The cost to recruit and enroll a new college student is significant. A recent Eduventures webinar pegged the mean cost to recruit an inquiry at $142, an applicant at $374, and an enrolled student at $2,464. The Augustana Story (a new marketing piece I love) reports it took $1,335 per student to enroll the 2011-2012 freshman class. A lot of this cost can be attributed to purchasing mailing lists, producing glossy viewbooks, sending letters, postcards, and email campaigns, hosting recruitment events, and purchasing advertising (billboards, newspapers, digital ads).
What if recruiters could target interested students in a space where they are comfortable, for pennies on the dollar compared to traditional advertising? With Facebook Custom Audiences, I think they can.
Facebook ads work for higher education, and based on my experience they’re much more affordable than other forms of online advertising (I didn’t do a billboard comparison, but trust me—it’s cheaper). The problem with Facebook ads, until recently, is they’ve required marketers to target an overly broad audience. Generally, audiences were limited to location, age, gender, and page affiliation. Other options, such as interests and education status, are available, but my experience targeting the 16-17 year old demographic tells me that they don’t always fill in that information on Facebook. If you’re trying to recruit adult students, defining your audience is even more challenging because Facebook doesn’t let you target people who don’t have a college degree—just those who do. The addition of custom audiences makes this a bit easier.
Using Facebook Custom Audiences for College Recruitment
By using custom audiences, a university can target Facebook ads only to their inquiry, applicant, or admitted list. The process is simple: upload the email addresses of each custom audience you want to create (the addresses are hashed, so you’re not threatening the privacy of potential students), and Facebook will match that information with user profiles. In just a few moments, you’ve created a custom audience.
This audience is much more valuable than a “default” Facebook ad audience based on demographics or page likes. They are qualified leads. They’ve already expressed interest in attending your campus. They likely will welcome information about your campus in their newfeed or in the ad space.
The opportunities for targeted marketing abound. Advertise upcoming in-person or virtual recruitment events to your inquiries. Run a series of “Why Choose XX University” blog posts and create an ad campaign targeting admits. Promote a post about a recent engineering major who landed a great job to all applicants that intend to major in engineering. They sky is the limit—and I’d love to hear your ideas.
But wait—there’s more!
Using Facebook Lookalike Audiences to Extend College Recruitment Advertising Reach
Facebook recently began testing “Lookalike Audiences.” Based on your custom audiences, it finds people similar to the people you already have in your database and allows you to advertise directly to them. Using this feature, you can get more students into the funnel. By directing early-stage recruitment advertising to the lookalike audience of your early applicants, you can increase your inquiries. If you’re struggling to recruit from a certain area, create a custom audience of inquiries and applicants for that region and push ads to the lookalike audience.
For me, the allure of Facebook advertising for college recruitment isn’t just that Facebook is almost ubiquitous in the high school demographic, but that online ads are much easier to assess than viewbooks or billboards. In addition to click-through rates, someone with some experience in web analytics for higher education could track the success rate of each campaign and tie it to real-life metrics, like campus visit RSVPs, interest form completion, or even applications. Facebook recently provided conversion rate tools that utilize pixel tracking in the Power Editor, so this could be accomplished even without access to a third-party analytics platform. If I was still working on a campus, Id’ be experimenting with this tool immediately. I hope some of you do, and report your results!
Have you used any of these Facebook advertising options? Please add your thoughts and feedback in the comments.