It’s probably fair to say that where most institutions have invested their resources — in terms of staff time, rather than dollars — is in social media advertising.

Key Findings

What we learned confirms our guess that most institutions in the US and Canada — where respondents were concentrated — do some form of digital marketing. And 80 percent of the institutions we surveyed have a budget for digital marketing. At 85 percent of institutions, a central marketing or communications department manages the digital marketing budget. On about a third of campuses, the marketing/communications office shares responsibilities with Admissions, and on 22 percent of campuses, individual departments manage some of their own digital marketing budgets.

To say that institutions have a budget for digital marketing doesn’t mean that the channels we asked about in our survey are funded anywhere near equally.

A few institutions (17 percent) spend a lot (more than $100,000) on digital display ads and pay-per-click (PPC) ads (17 percent), but 51 percent a majority spend less than $25,000 on digital display ads (51 percent) and PPC (60 percent). And a large majority of institutions do their own email marketing, SEO, and social media advertising, so they invest relatively little in these channels.

It’s probably fair to say that where most institutions have invested their resources — in terms of staff time, rather than dollars — is in social media advertising. The goals for these initiative are related to raising awareness, generating leads, and increasing yield and conversions: 86 percent of social media advertising was directed toward raising awareness and 82 percent to generating leads. And Facebook and Instagram were the social channels where most institutions advertised: 82 percent advertise on Facebook, 81 percent on Instagram. A majority of institutions also advertise on YouTube (52 percent), and 50 percent advertise on LinkedIn.

The best approach to digital marketing is an integrated one

In our analysis of the data, we identified a number of characteristics of institutions that were practicing more advanced digital marketing. In general, these institutions had created a strong foundation for success across campus by instituting practices such as strong SEO for their website, developing buyer personas and institution-specific keywords, regularly analyzing results and shifting tactics based on that analysis, and adopting some other key practices. They were also experimenting with emerging tactics such as influencer marketing, which are not yet very common in higher ed.

How do you develop a world-class digital marketing program? It requires thinking institution-wide and developing a strong foundation and staff that can develop and run effective campaigns. You need a strong sense of mission and brand; an optimized website; a content strategy that can support multiple campaigns; and tools that help you analyze responses and tweak your programs as necessary — particularly a CRM system and digital analytics tools.

Learn more about the state of digital marketing in higher education, download the “Benchmarking Digital Marketing for Higher Education” white paper.