The share of voice for social media higher education inquiries grew 211% YOY during the second quarter of 2016, according to the Q2 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review. With a 2.8% share of voice across all inquiry sources, the social media channel represented the third-largest driver of first-party leads.
But the conversion rate for social media inquiries slipped 29% YOY ― down to 3.6% during Q1 2016. (The conversion rate for Q2 was not reported because leads are still maturing.) Our team believes there are many factors contributing to this trend. Three are detailed below.
1. We’re in the Scaling Phase for Social Media, and There’s Limited Data for Optimization
Social advertising is still in its infancy in comparison to other channels generating leads for higher education institutions. As social media platforms monetize, schools are increasingly adopting them to boost the volume of social media leads generated. Many social media platforms have robust targeting capabilities, including lookalike models that allow schools to put their brands in front of people with a proven propensity to enroll. But because most campaigns are relatively new, there isn’t much data that can yet be used to optimize based on real campaign performance. With growing inquiry volume quarter over quarter, this will change quickly.
2. Social Advertising Competition is on the Rise
As we all know, generating an inquiry is only the first step of the student recruitment process. With more colleges using social media on their enrollment marketing campaigns, it’s increasingly likely that student prospects are inquiring to more than one school via this channel. Speed-to-lead and other operational efficiencies matter more when competition is hot.
3. Last-Click Attribution Tracking Doesn’t Give Credit to Support Channels, Like Social Media
Social media assists the entire funnel of enrollment marketing campaigns. From school awareness to program consideration to matriculation, social media has a role. Unfortunately, last-click attribution, still used by most advertisers, does not provide credit everywhere it is due. Last-click attribution assigns the “conversion credit” only to the final touch instead of splitting the credit across all touches. For channels like social media that both generate inquiries and provide significant support to leads from other channels, the actual performance is typically much higher when cross-channel attribution methods are applied.
It’s clear that social media is taking on increased importance within higher education enrollment marketing campaigns. As college social media campaigns mature and schools accumulate more actionable data, marketers will be able to identify what is working versus what is not, including platforms, creative, targeting and more. With campaigns optimized based on historical performance, we anticipate conversion rates of social media campaigns will quickly start to climb.
Marketers have been looking to prove ROI for social media efforts for the better part of the past decade. Even with slipping conversion rates, an increasing volume of inquiries generated feels like victory. Undoubtedly, the performance of these leads will continue to improve, and marketers will realize true enrollment marketing success as a result.
The Q2 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review addresses overall trends in the inquiry and student acquisition activities of higher education institutions for the period of April-June 2016, with conversion rates focused on the January-March 2016 period. The report details trends related to inquiry volume, conversion rates, channels, lead costs, program distribution and degree-level distribution.
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