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College Digital Marketing Practices: A Research Preview


Every other year, RNL publishes the Marketing and Recruitment Practices Report, a benchmark survey of enrollment managers on the strategies and tactics they use in their recruitment campaigns. The report covers a wide range of topics from name purchases to overall advertising strategies to admissions events. But editions of the report in recent years have shown the growing importance of digital marketing and advertising to recruitment efforts.

The 2022 survey showed the ascendance of digital marketing strategies more than ever. Institutions not only are using digital marketing and advertising strategies more universally, but they are also rating them as their most effective strategies and tactics.

Here are three findings from the forthcoming report that highlight the use of digital strategies, as well as an example of why it’s important to align your strategies with the expectations of students. Note that this report examines undergraduate recruitment. We will be posting our first online marketing and recruitment practices benchmark report in the coming weeks as well, and we published our 2021 Marketing and Recruitment Practices for Graduate Students Report last year.

Digital advertising channels used to target search name purchases

Enrollment managers answered several questions on how they contact students from their search name purchases—both for the first contact as well as subsequent contacts. We also asked them which digital advertising channels they use to target students. These responses show how many campuses use these channels and how many rated them as effective. The results are sorted by 2022 effectiveness, and we also show results from the 2020 survey for comparison.

2022 Marketing-Recruitment Practices: Digital advertising channels leveraged for targeting search name purchase

One of the biggest takeaways here is how the use of digital channels have increased dramatically since 2020. Nine out of 10 four-year institutions use Instagram and Facebook for advertising. Nearly all publics (94 percent) and 84 percent of privates use display ads—with 97 percent rating them effective. These results also show some opportunities for advertising on newer channels such as streaming services and TikTok.

Digital marketing to generate new inquiries

As with digital advertising, these digital marketing strategies for generating new inquiries have increased in use significantly since 2020. All of these were rated effective by the vast majority of enrollment professionals.

2022 Marketing-Recruitment Practices: Digital marketing strategies used to generate new prospective undergraduate inquiries

One interesting note is SEO as a way to generate new prospective inquiries. One in five of our public respondents said they did not use SEO (and one in 10 of private respondents). SEO is more critical than ever because more and more students use search to look for colleges to attend, particular for types of searches such as “best [program] near [location].” Having a smart SEO strategy is essential to make sure your programs and institution appear near the top of those relevant searches.

Social media: aligning campus usage with the channels students use

With this chart, we took the social media channels campuses said they use and compared them to the channels students said they use (results are taken from the 2021 E-Expectations Report).

2022 Marketing-Recruitment Practices Report: Use of social media by campuses vs. students

The results show how important it is to align with the channels students use. Campuses did that in the last couple of years with Instagram as all survey respondents said their institutions use the channel. But we can also see that campuses report using channels such as Twitter at a much higher rate than students do, while not using Snapchat as much as students say they do. There are additional factors to consider in using social media channels—is a popular channel good for recruitment purposes, and are other channels such as LinkedIn good for engaging nontraditional students or parents of students. The point is to make sure you guide your mix with solid data that will help you gain the best ROI from your digital spend.

Watch for the release of the 2022 Marketing and Recruitment Practices Report. If you are heading to the 2022 NACAC National Conference, we will have copies of the 2022 report available at the RNL booth. We’ll then be publishing the full 28-page report by the end of September. If you’re not receiving updates from RNL, be sure to subscribe.

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