Advertise on Facebook

5 Ways Colleges Can Improve Facebook Ad Performance

Summary: Is your social media presence feeling more like an absence? Are your Facebook ads sitting in the back of the class? Learn how to do more with your school’s ad budget than just showing up for attendance.

The main thing to understand about Facebook marketing is that there is organic reach and then paid reach. “Organic” social media presence is the content you post to your page. Your organic reach is always limited to the number of users following you and Facebook’s algorithms. The average organic reach for a Facebook post is only 5.2% of the page’s total likes and can be lower for less active pages. If you have 1000 followers, that means only 50 people saw your latest post. Frustrating to say the least.

Facebook advertising campaigns can help you increase visibility and extend your reach. Now with a paid ad, your school gets served in front of Facebook users whether they follow you or not. When it comes to advertising platforms, it’s tough to beat Facebook since its potential reach is roughly 2.8 billion active users worldwide. The trouble is, everybody else knows that Facebook is a lucrative marketing platform, so they’re on there too.

It’s not enough just to buy ad space, have the art department whip up a square graphic, dump it in there, and hope for the best. You have to make ads pop in the 2020s, and then you have to make them pay off in results. Let’s see what the valedictorian Facebook marketing campaigns do:


#1: Use Outstanding Creative Design

Let’s go over the basic elements of an ad, using the above example. A higher ed ad should have:

  • Brand Identifier: Don’t make them guess who
  • Pitch: Your value proposition
  • Motivational Imagery: Anything that snags their attention or inspires
  • CTA: A “Call To Action” that gives visitors an easy first step

We accomplish all of the above with an authentic, inspiring video and concise copywriting. So you have the basic elements of an effective ad, but how do you make users stop scrolling and pay attention?

You’ll notice that university ads feature photos of people often because higher ed is a people-oriented business. The reader has to be able to identify with the photo’s subject, to think “that could be me.” We are selling the concept of self-improvement, the gateway to a better life. Keep that sense open-ended, because everybody has a different dream, but keep it uplifting and inspirational, because everybody has that one dream unfulfilled.

The ad must also be able to stand out from the crowd. This is why you don’t always want to follow trends in advertising because you end up looking like everybody else. Instead, you analyze what works in successful ads and then come up with your unique spin based on those trends. The audience has seen universities before, but they haven’t seen your university. People can spot a stock photo a mile away. To stand out from the crowd and show what makes your school unique, use original high-quality photographs and video or amplify user-generated content.

Remember that the font, typography, and layout are part of the design, not just the graphic. Your writers and designers should work in concert.

The CTA is your pointer along the desired pathway. Direct students at that first step, making it as enticing as possible.


#2: Market To Mobile

We’re sure this won’t be a shocking news flash, but young people spend a ridiculous amount of time on their phones. We all do. It’s our TV and movie theater through streaming video services, our game console with mobile video games, our office PDA with productivity apps, and of course our chief way to use social media platforms.

Designing for mobile is different from designing for the laptop and desktop. It’s best if you think of mobile hardware as a completely separate device from computers. On the mobile screen, it is important to:

  • Use big fonts and easily recognized images
  • Keep your message quick and skim-able
  • Compress data into simple infographics
  • Use a format that’s best for mobile (for example, vertical video ads)
  • Keep interactive features, such as buttons, thumb-friendly
  • Use color schemes with enough contrast to stand out on a small screen out in daylight

Remember the environment in which your ad will be framed. Facebook surrounding it, with all of its distractions. Readers tend to go “ad-blind” so you have to use your ad space to give them an attractive rest for their eyes for a second. In the middle of a Facebook scroll, you might just be the sole note of a positive vibe amid the latest social media tizzy.


#3: Create Unique Landing Pages For Each Ad Campaign

This is the part that often gets neglected. Some marketers think “We already got them to click through; they’re ours now.” Thinking like that will get you a high bounce rate and no leads.

Whatever you do, don’t just dump visitors on the front page of your website. You need an individual landing page for each ad campaign, and the landing page should look like a visual extension of the ad.

Your campaign should not be a catch-all generic advertisement for your school. Your school caters to individual markets, which demand a unique experience and offer that fulfills their needs

  • You have potential students, or you have parents, mentors, and guides to those students
  • You have first-year freshmen, or you have grads looking for continuing courses
  • You have art majors, STEM majors, budding entrepreneurs, athletes, and academics
  • You have students with motivations ranging from “change the world” to “achieve financial security”

Your landing page copy and imagery should speak to these different types of students, and compel them to take action. The message that works for an all-star athlete likely won’t resonate with an aspiring artist or entrepreneur.

Even with all these differences, your landing pages will always have a few elements in common across campaigns, like your brand identity, mobile-optimized web page design, and some supporting resources like financial aid information.

