The standard choices in digital advertising are standards for a reason. Services like Google AdWords and Facebook Ads can offer significant results in driving greater web traffic and enrollment to educational institutions of all kinds, and should have a place in just about every school’s advertising plans. They’re far from the only options, though, and represent spaces in which you can expect a fair bit of competition from other institutions offering similar programs.
So why not put some of your ad spend elsewhere? There are many more advertising platforms out there that skew to the young, intelligent, connected demographics that schools around the world are so eager to attract. Make use of some of these underleveraged gems and you could just find yourself getting a great return on your investment.
Curious about what’s out there? Here are some intriguing examples of new options to consider on Pinterest, LinkedIn and Reddit.
Pinterest Advertising is a Brand-friendly Alternative for Higher Ed Marketers
Pinterest isn’t the largest social network around, topping out at about 200 million active users, but the unique philosophy driving the platform and the highly visual nature of Pinterest posts (pins) combine for a great deal of potential for student recruitment.
Pinterest is a service through which users can discover images, blogs, videos, and other content relating to predefined interests or searches. Content that users enjoy can be tagged and saved to personal “Boards,” shared with other Pinterest users, or linked to via services like Facebook, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. The audience is curious, passionate, and eager to find inspiring or appealing new ideas, things, and places to visit during their time on the site.
Somewhat uniquely, Pinterest users also seem to be somewhat enthusiastic about the presence of ads in their feeds. On a page titled “Why Pinterest Ads Work,” the company quotes research that found “73% of pinners say that content from brands makes Pinterest more useful.” It’s an attitude that fits with the service’s identity as a place to go for active discovery, and means there’s a good opportunity for a nice, reciprocal benefit for advertisers and users alike.
Another interesting reality of advertising on Pinterest is that because there are no ad formats apart from promoted pins or promoted video pins, all ads will look essentially the same as regular pinned content. They will appear in the same feed as a regular pin would, with just a small note underneath indicating that the pin was promoted. Though some advertisers might prefer having a little more freedom to experiment with format, it’s likely that the simple, straightforward nature of these ads will help them retain the sense of surprise and delight that are common of the most popular pins on the platform. It’s also very common for promoted pins to get pinned to a user’s board, there for them and any of their followers to review at their leisure.
Example: This well-targeted promoted pin from online K-12 education provider IXL (left of centre) appears prominently in a search for ‘study skills.’
The process of creating ads on Pinterest is straightforward. There is a field to which a high-quality, attractive image should be uploaded, a field in which a URL should be entered, and a description field in which a short written description can be entered. Depending on the nature of your school or the programs you are trying to promote, anything from an image of the campus grounds, to an image of a group of students working together, to some other depiction of facilities or campus life could be good fits for a promoted pin. Add a short description and a link to a purpose-made landing page and your ad will begin to get distributed.
Pinterest ads also offer a number of powerful targeting options that can be used to direct the ads to appropriate audiences. Up until recently, many of these capabilities were only available for those buying ads through Pinterest’s direct sales team or third-party providers, but the site recently rolled them out on its self-serve advertising platform, too.
Here’s a breakdown of the different targeting options available:
- Placement targeting: Determines whether your ads show up while users are browsing their feed or in their search results.
- Interest targeting: Targets ads based on users’ demonstrated interests.
- Keyword targeting: Shows ads to users who search for specific keywords.
- Audience targeting: Can be used to show ads to users who have visited your website, to a list of customers uploaded via CSV (matching email addresses to Pinterest accounts), to individuals who have previously engaged with pins linking to your site, or to an audience similar to one of your existing audiences.
- Dynamic targeting: Automatically targets ads to relevant searches, as determined by Pinterest’s data.
Additionally, it’s possible to further target ads by location, to users of specific languages, to different types of device, to specific genders, or to a combination of these elements.
For the time being, Pinterest advertising is only available to organizations based in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. If your school is not located in one of those countries, you will not be able to post ads. Nonetheless, the possibilities are vast, with plenty of ways for schools of all kinds to create visually impressive education advertising campaigns representative of their own identities and ambitions.
Reddit Advertising Holds Interesting Targeting Potential for Schools
According to Alexa.com’s list of The top 500 sites on the web, Reddit is the sixth-most visited website globally, with users spending an impressive 15:51 on the site per day – considerably more than is spent daily on Facebook or Google. The site serves both as a user-driven content aggregation service and as a place where communities can be established along the lines of particular interests. Reddit communities – known as “Subreddits” – exist for everything from technology, to individual cities, and even to schools. Posts may generally be submitted by anyone, and are then ranked according to the number of favourable or unfavourable votes they receive.
Example: Here is a look at the Subreddit for Princeton University. Users are free to submit posts about the school here, interact with other members, and vote and comment on submissions.
Though ads have been available on Reddit for some time, the site has been making more of an effort to expand its offerings and deliver better tools to advertisers, with recent updates including a redesigned ad platform with improved reporting and tracking capabilities.
It’s possible to target ads to users on Reddit by the following:
- By Subreddit: Ads appear to users who are either subscribed to a subreddit or have recently visited it. Note that you can only target the 5,000 most-visited subreddits (list via Redditlist.com).
