, Facebook commands the largest potential audience for your school’s social media ads. The site’s ad platform also offers arguably the most comprehensive targeting, formatting, and measurement options of any social network out there, making it a versatile and effective choice for both large and small institutions at all levels.

There are three main types of demographic and geographic targeting options on Facebook:

  1. Core Audiences allows you to target your campaigns based on an extensive variety of factors like age, job title, and education level, as well as by location, interest, and even specific online behaviours like device usage and purchasing habits.
  2. Facebook’s Custom Audiences option allows you to select users based on their previous interactions with your school. Ideal for remarketing initiatives, you can build campaigns for prospective students who have already engaged with your school through Facebook, or import your CRM lists to target previous visitors to your website.
  3. Lookalike Audiences helps you find users who are similar to your existing followers or contacts, making it an ideal way to increase visibility and generate new inquiries.

This range of targeting options makes it possible to create highly segmented, strategically focused ad campaigns, increasing your chances of generating real results.

Facebook Ads also come in a wide range of formats. Basic adverts can contain text and a photo or image, as well as a CTA which can direct users to your Facebook page, a landing page or website, or even directly to Facebook Messenger.   

Example: A basic Facebook Ad for the University of New South Wales. The CTA here links directly to the school’s website, and users can also like their Facebook page, react, comment, and share the post, meaning there are a number of options for engagement.

UNSW Facebook social media ad

For schools looking for more creative ways to recruit students on social media, the Carousel format allows you to show up to 10 different images or videos in a single ad, each of which can have its own specific CTA, while Slideshow allows you to combine various images, sound, and text to create a video advert. Both of these options give you the potential to create eye-catching visuals that will really stand out to prospective students.

Example: This video from Facebook takes you through how Slideshow Ads are created. This format can be a low-cost but effective way to create video adverts for the platform.

Other options include Collection Ads, which are usually used by retailers to display multiple products, and could possibly be useful for schools looking to promote multiple program options. You could also try Canvas Adverts, which are customizable mobile ads that allow you to combine elements from any of Facebook’s other formats.

Facebook ads can be placed within the newsfeed, in instant articles, on the right-hand column of the desktop site, or in-stream during videos or Facebook Live streams. You can choose the placement of your ads manually, or select the automatic placement option to allow Facebook to place your ads where they have shown good performance. Ads are priced on a Cost-Per-Click (CPC) basis and you are only charged when users carry out the objectives you have specified when you create your campaign.

Facebook also offers comprehensive reporting for ads through Adverts Manager and Audience Insights, which can help you to measure a number of key performance indicators including conversions, increases in brand visibility and engagement, and even ad recall.

Example: Facebook’s estimated ad recall lift metric is the estimated number of people who are likely to remember your ad two days after viewing it.

Facebook social media ad recall

Source: Facebook

The biggest advantage of advertising on Facebook for schools is its superior reach. While there has been a noticeable decline in Facebook use among younger demographics in recent years, the site is still by far the most widely used social network in the world, with over 1.9 billion monthly active users. Put simply, you are more likely to find a broad base of potential applicants for your programs there than anywhere else, making it the ideal starting point for your school’s social media ad campaigns.

Superior Engagement, Maximum Effectiveness: Why Schools Should Advertise on Instagram

As a subsidiary of Facebook, Instagram offers many similar advantages of its parent company for social media advertising, but with a younger and potentially more engaged audience. The site now has more than 700 million monthly active users, and figures released by Pew Research Center last year estimate that as many as 59% of them are under 30.

Historically, Instagram has also enjoyed much higher engagement rates than other social networks, and a recent Trackmaven study revealed that this is especially true when it comes to higher education. According to their report, institutions that are active on Instagram enjoy an average of 83.05 engagements per post per 1,000 followers—far higher than any other site surveyed. Despite this, the average amount of followers for schools on the site was far lower than Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, indicating that there are real opportunities for growth.

Trackmaven higher education social media

Source: Trackmaven

Since Instagram advertisements are created through Facebook ads manager, the targeting and payment options are the same, making it possible to test similar ads on both sites to see which one generates the most engagement. You will also have access to the same measurement tools, making it easier to compare the performance of your initiatives.

Instagram ads can come in four different formats. Photo and video ads on the site have a similar appearance to ordinary posts, meaning they integrate seamlessly into a user’s newsfeed and can include a wide range of CTAs.