What to Include on Your Landing Pages:

Now that you have an interested student or parent at your doorstep, they want to know:

  • What courses do you offer? Give a course overview
  • What is the school like? Offer a campus tour, open house, a meet-and-greet with faculty
  • Are students satisfied here? Show testimonials
  • How am I going to pay for this? Link to the financial aid package
  • When can I enroll? Show application timeline
  • How do I start? Provide the next step as another CTA

You might also use this space to answer some frequently asked questions if they come up repeatedly. But you’re best off keeping it minimal and uncluttered since you’re still on mobile. Keep the landing page light on resources so it loads fast and keep the layout responsive and user-friendly.

Not to apply too much pressure, but this step is crucial. You have an interested potential customer here heading down the sales funnel. Put everything you’ve got into closing the deal.


#4: Harness the Power of Video

The higher ed industry is one where customers have to make a strong commitment; attending university is a life-determining event. We’re selling an experience, maybe even something you can think of as an adventure.

When you have a big story to tell, turn to video. Video is favored by advertising algorithms and offers higher engagement rates. Using video, you can guide the potential student through your school’s story, using these kinds of pitches:

  • Brand identity: what makes your school unique?
  • Campus tours: what is a day at your school like?
  • Alumni testimonials: how does your school enable success?
  • Video course plans: what will students learn?
  • Value proposition: why is your school worth the tuition?

You don’t need to make an epic production. A length of between 5 and 15 seconds is typical. That sounds like a short time, but try talking continuously over slides for 15 seconds and you’ll see that you can pack a lot of information in there.

Use Vidoe Engagement to Refine Ad Targeting

Facebook offers robust campaign reporting that allows you to create audiences based on campaign engagement. Facebook will identify which users allowed your ad to play and watched it for a set amount of time. This new audience is more engaged than the initial cold audience who scrolled by your ad and didn’t watch the video.

Using this information, you can create a second “chapter” in your marketing campaign’s story, targeting the more interested, engaged audience.

This full-funnel strategy moves that audience along the path to conversion by offering a compelling and complementary CTA. If they watched a campus tour video or a student ambassador testimonial, what step would they take next? Maybe they’re ready to schedule a campus tour?

The best CTAs follow the customer’s journey and guides them towards their goal: selecting a school. Consider CTAs like submitting an application, scheduling an appointment with an advisor, or requesting financial aid information.


#5: Give Your Marketing Campaign a Final Exam

So, you made one ad campaign, which means you can knock off for the afternoon, right? Oh no, you don’t! Testing isn’t just for students. By testing your marketing campaign, you are applying some science to all this theory. Develop different variations on each campaign, refining it down to the proven most effective message.

Facebook offers tools for A/B testing, which means running a split ad campaign and testing the response from each half. You can try out different visuals, different pitches, different incentives, and different layouts.

What kinds of variables can come up in testing? You may find that the combination of your school, your location, and your target market combine to make one message more appealing than another. Some examples:

  • Driving at financial aid is usually good, but maybe you’re in an affluent neighborhood or appeal to an upscale market that doesn’t worry about fees as much.
  • Maybe you’re targeting STEM students who care more about the rigor of your curriculum and your support for completion, such as hands-on experience, tutors, and mentors.
  • Maybe your school appeals more to the activist mindset and you need to emphasize your commitment to their values and ideals.
  • Perhaps the students in your niche aspire to white-collar professions, and they only care about interviews with your alumni who have gone on to make their mark.

You can see where appealing to the law student in Philadelphia is different from appealing to the creative theater major in Berkeley. Until you test your ad campaign, it’s nothing but a theory with a lot of hot air behind it.

No campaign is so perfect that it can’t be improved through A/B testing and focusing. You’ll get surprising results that may even defy explanation, but there is no way to get to that point without the research. We don’t know why the sign-up form worked better in the center than it did off to the right, or why this shade of lime green for the CTA button beats other colors by a 2.3% conversion rate. But we know what works, so we can put it into action and psychoanalyze it later.


Your Higher Ed Facebook Powerhouse

In the above list, some of these practices are mandatory, while others are worth an experiment or two. We recommend that every ad campaign focuses on mobile, follows through on the landing page, and uses testing to achieve the best results.

Universities are strongly urged to offer a video option because of the nature of their industry, but we still see successful ad campaigns that do without it. Of course, you should make your ad as easy on the eyes as possible, but don’t let that stop you from going for an attention-grabbing aesthetic if testing shows it gets results.

Per ad impression, paid social media marketing on Facebook is still one of the best options for the money. By refining your marketing process, you can be sure to get all the value you can out of your advertising dollar.



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