- By Location: Ads appear to users in particular countries, states/provinces, or in 210 US metro areas. City-level targeting is not currently possible outside of the USA.
- By Platform: Ads appear to either desktop users or mobile users.
- By Interests: Ads appear to users with demonstrated interests (based on Reddit browsing and engagement behaviour).
This presents a number of interesting opportunities for your team to reach an audience that can be as general or specific as you might like. Want to advertise an MA program in Film Studies? Targeting an ad to Subreddits like Movies, Documentaries, or Filmmakers could be a great way to connect with an enthusiastic audience that might be interested. Want to draw the attention of international students to your ESL program? You could try targeting both the EnglishLearning Subreddit and particular locations, such as India, Japan, etc.
It’s worth noting that the main ad type on Reddit looks just like a regular post, and is placed alone at the top of the page. No other ads of the same kind appear. Though the image that is included with the ad posting will be quite small, it’s still worth putting some effort into ensuring it looks good when posted.
Example: An ad for an ACT prep guide from Efficient Learning features prominently on the ApplyingToCollege subreddit.
Reddit also now offers basic conversion tracking as a part of its platform. A special tracking code can be generated through Reddit’s ad manager and then added to the header of a web page of your choosing. You might put this on a Thank You page that loads after an inquiry form submission, or some other page that would indicate successful conversion. While it doesn’t offer the level of granularity present in other analytical tools, it’s at least a decent way to track information like the average amount of time elapsed between an ad view and a conversion, the conversion rate, and other essentials.
Pricing for Reddit advertising is by cost per thousand impressions (CPM), with every impression served according to an auction-based system that factors in targeting, bid amount, and ad competition to determine final cost. The minimum bid is $5 per day.
Finally, it’s worth noting that many of the ads currently present on Reddit are, frankly, low-quality and often poorly targeted. For schools with dedicated digital marketing budgets, a good strategy, and the resources to put together good copy and appealing images, it shouldn’t be particularly difficult to create education ads that stand apart and gain favourable attention from the sections of the community you wish to reach.
LinkedIn Matched Audiences Provide Data Driven Education Ad Options
For many prospective students mulling their next academic move, the professional networking site LinkedIn can be a useful tool for researching schools, instructors, and other important figures at potential destinations. Purchasing advertising on the platform is therefore a smart way for educational institutions to reach an ambitious, serious-minded cohort of students.
This is a project that can be greatly enhanced by the Matched Audiences targeting functionality recently introduced on LinkedIn’s advertising platform. This feature allows three specialized targeting options:
- Website retargeting: Presents your advertising to users who had previously visited your website.
- Account targeting: Presents ads to a defined list of influential individuals at target companies.
- Contact targeting: Presents ads to prospects and contacts.
Of the three, website retargeting and contact targeting are likely to be of greatest use for the educational space. Account targeting could possibly be useful for business schools or institutions offering professional development training, although the fact that each company has to be individually selected would mean that a campaign of this nature would require a lot of research to ensure a good return.
Website retargeting can get fairly detailed, thanks to the segmentation functionality built into the feature. This could allow you to define multiple target audiences based on the specific pages they visit on your site. You could deliver different ads to students that visited your Biology program page and those that visited your Marketing program page, for instance, or even target users that had visited a post-conversion thank-you page and deliver them an ad reminding them to take the next step. LinkedIn bills this type of ad as being ideal for guiding your prospects toward a higher rate of conversion, and there’s every opportunity for schools to make use of this format for just that purpose.
Example: This LinkedIn ad from Queen’s School of Business, which promotes an online information session about its Executive Program, would be ideal for a website retargeting campaign aimed towards users who had visited the website’s program page.
Contact targeting is similarly powerful, though may unfortunately prove more complicated than ideal, depending on your current contact management setup. This is because automatic import of contacts is currently only available to users of the Marketo, Eloqua, and LiveRamp CRM platforms. For these users, ensuring ads are delivered to all appropriate contacts will be as simple as establishing an integration with LinkedIn’s advertising platform. For everyone else, it will be necessary to manually upload contact lists in the form of a .CSV file. This is a format that just about every CRM should be able to export, but it’s an unfortunate point of friction.
For those schools that do decide to make use of contact targeted advertising on LinkedIn, it’s again possible to tailor the ads to serve a number of goals your digital recruitment team might have. Contact targeting is a great way to deliver content specific to individuals based upon their relationship with your institution. You could have ads designed to help convert prospects who are still in your funnel, for instance, or ads for students who had previously fallen out, but might be ripe for reengagement. Adding in demographic and website filtering within the tool can also be used to ensure the messaging within your contact targeted campaigns is even more specific, and therefore valuable, to the segments you wish to reach.
With interesting targeting features, engaged audiences, and relatively underutilized advertising platforms, Pinterest, Reddit, and LinkedIn could offer schools of many kinds of valuable alternative options for higher education advertising campaigns. Exploring these opportunities as a part of your broader digital marketing strategy could be just the thing to help your institution set itself apart and build new connections with the young, international, connected audience that are in such high demand today.