Example: An Instagram photo ad from Rhodes Wellness College in Vancouver, who specialize in providing training for life coaches and counsellors.

Rhodes College Instagram social media ad

Instagram also offers Carousel ads, which are similar to Facebook’s version of the same format. Perhaps the most intriguing ad option on the site for schools, however, is Stories Ads. Launched last year, Instagram’s Stories feature was one of the biggest social media successes of 2016, attracting over 200 million users.  

Stories ads can use image or video and be up to 15 seconds long. They play between each story and are the only Instagram ads which appear as a full screen visual on the user’s phone, making them extremely effective in attracting the attention of users.

However, the format does have some disadvantages. Stories ads, like stories themselves, are ‘disappearing’ content and cannot be watched again after the initial viewing, meaning schools will have to work hard to make their ads stand out and communicate the information they want. The ads also do not currently include CTAs, although Facebook has said that this feature will be available very soon.

If you are looking to promote your school with Instagram ads, it’s important to ensure that your content is as visual as possible, incorporating striking images and videos that will really catch the eye of the site’s user base. Text-heavy advertisements tend not to play well on the site and would be better suited to another platform. You can use your existing posts as a barometer for what sort of content tends to generate engagement for your school on the site and try to replicate that in your ads.

What Twitter Offers as a Social Media Ad Platform for Recruiting Students

Once Facebook’s main rival, it’s no secret that Twitter has suffered something of a loss of momentum over the past few years. Faced with increased competition from Instagram and Snapchat, the site’s user growth has stalled and the company announced an 8% fall in revenue last month, the first time it has reported a quarterly decline. But while this downward trend may be of some concern for schools, there are still many possible advantages of using twitter for social media advertising.

The site maintains a base of over 300 million monthly active users, and remains the ‘go-to’ social platform for breaking news stories and trends. This particular niche can be exploited by using Twitter’s Keyword Search targeting option, which allows you to advertise directly to users who use or search for certain ‘hashtags’ or terms. This can be particularly valuable to schools who want to build campaigns around certain key periods in their enrolment calendar, such as application deadlines or exam results dates.

Example: The first deadline for the UK’s centralized university application system UCAS was in early May. Schools like Portsmouth University, below, could see real results from promoting posts like this among Twitter users who search for the #UCAS hashtag during this period.

Portsmouth Twitter social media

Twitter also allows you to target campaigns based on location, language, gender, interests, behaviours, and device, as well as tailored audiences from your CRM contacts lists for remarketing initiatives. In addition, you can create campaigns which target followers of specific accounts. This could be useful if you are aiming to attract prospects that have shown interest in your competitors.

Twitter ads are organized by four distinct campaign types:

Website visit campaigns– These ads are designed to drive users to your website or landing page with ‘website cards’ placed within the newsfeed, which include a 70 character title, an image, 140 characters of body text, and a CTA.

Followers Campaigns– These ads are designed to increase your followers on Twitter itself, and appear in the timeline and ‘who to follow’ panel. The ads include your account name, an image icon, and a brief description of your service, along with a ‘Follow’ CTA.

Awareness Campaigns– These campaigns promote your Tweets to a broad audience and are charged on a Cost-per-Mille (CPM) impressions basis.

Tweet Engagements Campaigns– This option allows you to promote your Tweets to encourage more replies and retweets from prospective students.

Like Facebook Ads, Twitter campaigns are objective-based, meaning you only pay for the specific goal of your campaign and any additional outcomes are a bonus. For instance, a website visit campaign may result in increased followers or retweets, but you will not be charged for them. You can track the performance of your Twitter ads through the platform’s comprehensive campaign dashboard which will allow you to track impressions, results, engagement rate, and cost-per-result.

While Twitter has a smaller audience than the likes of Instagram and Facebook, it can often mean that ad campaigns are cheaper and the site also enjoys particular popularity in certain key international recruitment markets like Mexico, where 23.5 million people—just under 20% of the population—are active on the site. Brazil and Japan are also among the top 3 countries outside of the USA for Twitter usage according to eMarketer, with each boasting over 20 million Twitter users.

