Why Facebook Ads Work for Higher Education

I received a sale pitch from a member of the Facebook Marketing Solutions team that included a link to Facebook Marketing Success Stories. I was curious to see what others have deemed a “success” in terms of their Facebook advertising. If you visit this page and scroll way down to the bottom, you’ll see  small section for “Services & Education.” None of these success stories come from a college or university. Are higher ed marketers not successful on Facebook, or are they not using it? I checked in with Seth Odell, who’s covered this topic before on HigherEd Live, and here’s what he had to say:

Deborah Maue also made an interesting observation about the non-highered success stories:

As with all measures of success, before you try something you need to know what your goal is. I work on a small campus with a meager marketing budget, and all marketing I do shares one goal: exposure within my target demographic at a very low price. Of course, I have other goals as well, but this one is ubiquitous. And, I think Facebook helps me meet this goal.

My Facebook Ad Campaign

Recently I was asked to help promote our 3-week winter course session. Money was tight, and my target audience was students from other campuses home for winter break. It was suggested I place a newspaper ad. I balked for two reasons:

  • College students don’t read newspapers
  • To place one half-page ad in my target area would cost $1,500. There was no way I could even attempt to saturate the market with multiple ad buys.

So, I went to Facebook. I created a campaign to reach traditional-age college students within 50 miles of my campus. Turns out, over 41,000 Facebook users meet that criteria. I then created 42 ads. Yes — 42. I tweaked the wording, changed out images, and created targeted messages for some of the classes. For instance, I advertised a Cinema Techniques course to users in my demographic that listed “film” or “movies” as an interest. I was also able to target ads for developmental math to students who were in their first year of college.

The results? My ad campaign cost less than $500, reached over 36,000 people who saw the ad an average of 105 times, resulted in 267 clicks and netted us 14 new Facebook fans. My average cost per click was $1.75. I think that meets my goal of high exposure for a low price.

As far as my other goal – driving enrollment in these courses – it’s hard to track that, since our students don’t tell us why they enrolled. Our enrollment is higher than last year, but I can’t prove any correlation. I’m working on a way to track this information for future campaigns.

Why Facebook Gives an Edge to the Savvy Marketer

I’ve run ads almost exactly like this for our summer session that were not nearly as successful, and I’m certain I know why. The summer ads linked to content on our webpage. The winter ads linked to a custom tab on our Facebook page. This allowed us to tap into the social nature of Facebook – 11,607 people saw our ad with one of their Facebook friends associated with it. This gives the target of our ad a real human to whom he/she can ask “What’s it like to take courses on your campus? Should I give it a shot?” We also got new fans who might check us out for winter term next year.

When you take a look at our web analytics, our number two referrer (right behind our parent institution’s website) is Facebook. Visitors coming from Facebook spend almost a full minute more on our site than the average visitor. Our students are finding our site through Facebook, so I’ll continue to try to find more students through Facebook.

Other Avenues to Success

In my next post, I’ll talk about another way to advertise on Facebook that I’ve found successful: sponsored stories.

Are you using paid advertising on Facebook to promote your campus? Do you have success stories to share? Add them to the comments.

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10 Comments on “Why Facebook Ads Work for Higher Education

  1. Awesome post Liz thanks for sharing. It’s good to see you and Deborah skeptical about “engagement” translating to “sales”. Although it’s impossible to track all activity 100% it is important for schools to give it a shot (especially with small budgets). Curious to hear what/where the final conversion point is for someone signing up for a class.

    Can you track the source of a web form to the Facebook ad? Looking forward to hearing about your next post and hearing from other schools who are using Facebook ads in successful ways.

    • Unfortunately, given the way our students register for this particular term there was no electronic form on our server I could pull analytics from to connect it to the Facebook ad. This term is run through our Continuing Education department. They are, however, doing an end-of-class survey at the end of the 3-week term which includes the ever-popular “how did you hear about us” question. If even one of those students mentions Facebook, the ad campaign will have been worth the money.

      I, also, want to hear from other schools that are successfully using Facebook ads. Anyone out there?

      • Hi Liz,
        Nice article. Yes, we use Facebook advertising successfully at Eastern University (http://www.facebook.com/EasternUniversity). I’m the digital marketing guy here and we started advertising on FB in Dec. of 09.

        One of my fans is the Sponsored Stories campaigns where we target friends of people that already like us. One of these campaigns we started in Feb. of 2011 and is still running at about $500 a month has gotten us 3,200 new FB likes on our page, 26 million impressions, 8,500 clicks at about .70 a click. We are seeing a major rise in inquiries and apps coming from our FB page as an original point of contact.

        We also drive traffic to our regular website, particularly for adult and continuing ed. class starts. We track conversions in the form of inquiries and apps and have seen great yield from these ads.
        Thanks again!

        • Thanks for commenting Ryan! Sorry it took me so long to approve it and reply – somehow WordPress flagged your comment as spam.

          I’m glad to hear that other campuses are running Facebook ads successfully and finding value in them. When I started running ads at my previous institution (September 2009) I thought I was the only one.

  2. Excellent analysis.. the one I was looking for =) thanks Liz! (I´m just looking advise on how to help a college from New Zealand on this matters)

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  4. Great post. I am giving a presentation in July at eduWeb. Any chance that any of you will be there? If so, please get in touch. We’ll be building our presentation off some experiences we had working with St. Ambrose University on their Facebook campaign (you can see a brief case study here: http://www.zehno.com/white_papers/%EF%BB%BF4-smart-tips-to-drive-facebook-traffic/). We found that the ads drove massive traffic back to the university site, and we were able to build some communities for specific prospect pools. Our targeting was both macro and micro. More recent work with Tulane’s b-school will show how sponsored stories have worked for them.

    I am also very interested in hearing about higher ed examples of Facebook ads targeting alumni and/or donors.

    Anyone have some good examples? (I have a space open for a co-presenter.)

  5. Pingback: Facebook Custom Audiences: Opportunities for College Recruitment | Liz Gross

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