Published on 2015/10/14
Co-written with Evan Duff | Vice President of Adult and Professional Studies, North Carolina Wesleyan College

The EvoLLLution | Effective Social Media Marketing on a Budget
Social media and digital marketing can provide a new program or division an opportunity to project their voice to a wide audience with a limited budget, but only if it’s managed properly.

In many cases, new programs launched for colleges and universities are developed for two years, to meet a specific demand and also to create a new revenue stream by recruiting more students. This can take the form of a new graduate program or school, a new undergraduate major, a suite of professional development courses, or open-enrollment seminars and community events.

However, launching programs aimed at attracting new markets has the potential of being a double-edged sword. Colleges want to create new programs to generate more revenue, but they don’t always have the funds available to adequately market these new initiatives. As most of us know, marketing and advertising can be very expensive and there are lots of third-party vendors and consultants that want to help you spend your money.

So, what are your options when you have a tight budget?

Social media is a great way to market your college or university with new and current students. Unfortunately, many institutions are not fully invested in social media. Do they have a Facebook page or Twitter account? Yes. Do they have a full grasp on how to use it to their advantage to get the results they need? Probably not. And, what about Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram (there are so many options)?

Colleges will get a higher ROI by hiring a social media manager/director who is up-to-date on most social media platforms rather than spending that same amount of money in traditional marketing activities like billboards, TV, radio and print. Most people may also be surprised to learn that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click campaigns are on a downward trend. Digital marketing is changing every day and social media is where it’s at. The way in which we market to students needs to adapt just as quickly as the changing trends.

Pinterest is probably the most unique social media platform that colleges are overlooking. With almost 50 percent of Pinterest users aged 25-44, this is a prime area to promote adult programs, professional development opportunities and events on campus. It is a great way to engage college alum and donors and it is also a great way to sell merchandise. Because Pinterest is picture driven, it is a great way for colleges to show off their curb appeal, athletic events (yes, some adult students care about this, too), as well as the caring faculty and staff. It is another platform to connect with past and future students.

Google+ is also a diversified social media tool that many colleges are not taking advantage of. Colleges and universities can establish profiles, create circles of friends and even create hangouts for synchronized conversations with potential students. Google+ and Google Hangouts is also a great way to connect with current students to have an impact on retention. These ideas are fleshed out in more detail in this video that really details the advantages of Google+ for college admissions and recruitment, and provides some additional resources for colleges who don’t have a Google+ account yet.

Most colleges are struggling with social media for a few reasons:

1.Keeping Up With Technology

Social media and technology are changing so fast that even the most tech savvy person has to stay up-to-date with evolving trends taking place and new platforms being developed.

2. Lack of Investment

Many colleges do not have an employee on staff that is 100-percent dedicated to social media. This task usually gets placed on a web designer, someone in IT, or maybe someone in admissions. Usually, this person is not properly trained and only manages the bare minimum of social media presence—acebook and Twitter. To be effective, though, colleges need a digital media/digital marketing professional on staff that only updates their social media sites with quality content and who is sent to training a few times a year.

3. Lack of Awareness

Much like with online learning, many colleges are unfortunately looking in the other direction when it comes to social media.

There’s More To Discover

While all of the platforms could be discussed, this is just a brief introduction to demonstrate how effective social media can be and how it can be used to increase awareness about new programs among other things. Social media is free in most cases; colleges just need the right person to provide the right content to make it effective. Take a moment to Google how colleges are using these platforms to get ideas for your own programs and events, and feel free to reach out to Evan or me through the comments or offline to talk more!

Ultimately, social media is here to stay (until something better comes along). If you don’t get on this bus, you may get left behind.

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Further Resources

Brad Smith, “How 10 Savvy Colleges Are Using Social Media,” Social Media Today, July 11, 2013. Accessed at

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Readers Comments

Shawna Hunt 2015/10/14 at 8:25 am

Often those most savvy with social media marketing are young people in the very demographics we’re targeting with new programs and courses. Our best bet for reaching the audience we’re going for is to have a member of that audience working for us.

Evan Duff 2015/10/14 at 11:20 am

I agree Shawna but there are many programs out there for adults to re-tool and become savvy in social media marketing as well. I am currently taking a certificate program at North Carolina State University on Social Media Management. Your point is well taken though and yes, we do need that demographic working with us among others.

Myra Blair 2015/10/14 at 1:12 pm

Having a social media managing is definitely becoming standard fare for university administrations who want to get ahead of the curve with new offerings. Done right, social media platforms can reach a much broader audience than traditional marketing outlets ever could, and they can be so much more specific and targeted since they’re largely free and highly flexible.

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