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Social Media Marketing for Schools [Paid versus Organic]

Social Media Marketing for Schools [Paid versus Organic]

Any current effort in attracting potential students to your institution that doesn't include some social media component is incomplete. That might sound like a dramatic statement, but it becomes irrevocably true once you consider that social media is the #1 tool for prospective students wanting to learn more about the schools they're considering. 

At the same time, it's about more than just claiming your college's social media profiles and hoping for the best. A proper social media strategy for colleges has to include many considerations, including paid and organic (unpaid) components.

In other words, social media marketing for schools is an inherently complex process. But once you break it down into two major components, it becomes relatively straightforward. You have to know where to focus your priorities, and this guide will help you do just that.

Table of Contents:

Just the Basics: Paid vs. Organic Social Media Marketing

Before getting into the nuances and benefits of paid and organic social media marketing for schools, we'll start with some basic definitions:

  • Paid social media marketing is also known as social media advertising. You spend money to place ads in the newsfeeds of a targeted audience to get a core message across, like prompting them to apply to your school or sign up for a campus visit.
  • Organic social media marketing is inherently unpaid. It's about making your 'regular' social media presence so valuable that prospective students and parents want to follow it, typically through engaging content that shows what life and academics at your school are like.

You've likely heard that social media is a pay-to-play game these days. But don't believe the rumors that organic social media is entirely dead. It can still serve its purpose, building rapport with your audience and filling the gaps between your paid campaigns.

Understanding the interplay between paid and organic social media and how each complements the other means understanding the nuances and benefits of each.

The Importance of a Paid Social Media Strategy for Schools

Few other digital channels are as effective as paid social media in reaching your core audiences. That begins with extensive targeting options ranging from basic demographics and geographic areas to specific interests and behaviors.

Reaching a high school student in a specific zip code is as possible as reaching parents of students who have recently traveled to your state or even students already in your database through email matching.

Because of these in-depth targeting options, paid social media allows you to get highly actionable messages directly to your core audiences. The ads are placed directly into your audience's newsfeed, integrating naturally with their social experience.

The Importance of an Organic Social Media Strategy for Schools

Especially when compared to paid alternatives, organic social media is inherently less promotional. Prospective students are looking to schools' social media accounts to learn more about the school, what students think of it, etc. They want to experience the school they're thinking about attending.

Organic social media, therefore, cannot be too promotional. Instead, it should focus on authenticity, your school's campus life, academics, and community in a more engaging, natural way. 

No student wants to visit a school's social media page entirely filled with promotional ads or otherwise dormant. They're looking for content to help them decide whether your school is the right fit for them.

5 Social Media Ideas for Colleges that Combine Paid and Organic Efforts

In other words, paid social media efforts cannot replace organic efforts, just as organic efforts cannot replace their paid counterparts. Instead, it's the combination of both components that can make social media a powerful marketing tool for your school

That combination can take on almost countless shapes. Here are just a few ideas to help you get started in brainstorming a combination of paid and organic campaigns:

  1. Run a paid campaign to prompt open house sign-ups, then have a student guide take over your social media for their perspective on the event itself.
  2. Run a paid campaign about a specific major where you want to grow enrollment, then post stories and research updates from students and professors on your organic social media page.
  3. Run a paid campaign prompting students to inquire about your school, coupled with organic posts focusing more broadly on what makes your school different from others in your area.
  4. Run a paid campaign to increase weekly campus tour sign-ups, coupled with mentions of your virtual tour and videos of campus on your organic profiles.
  5. Promote a recent ranking for your university along with an application prompt on paid social media, then post student testimonials and even student-generated content on your organic platforms to reinforce the message.

Of course, these are just a few of the countless ways organic and paid social media strategies for schools work better together than they would in isolation. 

The goal, in each case, remains the same: use your paid efforts to get a student action, and your organic efforts to build a more authentic picture of your school and campus that ultimately makes that action more likely.

How to Get Started in Building Your Higher Education Social Media Strategy

Social media marketing is complex, partly because of the endless paid and organic opportunities at your fingertips. But complex doesn't have to mean impossible. With a central strategy focusing on your goals, you can leverage both sides of the coin for more successful recruitment marketing.

And, of course, that process becomes more straightforward when you have an experienced partner by your side. Our expertise in social media marketing for schools and the higher education industry makes us the perfect fit for a partnership. Let's chat!

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