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May 31

Q&A: 8 Social Media Advertising Tips for Higher Ed in 2021


by | May 31, 2021 | social media, Blog, Featured

Best practices in social media advertising and marketing can change fast. 

These platforms are constantly evolving, as are attitudes about them. It seems like what’s “in” and what’s “out” fluctuates daily as networks rise and fall in popularity.

So where are we now, in the middle of 2021?

Where should you, as a higher ed marketer, be spending your time and limited budget to connect with your audiences?

To find answers to these and other questions, we turned to the 2021 Social Marketing Trends Report from Social Media Examiner, an annual resource since 2009.

8 Social Media Advertising Insights

A quick disclaimer before you read on. 

This information comes out of a survey of marketing professionals, not users. It’s helpful to look at these trends, but it’s always best to make decisions based on your own observations of audience response to your social media advertising and marketing techniques.

1. Is social media still an effective method for generating leads?

It’s not out of the question to wonder whether social media is still a good way to generate leads, i.e. drive form submissions, such as RFI (request-for-information) forms.

It’s one thing to attract traffic. But is social media still bringing in good leads? That is, prospects that are the perfect fit for a product, service, or in your case, your education brand? 

  • 69% of marketers said yes, social media advertising is a good lead generator.

The longer they’ve been using it, the more effective they say it is.

  • 45% of those who have used social less than 12 months agree (10% strongly), but 
  • 77% of those who have used it more than 5 years agree (22% strongly).

Takeaway for Higher Ed: Social media marketing is a long-term strategy. If your school is just getting started on social media, or just getting serious, don’t expect to generate a ton of leads overnight. Do expect to see the fruits of your labor steadily increase year over year.

2. Where are experienced social media marketers seeing these results?

It may be worth the effort to embrace social media, but there are so many channels to choose from. Which platforms give you the most bang for your buck (or value for your time)?

Among marketers with over five years’ experience:

  • 95% are using Facebook
  • 92% are using Instagram
  • 73% are using LinkedIn
  • 67% are using YouTube
  • 62% are using Twitter
  • 11% are using TikTok
  • 5% are using Snapchat

Not surprisingly, marketers are still focusing the majority of their efforts on Facebook. While Instagram isn’t far behind, TikTok hasn’t taken off yet and Snapchat is dead last.

Takeaway for Higher Ed: Despite newer networks getting a lot of buzz, Facebook and Instagram remain dominant. It’s not a bad strategy to stay where the action is, as long as your content is appropriate to the platform. In general, Facebook is great for reaching parents and adult/graduate study prospects, while Instagram is where you’ll reach Gen Z and younger (Gen Alpha).

3. Which platforms are B2C (business-to-consumer, which includes enrollment marketing) marketers using the most?

The ranking isn’t much different when you remove B2B (business-to-business) marketers from the pack but for one notable change. YouTube and LinkedIn switch places.

Among B2C marketers:

  • 95% are using Facebook
  • 83% are using Instagram
  • 55% are using YouTube
  • 53% are using LinkedIn
  • 46% are using Twitter
  • 10% are using TikTok
  • 5% are using Snapchat

The percentages for each, YouTube and LinkedIn, go down, but LinkedIn goes down more. This makes sense. As LinkedIn is a platform for professionals, more B2B marketers are going there to look for business decision makers as B2C marketers focus on other platforms.

It’s interesting how close YouTube and LinkedIn usage are among B2C marketers, though. Almost a tie. 

The appeal of YouTube to reach prospects through video is obvious, but why an equal focus on the land of CEOs? It might be because the demographics of LinkedIn users are changing, skewing younger, or because of the platform’s lead generation-focused advertising options.

Takeaway for Higher Ed: Outside of Facebook and Instagram, if your third priority is Twitter, you might try shifting your focus. Depending on your school, your next step may be to build your email list with YouTube or engage ambitious young adults on LinkedIn.

4. Which social media network is most on the rise among B2C marketers?

This metric is really interesting because it reveals a subtle shift in social media advertising and marketing practices within the larger story of Facebook dominance.

Instagram appears to be on the rise.

Among B2C marketers asked which is their most important social platform in 2021:

  • Facebook – 63% (dropped from 67% in 2020)
  • Instagram – 24% (grew from 19% in 2020)

Yes, Facebook is still very much on top. But there’s a reason why Facebook bought Instagram years ago. It has always had the potential to overtake the big “F,” and may dominate the next decade.

Takeaway for Higher Ed: While keeping up a presence on Facebook is still a good idea, don’t neglect Instagram. This platform is hot, it attracts your core demographic for traditional students, and done right, it’s a great way to build relationships with them.

