Ahead of the Curve: Alternatives to Facebook Advertising for Audiences Under 18

Posted: August 20, 2021

Brittany Casali

5 min. read

So, big changes are coming to digital marketing on August 23. 

Facebook and Instagram will impose new targeting restrictions that will limit the ways marketers reach audiences under 18 in an effort to protect user privacy.

What It Means for Higher Ed Marketers

The verdict: you can no longer target these audiences by gender, location, and interest.

Frustrated? At first blush, it may seem like you’ll have to advertise with both hands tied. Gen Z is a critical chunk of the prospective student population. Reduced targeting can only mean reduced results for your enrollment marketing campaigns. 

If you wanted to recruit undergrads for a specific degree program like nursing, for example, you can’t apply a healthcare-related interest dimension to your Facebook lead gen ads. In turn, your conversion rates may drop, because you’ll run the risk of wasting impressions on the wrong audiences. 

Rethink Your Media Strategy

Keep calm. You can still reach high school students on Facebook and Instagram – just not with the same accuracy. 

Before you throw more money at these channels to make up lost ground, rethink your media strategy. Digital marketing is about meeting audiences where they are. So, are high school students really on Facebook and Instagram? If so, are they truly engaged? 

For many institutions, the answer is yes. Alongside Google Search and Google Display, these two channels are often misperceived as no-brainer solutions for several reasons. 

Old Marketing Habits Die Hard

First, Facebook and Instagram ads combine text with images – a pairing that earns audiences’ attention. 

Second, Facebook’s lead generation forms offer a seamless user experience. Prospects don’t have to leave the platform to fill out an inquiry. As a result, Facebook conversion rates are typically high. 

Finally, schools advertise on Facebook and Instagram because, well, everyone else is doing so. I mean, it’s social media: a popularity contest that begs participation.

Once the restrictions take effect, tradition will be forced to give way to innovation. 

What VisionPoint Will Do For Current Clients 

Once the restrictions take effect, our Media & Optimization team will:

  • Remove interest dimensions from our clients’ Facebook and Instagram ads for campaigns where the audience is under 18. 
  • Work with each client to explore cost-effective alternatives. 
  • While we may recommend staying on Facebook and Instagram to maintain presence, we’ll shift media spending to channels that offer better targeting and stronger return on investment. 

Here are three alternatives some of our university and college partners are using to great effect: 

1. Explore Snapchat and TikTok

Studies show Gen Z consumers are more likely to make purchase decisions based on the content they consume on social media.

However, not all social channels were created equal. 

Cost-per-acquisition (CPA) rates on Facebook and Instagram can skyrocket to $200 or more for a lead, compared to a $50 CPA on equivalent channels like Google Responsive Display (more on that later). 

These rising costs point to a long-standing trend – one that reduced targeting is poised to accelerate. Sure, teens are on Instagram. But their engagement tends toward a passive scroll. And on the off-chance these users have a Facebook account, it’s probably inactive. 

The few teens that are on Facebook and Instagram are less likely to click your ad and learn more. Meanwhile, competitors insist on bombarding their feeds with ad placements. In contrast, overlooked Gen Z channels like TikTok and Snapchat have exploded in popularity, offering users more dynamic opportunities to customize content and build communities with users. 

The solution is simple: scale back on Facebook and Instagram. Focus your media spending on the social channels where your audiences are and your competitors aren’t (yet). 

We’ve already seen workhorse results from TikTok and Snapchat, which still offer interest-based targeting. For example: 

  • Our TikTok campaigns for a large community college in Virginia have driven five enrollment-related conversions in just three months at an industry-beating 1.3% clickthrough rate. 
  • Our Snapchat lead gen campaigns for a two-year school outside of Chicago delivered 86 enrollment leads at an $80 CPA, well-below the industry average. 
  • For a four-year university in Kansas City, we delivered 60 conversions in just three months at an $80 CPA.
  • For adult learners, we drove 27 conversions at a $75 CPA in three months for a technical school in Milwaukee for a student aid program.

These channels deliver. And they’re more than periphery. TikTok just released a lead gen beta and Snapchat offers the same native form fill experience as Facebook. Further, both platforms allow for student-generated content. This means ads feel less like ads and more like the personalized content experiences that users crave. 

2. Lean on Google Responsive Display

If you want your ads to be visual, Facebook and Instagram are obvious choices. 

However, Google Responsive Display can do what Facebook and Instagram does, only better. You can upload up to 15 images, five headlines, and five descriptions, and let the machine learning algorithms do the rest. Users will receive text-image pairings based on active search patterns and conversion data. 

And unlike Facebook and Instagram, Responsive Display ads can show up across different apps. If you’re using the Weather Channel app, for example, you might receive ads for meteorology programs. 

Perhaps the biggest advantage of Google Responsive Display is cost. Through the auto-optimization features alongside our hands-on approach to campaign management, we’ve been able to deliver CPAs as low as $50.

3. Repurpose Facebook and Instagram for Awareness

Facebook and Instagram ads come in two flavors: newsfeed and lead generation.

The current restrictions already nix forms for users under 18 years old. This means newsfeed ads are your only option. 

Even so, institutions will likely continue advertising on Facebook and Instagram to maintain a presence. And that’s exactly what these channels will be best-suited for – complimentary awareness-building – not as centerpieces in your media mix. 

Even with interest dimensions in place, we’ve seen Facebook and Instagram conversions decline over the past year. Meanwhile, conversion numbers for our responsive display ads have grown, reaching well into the 100s at a fraction of the cost. 

Change is a Cue to Adapt

This isn’t to say Facebook and Instagram will become obsolete. Even without targeting parameters, you can still reach high school students with precision by using hashtags, customizable landing page forms, organic content, and deliberate follower engagement. And remember, you can still target non-traditional adult learners or students over 18 based on interest (for now). 

Keep Facebook and Instagram in play for parents and other secondary audiences, but don’t rely on these channels to convert undergraduate enrollment leads. 

The number of high school graduates will plunge in the next few years. You’re competing for a shrinking pool of prospects. The curve ball ahead is just another wake up call to make every impression count. 

Brittany Casali is a Senior Digital Marketing Strategist and our go-to gal to make sure that all of our clients’ digital marketing campaigns are performing at peak capacity. Her weekly hands-on optimization, research, and testing for our ad campaigns guarantees each project reaches its full potential, bringing in the highest ROI for our clients. Her marketing background includes brand building, traditional marketing, and experiential marketing for companies like Disney, Cartier, and Gucci. If you have questions or want to start a conversation with Brittany on how we can help you use digital marketing to drive enrollment, reach out to us to set up a free consultation. We’re on a mission to help higher ed institutions succeed.