The Impact of Social Media in Enrollment Marketing

Posted: February 1, 2024

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Got milk? The best part of waking up … Cha-cha-cha-chia!

Do we have you filling in the blanks and singing along yet? If so, you know the power of brand marketing for the masses. Planet Money explains why brand marketing was a powerful strategy in the 1990s when it came to creating warm, fuzzy feelings in consumers.

But these days, there is less chance of people seeing the same ad. Brand marketing is still crucial, yes, but the rise of social media and streaming services have introduced performance marketing and changed the way advertising is done. Now, with people getting the majority of their advertising through targeted ads on social media, it’s important to understand the impact social media and performance marketing play in student enrollment.

Performance marketing is not meant to appeal to the masses. In fact, it is super-targeted advertising geared toward specific, measurable goals such as click-through rates. Ads are written specifically for niche audiences, to nurture them down the advertising funnel with the ultimate goal of a sale, or in the case of enrollment marketing, that coveted application and acceptance. It doesn’t matter if everyone sees your ad as long as the right people do.

Social Media’s Impact on Student Enrollment

According to Niche’s roundup of data from 2023, fewer students are looking to social media in their college hunt. That is not to say that you should quit using social media, though. In fact, that would be detrimental to your enrollment marketing. However, you can make some changes to your marketing strategy based on this information. And the best part about it is that as soon as trends begin to change again, you’ll be able to adjust again just as quickly.

According to Niche, students care most about school-owned accounts on Instagram by far: “42% of respondents said they turn [to Instagram] to find official university-owned accounts,” on “traditional” social sites (Instagram, YouTube, TikTok) that emphasize video content. But while they may be looking for information about you, they may not be looking for your content. Reddit is more popular than any social media site in the college search, used by 58% of respondents, and Reddit is heavily text-based. 

So what does this mean for you? What’s the takeaway about social media? Both video content and anonymous text content get to one key attribute: authenticity. Our gut, our experience, and this data points us to the conclusion that the value students get from social media is a sense of a college’s true identity.

And even though social media has a reputation for exaggerating the truth, students may feel this is the best tool they have, especially early in the game, to get a gut check on whether your marketing matches who you really are – in other words, if you’re authentic.

In another study, Education Dynamics found that 16% of prospective students report beginning their school selection process by following institutions on social media, suggesting that a significant portion of the student body sees it as a tool for vetting.

And while students in the Niche article above report that Instagram is an important tool for the college search process, in a broader context, 13-17-year-olds use Instagram less frequently than YouTube, TikTok, or Snapchat. In fact, 43% report using Instagram less often or never. This suggests, as we already know, that social media usage is malleable, and the key channels to invest in may change as today’s 13-year-olds grow closer to prospective student age. 

Using Social Media for Enrollment Marketing: Tips and Tricks

The biggest tip we have? Don’t make paid media the end all of your enrollment marketing strategy. If you’re one of the many higher ed institutions investing in paid social, you should also spend time on organic social. Why? Many paid social channels give prospects the opportunity to visit your page from your ad — all they have to do is click on the advertiser’s name. You don’t want their consideration to fizzle out at this point! 

Enter organic social.

Don’t worry. This doesn’t mean you need to be active on every channel. Quality is definitely more important than quantity when talking about organic content. If your team is stretched thin, we’d recommend selecting a handful of channels based on your students’ interests and the synergy between them and building content that works for those channels. 

Remember: You don’t need to post the same exact thing on every social channel: In fact, that could lead to audience exasperation if they come to a channel for one thing and get something else.

Remember: You don’t need to post the same exact thing on every social channel. Image source: Know Your Meme

Social media allows institutions to express their identities more fully than an email or an ad. When done well, schools can use this to tell an ongoing story that prospective students see and connect with in their everyday lives. 

A school’s website is, of course, another asset for storytelling. But students usually need to seek the website out intentionally, as opposed to social media, which is interacted with on “fun time” (after a one-time commitment to follow).

Social media allows for engagement (what people want from education) as opposed to being talked at (what people dread from education). Prospects can interact quickly and informally with a school and its students. 

Opportunities for informal interaction at scale are valuable because students really care about how a school will feel when they’re there. They’re skeptical of the super-shiny versions that they see on tour – they know the school is putting its best foot forward there. On social media, prospects can see what other students think. Word of mouth doesn’t just have to be heard — it can be potent when typed out. 

So what does all this mean? The Concept Bureau sums up the complicated marketing world we live in by saying that people value space where they’re able to be seen and expressive. Gone are the days of low fidelity when we all watched the same shows and commercials. In our high-fidelity society, allowing people to feel closeness is the name of the game: both for successful social media and for attracting students.

Social media and performance marketing is the way of the present and the way of the future. But using these tools to benefit enrollment is going to require you to remain cognizant of where prospective students are, what information they need, and how to get it to them.

And that’s where we can help. Want to chat about reaching your niche prospective students and moving them down the full enrollment funnel? Let’s talk! Fill out the form below or email to get started.

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