Using Social Data to Improve Student Recruitment Online

With a shrinking pool of applicants, colleges are forced to get creative in attracting prospective students –a reality that enrollment managers know all too well. While traditional advertising mediums such as outdoor billboards, radio and direct mail are still helpful for reaching parents and even adult students, reaching high school students requires a heavier investment in digital marketing channels. But with all the options, which channels are best and how do you get students’ attention?

Social data can be extremely useful when brainstorming new student recruitment ideas and strategies. While there is no secret formula to defining a digital marketing strategy that will increase your leads and enrollments, these social data mining tips will help you make smarter decisions when recruiting students online.

Which Channels? Look at Data within Social Advertising

If you’ve never set up an ad on a social network before, then you may not be aware of the wonderful data that resides here. Without spending any money, you can set up an ad on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or LinkedIn. When you select different targeting options for your ad you will see estimates for the size of that audience within that particular social channel. Knowing your approximate audience size on a given channel should really help you make some decisions about where to put your money and efforts, now.

Using social data from Twitter for student recruitment

You can also upload your own database of applicant or prospective student emails to find similar people on those channels. You can do this on both Twitter (Tailored Audiences) and Facebook (Custom and Lookalike Audiences). Now, you don’t get to see the people, but you do learn approximately how many of them exist on a given social network. The advantage here is that you get data that is specific to your known audience on these channels.

Using Facebook custom audiences data for student recruitment

New and emerging social channels don’t typically have advertising data for you to cop, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Social media often has a first-mover advantage, so being an early adopter of a new network can really make you the center of attention. Don’t be afraid to try something new! Collect your own data by surveying incoming freshmen about their favorite social sites or apps. You can find good evidence there for adding a new network to your digital marketing mix.

Get Their Attention: Use Data to Guide Your Social Content

Countless tools exist to help extract social data, so this process can be easily overwhelming. Here are a few ways to gather social data that will make your content more appealing to prospective students.

  • Analyze Google Analytics demographic data on your website. This data needs to be turned on with some code on your website, but once you have it there is a lot to be learned from the people already visiting your school’s website. Look at the last 6 months of data and really dig into the “interests” of your site’s visitors. The “other interests” category can often tell you a lot about the content your audience wants to see.
  •  Collect data about your followers from existing social accounts.  Many social networks have analytics built in that tell you about who is following you. Twitter, specifically, allows you to see interest categories of your followers, for when demographic data alone isn’t enough.
  •  Enter competing colleges into SimilarWeb. SimilarWeb has free and paid features, and it gives you some pretty cool information with just the free version! If you jump to the Audience Interests section, you will find categories and topics that should help you better define content for your audience.

Using similar web to collect audience data for online student recruitment

Once you’ve collected your data, you can use it to create results-driven digital marketing strategy and content that’s relevant to your target audience. And never forget: Aim and fire to get more leads and enrollments online—don’t spray and pray!

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About Stephanie Pflaum

Stephanie Pflaum is a Senior Digital Marketing Strategist for Fathom Education, a higher education marketing agency based in Cleveland, OH. Stephanie specializes in higher education recruitment strategies that include SEO, Social Media, Content Marketing and Online Reputation. She is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University where she studied Marketing and Statistics. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @StephPflaum.

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