Digital marketing trends for higher ed in 2017

New technologies and platform integrations offer more ways to connect in college

Higher ed marketing leaders have to master the art of blending powerful and personalized customer experiences with the science of measuring and optimizing the impact of their initiatives. 

Yet many chief marketing officers haven’t embraced their “inner data-lover self.”

Measurement is an afterthought at best, often checked off a busy to-do list via mindless reporting on cookie-cutter metrics selected by automated digital platforms.

In this challenging context, it’s even more important to keep an eye on the following trends and their impact on marketing and communication this year and beyond.

Live video on social media

The top social media platforms used by higher ed audiences have each launched video-sharing and live-streaming features in recent months, including Facebook Live and Instagram Live. Twitter has become more integrated with Periscope, and Snapchat released Spectacles by Snap, which lets you capture 10-second videos to post. 

Videos have taken over Facebook feeds, making the social network a serious YouTube competitor. 

It’s becoming pretty clear that 2017 will be live-streamed on social media.

Personalized digital advertising

Social media’s organic reach (or, reaching your account followers by posting updates) is now almost dead on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Killed by algorithmic feeds, it’s slowly being replaced by paid distribution of social media updates. 

As a result, more advertising dollars are expected to move to digital in 2017. According to Gartner’s U.S. & U.K. CMO Spend Survey (published in October 2016), 24 percent of chief marketing officers expect their digital advertising budget to increase this year. This will lead to increased competition—and prices—among advertisers. 

While personalization might help the consumer by creating “smarter,” more customized ads, you can expect increased costs and diminishing returns for amateurish advertising efforts in the next few months.

Direct messaging vs. broadcasting

The remarkable popularity of Snapchat among prospective and current students is a true testament to the desire of Generation Z to live a digital life far from the “public permanent record” style pioneered by Facebook. 

Ephemeral in nature, with snaps disappearing after 24 hours, the latecomer to the social media party has become a major player. 

While millennials grew up during the age of broadcasting their lives on social media platforms, Generation Z is taking conversations out of the public sphere. They also crave personal interactions with their friends—and organizations. 

Augmented and virtual reality

Augmented reality applications have been around for a few years. We’ve even seen a few gimmicky uses in admissions marketing to offer a digital component to print material.

With a renewed interest in augmented reality—thanks to 2016’s PokÁ©mon Go craze, as well as Snapchat and Facebook’s photo filters and stickers—expect more marketing applications in this area.

Virtual reality offers more immersive visual experiences, captured in the real world or created from scratch on a computer. It has the power to help companies and institutions engage customers who want to be in control of their own experiences. 

Investments from major tech players like Facebook, Google and Microsoft indicate high hopes for this technology. The market for virtual reality headsets and cameras is booming— consumers young and old crave new tech toys. 

While price still makes virtual reality an early-adopter market, the continued use of low-key applications built around 360-degree videos or pictures on YouTube and Facebook will help spread general interest.

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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