LinkedIn: A Strategically Important Social Media Ad Platform for Recruiting Students

Due to its professional focus, LinkedIn offers a number of unique targeting and ad campaign format options that are not available on other social media platforms.  Like Facebook and Twitter, your school has the option of importing CRM lists Matched Audiences, and can also use LinkedIn’s Audience Expansion option to find users similar to your current followers on the site, just as you would with Lookalike Audiences on Facebook.

However, LinkedIn also allows you to use the vast amount of data it gathers on its users’ professional and educational background in your targeting. You can build audiences for ads based on their degree level, work experience, and job title, or even target specific companies. This can be especially useful for postgraduate programs and professional development courses, allowing you to find the most eligible candidates for what you have to offer.

Example: Schools like McMaster Syracuse University, who offer Master’s of Communications Management degrees aimed at professionals, use LinkedIn to market themselves to their unique audience.

McMaster LinkedIn Social media ad

LinkedIn’s basic text ads appear in the right hand column of the desktop and contain an image, a 25-character headline, and 75 characters of additional text. They can be linked to any landing page or site or to your LinkedIn page itself, and charged either on a PPC or CPM basis.

Figuring out which pricing option is better for your needs will largely depend on your existing level of engagement and success rates on the platform, and what your objectives for your campaigns are. PPC can be a better option if you have a limited budget and can only afford to pay for ads that generate tangible results, while CPM can often be more beneficial if you already enjoy a high engagement rate or are looking to increase awareness across a broad audience.

LinkedIn also offers sponsored content ads which appear directly in users’ newsfeeds, and as of last month, has added the new Lead Gen Forms feature, which allows you generate a custom lead capture form through LinkedIn when users click the CTA on your ad. The form autofills with the user’s LinkedIn profile information, which can be especially useful if you trying to target mobile users, who often find web forms inconvenient.

Check out this video explaining how LinkedIn’s Lead Gen Forms work:

Another interesting option for advertisers on LinkedIn is Sponsored InMail, which allows you send promotional messages directly to LinkedIn user’s inboxes. The feature provides a happy medium between social ads and email marketing, allowing you to target users with lead nurturing mails without waiting for them to opt into receiving communication from your school.

Example: This is an example of a LinkedIn Sponsored InMail Campaign. As you can see, the mail is structured in very much the same way a typical lead generation email would be.

LinkedIn InMail social media ad

You can measure your performance across all ads using the site’s Conversion Tracking tools, and optimize your campaigns using Campaign Manager, which allows you to track your Cost-per-Conversion and return on ad spend.

While LinkedIn is not necessarily the best option for every school, it can offer many advantages when it comes to social media ads for recruiting students. With just over 100 million monthly active users, it has a much smaller audience base than other sites, but its unique niche means that users log on to the site looking to improve their future prospects, and a strategic campaign on the platform can help you reach a highly coveted demographic of intelligent, educated, and motivated applicants.

Other Social Media Ad Platforms for Recruiting Students

While these platforms are most likely to form the basis of your campaigns, there are a number of other options which could be useful for certain schools.

Pinterest’s promoted pins are extremely brand-friendly, with a natural look that blends very well into site’s interface, and the site claims that promoted posts which are repinned by users can generate as much as 20% more free clicks for your campaign. Although Pinterest still has a very small market share, its user base continues to grow, with over 175 million monthly active users as of 2017.

Snapchat could also be an option in the future. Up until now, the site’s ad platform has required a large minimum budget of around USD$40,000 per year that put it beyond the reach of most schools. However, the company has recently started rolling out a new self-serve ad platform with no minimum spend, which is currently being beta tested by about 20 selected brands. It is expected to be made available to all users by the summer, and could be a real game-changer for schools.

Schools looking to recruit students abroad may also want to look at advertising on region-specific social media sites. In China, for example, WeChat offers some options for social media advertising, although the site requires a minimum budget of around USD$7,200. Sina Weibo also offers promoted posts, which are similar to Twitter’s promoted tweets, and can be a great option for schools looking to increase their presence in the Chinese market.

Overall, finding the right social media ad platforms for recruiting students for your school will depend on your specific needs and the audience you are trying to target. It is usually advisable to spread your budget among a few different platforms to give your school the best chance of achieving its goals, and measure your results to refine and optimize your campaigns over time. With a little work you should start to see real improvements in your overall visibility on social media and the amount of inquiries you generate from social channels.

 

 

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An experienced journalist and certified digital marketing professional, Conor Moloney works hard to help schools develop new and unique content marketing solutions.

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