Social media is where we are. It’s where we spend our time. It’s where we go to connect, express ourselves, and find out about the world around us. Finding the right approach to social media can be challenging for colleges and universities, but when done right it’s incredibly powerful. Here are four steps to building a better paid social media strategy for your institution.
1. Audience development
The first step to an impactful paid social strategy is to think about your audience and clearly define it. What social platforms do your prospective students tend to be on? What about their influencers? What platforms are best for your campaign goals? What targeting will get you the best results for your budget? Social media isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it strategy—with the extensive targeting options available in social platforms, there’s more than one way to find your student audience. But the question is, what’s really going to work?
Carnegie’s approach to targeting your prospective student audience on social media starts with audience research and segmentation and is defined by ongoing optimization and testing. We learn about your audience: Who tends to be successful in your program? What does their background look like? What would motivate them to choose your school or program, or to even look for one at all?
Let’s say you have a graduate program that you want to increase inquiries and applications for, and your audience is wide-ranging. You tend to see some students in the earlier stages of their career who are just starting off but you also get others who have been in the field for a long time and are looking for a program to refresh their skills and advance into senior management positions. Chances are the messaging for this program really isn’t “one size fits all” since these audiences are fundamentally motivated by different things. But by segmenting this audience using social platforms, you can reach each group separately and also learn which segment of your program audience is more responsive. This also allows you to tailor your campaign messaging so that you can speak directly to the needs of each audience.
Social media platforms offer endless ways to reach your target student audience, and at Carnegie we never get tired of testing and looking for the best way. By segmenting and tracking different targeting methods by channel, social campaigns can grow and become more successful over time, as we learn about your audience through social interaction. This leads to comprehensive campaign optimization and, ultimately, the most powerful campaign targeting across social media channels.
So you’ve gotten to know your audience—but you don’t want to be just another ad in their social feed! Let’s figure out what motivates them, what means the most to them, and let’s make a real connection.
2. Ad creation and testing
Figuring out the best way to communicate with prospective students and their top influencers can be a challenge. That’s why it’s critical to test different messaging that speaks directly to the perceived needs of your target audiences. By testing varied messaging and CTAs across audiences and channels, we can learn about your prospective students and find out which segments and platforms make the biggest impact and lead to the most responses.
Let’s say you want to reach the influencers of your undergraduate audience, but you’re not quite sure what the best approach is. In this case, let’s think about reaching parents of prospective students. What’s most important to them when guiding their student in the college search? Are they most interested in academic and internship offerings? Are they motivated by scholarships and financial aid availability? Are they worried about campus safety? By testing different messages and CTAs with this audience, we’re able to get to the bottom of it. We recently tested this messaging and found that ads focused around scholarships and financial aid were the most impactful for this group of influencers for a particular university, and we built an entire financial aid campaign from these findings. This campaign has seen huge success in bringing in inquiries. The lesson here? Research is important to us
and valuable to you.
Next comes the unsung hero of social media: Retargeting!
3. Retargeting and engagement audiences
In addition to our outreach efforts on social media, creating Retargeting campaigns across Facebook and Instagram campaigns is an absolute must. By developing the proper Retargeting audiences, you’re able to stay in front of your prospective students when they’re on social media and even tailor your messaging to this group who’s already familiar with your school or program. The icing on the cake is Facebook’s ability to power custom engagement audiences—allowing you to target audiences based on the ways they engage with your ads or page. These options allow us to tailor our communication flow across Facebook and Instagram, making sure that each student or influencer is seeing the right message at the right point in the campaign.
Let’s say you want to target transfer students at certain community colleges close to your campus. Your goal is to increase inquiries, but once students submit an inquiry, the next step is to get them to visit campus and attend an info session. With Facebook engagement audiences, you can make it all happen seamlessly. Running a Facebook lead generation campaign to these transfer students would allow them to submit their information to you in just two steps. And once they do, they’ll automatically be placed into an engagement audience, showing they’ve expressed interest in your school. Next, Facebook will deliver ads to this user about the upcoming on-campus information session, sending the user right to your site to register.
In the campaign above, creating Facebook engagement audiences from students who submitted inquiries allowed us to create an automated path for them to move further along in the funnel, while keeping messaging relevant and letting one campaign pick up where another left off.
There’s just one more piece to the paid social media puzzle. And it’s the most important…
4. Integrate social media into your overall digital marketing strategy
Social media campaigns are most powerful when they are fully integrated into your overall digital marketing strategy. You can’t build your school’s brand in separate pieces, and you can’t piece together your message for your prospective students. In a nutshell: the right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing. To see best results through your paid social media campaigns, it’s crucial that efforts are fully aligned with your other digital strategies, along with your overall marketing plan.
Want to find out how you can grow your paid social media strategy? Just let us know—we’ll work together to create a plan.