The recent announcement that Facebook would be prioritizing content that leads to meaningful interaction between individuals was met with some confusion and dismay by marketers around the world. The social media giant intends to reduce the number of posts by branded pages that will be seen in its News Feed, placing emphasis instead on posts created by regular profiles and on those that are able to generate significant discussion between users. The changes will be rolled out over the next few months.
It’s quite a change from the Facebook landscape that school recruitment and marketing teams have gotten used to over the past few years. Still, there is no need to panic. With careful planning, opportunity not only exists, but abounds, for those institutions that follow practices that have been considered ideal on Facebook for some time.
Want to learn a little more about the latest News Feed update, and how your school can succeed once it is implemented? Here’s what you need to know.
Facebook Advertising Will Become More Important for Schools
The organic reach of branded pages on Facebook has been declining for a number of years, and with the News Feed changing to prioritize interpersonal conversation, it seems a foregone conclusion that this will only get worse.
However, in an interview with Wired Magazine, Facebook Vice President Adam Mosseri stated that the latest change will not affect the ranking or presence of advertising in the News Feed. He said “Ads is a separate system. So in terms of this ranking change, it doesn’t apply.” With Facebook currently the second-largest digital advertising platform and intent on growing its market share, it’s safe to assume that this friendliness toward advertisers is likely to continue over the coming years.
In other words, there’s potential here for an increased investment in Facebook advertising to make up for some of the drop in impressions and engagement that may result from the News Feed change. However, this solution may come with challenges of its own. Should other institutions invest more heavily in advertising on Facebook, increased competition could well result in inflated pricing, potentially making it a more expensive proposition. Nonetheless, Facebook’s effectiveness in targeting users and its massive share of the digital advertising market means that the question for most schools should not be if they will invest in Facebook advertising, but how much they will do so.
Of the kinds of Facebook ads available, the obvious first place to consider investing in is boosting selected posts. Since regular posts by pages are expected to fall in prominence, this type of advertising could be a good way to mitigate any decrease in engagement you experience, and ensure your best posts are still seen by the students and prospects following your page. Other ads, including Page Like ads, Lead Generation ads, video and photo ads, and others can also be effective drivers of traffic to your website.
For schools looking to achieve maximum results with Facebook advertising, taking the time to choose a format conducive to communicating with their specific audiences will be an important first step. A school offering creative arts programs, for instance, might want to produce casual, visually appealing ads that would grab their community’s attention. A business school, on the other hand, might do best with ads that are a bit more formal. Consider the best options for your institution, develop good campaigns around one or several of them, and you might achieve a healthier return on investment for any increased ad spend you undertake.
Example: This post by Living Arts College uses aggressive visuals to grab the attention of its target audience: prospective students for VFX and Animation programs. Use ads suitable to your institution for the best results.
Your School’s Facebook Content Must Drive Interaction
One of the great truths of content creation is that it is not enough to just create and share content for the sake of doing so. In order to spur greater engagement, more traffic, and more conversions, the content you create must be thoughtful, original, and relevant.
When a prospective student happens across your Facebook page, they should not only be interested in the content that they find there, but they should find that reading or watching it is genuinely helpful in some way. Maybe it answers a question they have about the school. Maybe it just captures their imagination or demonstrates to them precisely why a particular program would be a good fit for their long-term interests. Ideally, it will also be attractive enough that they want to engage with it further by sharing it or commenting on it.
The latest changes to Facebook’s News Feed make this even more important. With content created and shared by pages expected to be at an immediate disadvantage compared to content created by regular users, it’s likely that schools will need to draw a substantial amount of attention and engagement in order to deliver their Facebook posts to as wide a selection of their audience as possible. Having said that, it’s important not to fall into the trap of going fishing for likes, comments, shares by creating click-bait-style content. Facebook claims it wants time on its website to be “time well spent,” and is taking specific steps to identify low-quality content and issue penalties against it in the News Feed. In other words, there’s no way to game the system by using clickbait to draw engagement and attention.
The best solution is to keep the goal of driving engagement in mind at every stage of the content development process. Now more than ever, it is vital that your school create interesting, relevant, useful content that links back to programs it offers, events it is holding, or other information relevant to prospective students.
Example: This post combined an intriguing description and attractive visual to outperform even Harvard’s normally great engagement level. If your content is compelling enough, it will find its way onto News Feeds.
Since attracting more engagement is likely to lead to more reach, you might also want to consider using your posts to ask a question for prospective, current, or past students to answer. For example, you could ask prospective students why they want to study a particular subject, or ask alumni what their fondest memories of studying at your institution are. Don’t force it, though; if the content is appealing enough, it will be able to draw engagement on its own.
Example: This post from Cardiff University asks students what their favourite place to revise on campus is. Not only did the post attract a lot of engagement, it also gave the university an opportunity to showcase some of the more scenic spots on its grounds.
Additionally, schools might consider employing Facebook comments on their blog posts. This makes it so that users wanting to comment on the blog will need to do so using their Facebook accounts. More importantly, it also leads to comments being shared between the blog post and any Facebook post used to share the blog – make a comment in one location and it will also appear in the other. For schools with blogs that regularly generate numerous, thoughtful comments, this could be an easily implementable solution to increase organic Facebook reach.
