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The Higher Ed Marketer's Guide to Social Media Targeting

Shane Kehl

With over 1.86 billion users, Facebook offers an audience too big for marketers to ignore. But since Facebook changed its algorithm in 2012 and again in 2016, advertisers have noticed a significant decline in their organic post reach. Many are turning to paid ads to get back in the Facebook game.

If you’re paying for ads, you should make sure you’re reaching the most relevant audience with the best possible content. This can seem like a daunting task, especially on a platform with as many users as Facebook. Here are some things to know when navigating the world of Facebook ad targeting.

Facebook offers lots of tools to help you build your target audience

One of the cool things about Facebook is that you can get as specific as you want regarding your ideal audience. They offer a plethora of options when asking who you want to see your campaign, including multiple demographic and psychographic options. You can narrow down your ideal audience’s location, age, gender, language, interests, and behaviors to fit the potential students you want to advertise to.

Additionally, if you have a list of applicants and their email address you can upload them to Facebook and create a “Lookalike Audience” that will target users with similar demographic information and interests. This allows you to reach potential applicants who are most similar to those who have already applied, making it much more likely that they’ll convert on your ad and ultimately apply to your university.

If you already have a Facebook page with a decent fan base, Facebook’s “Audience Insights” feature will tell you the demographics and psychographics of your existing audience. This way when you’re building your next campaign, you can either stick with these already established audience features, or you can tweak your desired audience if you want to focus on a specific type of person. Facebook’s “Page Insights” feature will also tell you who is actually engaging with your posts, so you know where to focus your energy when building your campaign.

You may have to tweak your audience depending on the campaign

Say you’re having a one day open house event on campus and you want to advertise it to potential students on Facebook. If your school is in Virginia, it would be counterproductive to advertise it to people in California, even if some of them may fit the profile of your ideal student. For this type of campaign, you’d probably want to put more focus into location demographics than you would otherwise. But if you want to feature that new online program you just launched, audience location may not be as big of a factor.

To better think through who you want to target with each ad campaign, start by asking what the goal of that campaign is. An event ad will definitely be more location and interest based in terms of audience, and may list some event details on the ad. A brand awareness ad, on the other hand, may have a broader audience and be more design-focused, to draw attention to your school. Tailoring your ads to a more refined audience will save you money and provide you with more accurate data. Using this data to determine what personas are more likely to convert will make creating ads in the future easier and more efficient.

Post sparingly and with high quality content

Over the past couple years, Facebook has cracked down on advertisers and what types of content they’re allowed to push out. A high volume of unpaid content will get you less attention and way fewer conversions than it would have in 2009 on Facebook. Facebook even penalizes companies who post too many “clickbait” or “recruitment” type posts (ads that just try to get clicks without offering anything in return). It’s recommended to keep an ad frequency below 2.5/user.

Post selectively and focus on the quality of your posts. Native videos on Facebook are especially effective, as they autoplay when users scroll through their News Feed on both mobile and desktop. Over 50% of your audience is going to watch less than a quarter of your video, so make the first few seconds intriguing and to the point. Adding captions to these videos so users don’t have to un-mute is a bonus feature that could get you more conversions. And paying for these ads is better than not by far; Facebook says it’s wise to assume that your organic reach will someday arrive at zero.

Facebook offers a wide variety of tools to help you build successful ad campaigns with the best target audience possible. You’re going to advertise with them differently now than you did even just three or four years ago, but the bright side is your ads will be higher quality and can then be pushed out to your ideal target audience.

Find Out the Freshest Industry Benchmarks

Do you know how prospective students are engaging with email? How are virtual events affecting recruitment? Are you considering all three prospective student stages when creating content? Look no further! See how your institution stacks up against other schools across these primary marketing tactics.

Download our free guide, DD’s Deep Dive: Enrollment Marketing Benchmarks Report to learn:

  • Benchmark data for four primary marketing tactics: event marketing, email marketing, digital advertising, and content marketing
  • New behaviors of prospective grad students as they research and journey through the applicant funnel from initial interest to application completion
  • Specific insights on which tactics are the most effective in engaging and converting prospects at all stages


Access the Report

Topics: Enrollment Marketing, Digital Advertising

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