Colleges that are investing in impressions

When paying to play really pays off for colleges

The investigations into election interference by Russian interests using Facebook and Twitter ads underscores the influence that digital advertising can have on opinions and behaviors.

Everyone spends time online to be informed, entertained and educated with free content. The resulting traction and attention are always sold to the highest advertising bidder on a worldwide market. This market is available to all via the major social media and search platforms.

Social media is slowly transforming from an organic to a paid channel. You pay for the attention of your digital audience. Fortunately, most institutions now understand this. 

A necessary investment

While display and search ads have long been part of schools’ marketing mix, social media offices also see advertising as a necessary investment. According to a worldwide survey conducted by HootSuite in July, 67 percent of higher ed social media professionals polled say they paid to play on social media.

Social media advertising delivers for a simple reason: Prospective students and their parents notice and click on digital ads from schools.

The 2017 E-Expectations study found that 47 percent of high school seniors, 55 percent of juniors and 61 percent of sophomores clicked on a search, display or social media ad for a college, while about one-third of parents did. In most cases, both target audiences were looking for information about schools already on their list.

As a consequence, the best use of digital advertising for admissions offices seems to be in retargeting self-identified prospects.

This summer, Nazareth College retargeted this type of prospective students with a social media advertising campaign for the Admissions Summer Open House at the New York institution.

“We used Facebook and Instagram traditional ads but also experimented with Instagram Paid Stories for the first time,” says Rebecca Stapley, assistant director of Multimedia and PR at Nazareth.

By “swiping up” on the three Stories used in the campaign, Instagram users were directed to the Open House registration page. For a few hundred dollars, 10,416 impressions and 90 clicks were generated.

These new digital formats can help digital advertisers break free from interruption marketing.

Green River College in Washington recently used social ads to promote a short video showcasing the success of its international students. The video was shared organically via the featured students’ personal social networks. Then, Lansing Bryan, the school’s web and social media specialist, decided to boost it in a second phase.

The goal was to increase brand awareness and generate leads in the countries targeted by GRC. The call to action on the Facebook video was linked to the CRM system.

In a case study on this initiative, Bryan notes that 55 people clicked on the “Learn more” link, which generated five leads.

Filter fun

Snapchat on-demand geofilters have also been widely used on college campuses. These creative overlays can be purchased for limited time and territory. With its gameful and engaging nature, a well-designed filter can become the perfect vehicle for school pride and brand awareness.

Lisa Miller, associate director of communications at SUNY Oneonta, used this strength in a recent campaign. Knowing how and why young people use Snapchat, her team devised a two-step campaign.

First, they encouraged the new freshman class to follow their school on Snapchat via several activities at Move-In Day and Club Expo. Then they created several paid geofilters around defining moments, like the Pass Through the Pillars celebration for freshmen.

With a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) of $1.06, one-fifth less than the CPM on Facebook and Instagram, this brand awareness campaign has already been deemed a success for the school.    

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


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