Finally, there is one workaround that can allow schools to retain a prominent place in some users’ News Feeds. The “See First” button allows users to prioritize content offered by individual pages and is an important asset to leverage after this latest News Feed update. Occasionally encouraging users to click that button can be a fine way to advocate for your page and its content, and there is real value to be had in this for students or prospects following a school on Facebook.
Example: Here is a look at where the “See First” button can be found on a Facebook page. Appealing to students & prospects to click on this button could be a good way to improve organic reach.
Doing so could help them ensure they don’t miss reminders of important application deadlines, or notifications about other time-sensitive events. Just be sure to avoid making too many appeals for users to see your institution’s posts first, as this could seen as overly aggressive or spammy. This is particularly important in the immediate aftermath of the News Feed change, as users may well be inundated with requests from other pages to do the same thing.
Live Video & Groups Could Become Vital Tools to Target Students on Facebook
Two specific tools offered by Facebook were given special attention in the announcement of the algorithm change, and making an effort to explore them could be the key to successful Facebook marketing for schools in the future.
Facebook Live Video
Though Facebook has stated that it expects regular video content to become less prominent as a result of its News Feed update (it usually doesn’t drive the most comments), it pointed to live video as an example of a type of content that should enjoy continued success, thanks to its tendency to generate a great deal of discussion.
This is a great opportunity for schools, as live video can be an excellent way to deliver a range of valuable content to prospective students. Virtual campus tours, Q&A sessions with a remote audience, and sharing special events that highlight the unique atmosphere of your institution are just some of the ways you can get prospects excited – and talking about – your school. Better still, Facebook Live Video is recorded and shareable after the fact, making it possible for you to gain lasting value from a single recording.
Example: This informational video by Concordia University is a good example of how schools can gain many views and a lot of engagement with Facebook Live Video. Note how the school follows up on comments – a great way to encourage further engagement!
Facebook notes that “In Groups, people often interact around public content,” making it likely that posts in these groups can achieve a prominent position in the News Feed (and it doesn’t hurt that members get special alerts when new content is posted to their group). What’s more, creating special groups for prospective students to join can be great not just for posting important information, but for encouraging the welcoming of prospective students into your school community. If prospects have a great time interacting with members of your team and other potential recruits, you’ll see improved odds of recruiting them to your school down the line.
There are a few ways to draw users to your school’s groups. First, Facebook maintains a special “School Communities” section where students can go to find all school groups they might want to join, and it’s worth ensuring that your own institution’s offerings are listed and available through this page.
Second, you might want to occasionally make and boost posts promoting some of your groups that might be of interest to particular prospects – an international students group, for example. Note that there are currently no advertising options specific to Facebook groups, so promoted posts will be the only way to pay to broadcast individual groups’ existences.
Lastly, you might want to make inviting prospective recruits to join relevant groups a part of your follow-up process. Emailing recruits links to these groups can be a good way to harness the power of their curiosity toward more exploration of and engagement with your school and won’t cost any more money than the follow-up you are currently doing.
Example: The University of Johannesburg Facebook Group is open to prospective, present, and past students. The group has over 139,000 members and generates over 7,500 posts per month, showing just how effective Groups can be in generating engagement and raising awareness of your school.
Use Data from Insights to Drive Facebook Marketing for Student Recruitment
One of the conveniences enjoyed by schools using Facebook marketing for student recruitment is that analytics data is automatically tracked by the platform. Information like the number of impressions achieved by each post, the number of times users clicked through, and a wealth of demographic data about the users who engage with your content are all easily accessible.
Even prior to this algorithm update, regularly checking this data on either a weekly or monthly basis was highly recommended as a way to gauge the effectiveness of content shared on the platform. A post that performed well, receiving a great deal of engagement and driving a good amount of traffic to your school’s website, would be something to emulate in future. Content that didn’t get as much traction would invite some extra reflection to try and ensure future posts wouldn’t have similar shortcomings.
All of the above remains true in the post-News Feed update world, but with a heightened sense of urgency. The fact is, despite Facebook having outlined some of the qualities that will drive posts to prominence on the site, many institutions are now entering a period of trial and error in which they will be attempting to figure out how much of a change in strategy will be necessary for continued success. The data available on Insights will be crucial in helping schools gauge the effectiveness of their strategies in this new landscape.
Going forward, the same standards of Insights analysis should prove effective; assess content by the number of impressions and amount of engagement it gets and plan future content according to what is observed to work. It might also be valuable to take a look back, though, at the content that has previously been able to generate a great deal of conversation. Even if a post from a year ago didn’t appear to be notably effective at the time, if it was at least able to generate many comments, it might prove to be a good model for the kind of material to produce under Facebook’s new algorithm.
Example: Here is a look at the Facebook Insights dashboard outlining performance by post type. To succeed under Facebook’s new algorithm, use this tool to refine your content strategy according to what you notice tends to get the most comments.
The Facebook News Feed update is an inconvenience for schools that have traditionally relied on their page for engaging with students. Still, it won’t be the end of the world for those institutions that know how to target students on Facebook with quality content that genuinely informs and excites. Taking a little extra care to craft content that is likely to drive conversation, using analytics to refine content strategy, and employing advertising to get that little extra push in engagement should be enough to continue to achieve good results in this new Facebook landscape.