5. Is paid social media advertising necessary, or is there still a benefit to organic marketing?

Since Facebook was released to the world in 2006, it has steadily become more monetized, favoring free access for individuals and restricting organic reach for businesses unless they pay to play.

All platforms naturally want to make money, so they have followed suit. This has made a lot of business owners (and enrollment marketers) wonder if it’s worthwhile to focus much on social media if you don’t have a strong budget to go with it.

But marketers are still seeing the value of maintaining an organic presence. This year:

  • 64% plan to increase organic activity on Instagram
  • 62% plan to increase on YouTube
  • 54% plan to increase on LinkedIn
  • 47% plan to increase on Facebook

Again, when it comes to how they spend their time (not dollars) marketers are pivoting to Instagram. They are also focusing on engagement via YouTube and LinkedIn over Facebook

Only 29% plan to increase their organic activity on Twitter, 21% on TikTok, and 6% on Snapchat. (Snapchat appears to be in serious decline, with 80% not planning to use it at all.)

Takeaway for Higher Ed: It may make the most sense to spend your social media advertising dollars on Facebook, but this is a good time to increase your organic relationship-building efforts via imagery and video on Instagram and YouTube.

6. What’s the best platform for posting video?

Marketers have different platform preferences for sharing video content depending on whether the video is short-form (under 30 seconds, ideal for 24-hour “Stories”), native to the platform (produced there, shared there, at least 30 seconds), or live.

The top three platforms marketers use for short-form videos (for Stories):

  • Instagram – 59%
  • Facebook – 53%
  • YouTube – 22%

The top three platforms marketers use for native video:

  • YouTube – 50%
  • Facebook – 44%
  • LinkedIn – 22%

(Only 6% said they prefer Instagram for native video.)

The top three platforms marketers use for live video:

  • Facebook – 30%
  • Instagram – 14%
  • YouTube – 14%

Takeaway for Higher Ed: This suggests a set of best practices for video. Consider publishing longer (over 30-sec.) videos about your school on YouTube, sharing short videos about campus life in your Instagram Stories feed, and going live on Facebook for campus events. 

7. What type of video is most effective?

It’s also helpful to know where marketers are seeing the most engagement among these three types of videos.

The most important video format for marketers:

  • Native – 42%
  • Stories – 33%
  • Live – 16%

Compared with the information above, this suggests that when it comes to video, most marketers are focused primarily on their YouTube channels, followed by Instagram Stories and Facebook Live.

Takeaway for Higher Ed: Focus on making videos for the video platform, YouTube, then sharing them to other platforms. You might consider asking student ambassadors to help with Instagram Stories and broadcast live events on Facebook to round out your video strategy.

8. Where can I get the best return for paid social media advertising?

If you do have a budget to spend on social platforms, I’m sure you’re wondering where best to direct it. 

Facebook is dominating because their base of users is huge and targeting ability is unmatched, but Instagram is picking up steam in this department, too.

Marketers are focusing on placing ads in:

  • Facebook – 34% often, 41% sometimes, 24% never
  • Instagram – 25% often, 30% sometimes, 44% never

When asked which ads are the most valuable, the three highest responses were:

  • 61% – Facebook
  • 18% – Don’t use paid social media 
  • 11% – Instagram

The majority of marketers plan to “never” pay for reach on other platforms.

Most marketers will not place ads in:

  • YouTube – 71%
  • LinkedIn – 72%
  • Twitter – 85%
  • Snapchat – 96%
  • TikTok – 96%

Takeaway for Higher Ed: If you’re going to pay for social media ads, try Facebook first. It’s less of a hangout for teens these days, but it’s a great resource for reaching families and alumni, promoting events and more. If you have a few extra dollars to spend, I’d try Instagram next.

Let’s put a social media advertising strategy together that’s right for your school.

As I said, you shouldn’t base all your decisions on what other marketers are doing alone.

This is a good conversation starter. I hope I’ve gotten you thinking about how to get a little more strategic with the resources of time and money.

But we should really continue the conversation.

What have you tried? What results have you observed?

Maybe this article has given you some insights into why some things are working and others aren’t. 

Or, maybe you’re a trailblazer. You may have found a strategy that runs counter to these trends – like shifting your focus to TikTok – is working for you.

My point is, let’s discuss your story, how your school can carve a custom social media advertising strategy out of these trends that will bring you the best results.

I love partnering with schools to develop individualized strategies for social media, digital marketing, print marketing and more. 

If you’re interested in learning more, let’s talk.

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