2018 digital marketing trends for colleges to look out for

New technologies offer a wealth of outreach opportunities for schools

What deep currents will shape this new year for higher ed digital marketers and communicators? I’ve tried to answer this question every January for the past few years, and it doesn’t get easier. Change is the only constant.

While we can’t see the future, we can keep an eye on digital marketing trends to help institutions navigate this sea of change.

Augmented reality

Whether it’s through photo and video filters on apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, simple augmented reality applications are now in the hands of millions.

By letting people leave their virtual mark or play with your school landmarks, Snapchat geofilters offer great engagement opportunity for a generation of students sharing pictures of every important moment of their life.

Virtual reality

Affordable virtual reality goggles, paired with any recent smartphone, can offer a good enough VR experience. YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and others now stream 360-degree recorded and live videos. All the important pieces are in place for higher ed marketers to offer highly captivating experiences to students, alums and even donors.

If they can experience your campus or your events firsthand while staying in control of what they see and hear, their path to conversions will be shorter.


With the help of constituent resource management software, personalization engines and the retargeting of advertising on search or social media, it’s now possible to offer personalized web content and communications throughout the student journey. The technology is available and the data can be collected.

While most parts of the student journey can be automated, the real challenge will be to identify the touch points that shouldn’t be automated. Prospective students want personalized web content, email messages and short text reminders, but they also crave authentic human interactions on social messaging apps.

Between the race to scale personalization and the need to keep recruitment high-touch, this could become quite a challenge for higher education.

Paid social media

In 2017, Facebook slowly throttled organic traffic to pages, leading to dramatic decreases in reach for some schools. The next step is expected to be the separation of “social from media” as proclaimed by Snap Inc., when it introduced its Snapchat redesign in November.

Social media platforms will pursue their goal to monetize the distribution of content created by organizations. In 2018, even high community engagement and excellent social content might not be enough on these platforms.

Digital marketers and social media managers in higher education will have to manage expectations and advertising budgets while monitoring return on investment for their efforts.


If the algorithm-powered social media news feeds end up becoming the exclusive playground of advertisers and people, it seems that eyeballs and engagement are moving toward the Story content format, first introduced by SnapChat and copied by Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

Mixing videos and photos with a dash of augmented reality filters, stickers or emojis, Stories have shown some promise for many schools in terms of engagement and even “swipe ups”—the equivalent of clicks in this format. It is ephemeral by nature as each Story expires after a 24-hour period.

Yet, this type of content could well be what will make an impression with your target audiences on social media in 2018, given enough creativity and repetition. 

Karine Joly is the web editor behind www.collegewebeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations and technologies. She is also the founder of www.higheredexperts.com.


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