Facebook Custom Audiences: Opportunities for College Recruitment

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.

Assessing Impact

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.

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9 Comments on “Facebook Custom Audiences: Opportunities for College Recruitment

    • Thanks for reading, Matt! I’d love to hear any feedback you receive from panelists or attendees. Sounds like an interesting discussion. I’ll try to remember to follow along on the back channel.

  1. Great to know about Lookalike audiences, I can’t wait to be experimenting with them ASAP! I’m Social Media and Online Marketing Manager at Tecnologico de Monterrey Campus Queretaro (Mexico) and I use Facebook audiences, but sadly with not a big success, my prospect students don’t usually give us their facebook email address, they prefer to register by giving no personal accounts. Althought I have approximately 200 email addresses (of a certain area, specific socioeconomic status and intereses), I can only use 50-60 when Facebook finishes its matching process so my segment is very limited if i want to attract their friends into new information and obviously also if i want to promote events or promotions to my inquiries, applicants and admitted students. I think that Lookalike audiences will be the perfect solution to my problem.

    Meanwhile I have to work with oCPM campaigns by using the pixel tracking conversion which is working really well but doesn’t give me the inquiries I’m really looking for.

    Great post Liz!

    • Thanks for the comment, Josh. It sounds like you’re a lot further into Facebook advertising than most campuses I’m familiar with. What type of messages are you advertising?

      • Basically Sponsored Stories, Promoted Posts and ads to promote apps. It’s very interesting how quickly Facebook is changing features and I’m very grateful that we can try them all to do our fascinating jobs

    • I don’t have a newsletter (I do this in my spare time). But you can subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss a post!

  2. We’re a little late to this game, but are there any special best practices related to opting our inquiries, applicants, and admits into custom audiences on FB? Is their consent to digital ads implicit in their inquiry to the University or should we be asking them first?

    • Hi Carl,

      I always suggest that you follow whatever sort of privacy policy you have in place with your website, application, etc. If you say in your policy that you will use your personal information to serve them online ads, then this is basically the same thing. If you do not have a privacy policy like that … maybe ask your legal team if you should.

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