The Online Opportunity for Higher Education

The Online Opportunity for Higher Education

Google Higher Education

In April, when I first blogged about the impact of COVID-19 on higher education, I assumed the issue would be how colleges addressed finishing out the spring semester of 2020. Perhaps I was naïve in thinking the worst would be behind us by the time the fall semester rolled around. Now with the 2020-21 academic school year deadline upon us, there are still many obstacles and challenges ahead for higher education institutions. Meanwhile, thousands of students (and parents) are either anxiously awaiting more guidance or bracing themselves for a disruption similar to what the University of North Carolina just experienced when the school abruptly halted plans for an in-person school year amid a COVID-19 flare-up on campus.

Learning in the Age of COVID-19

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s most recent list of College Reopening Plans, 21 percent of colleges are planning “primarily in person,” 24 percent are planning “primarily online,” and 27 percent are still currently “TBD.” A very small percentage (2.5 percent) are planning “fully in person,” 2.9 percent will be “fully online – no students on campus,” 16 percent are planning on a “hybrid” approach, and less than 1 percent are planning on “fully online – some students on campus.”

All said, as of now, most colleges are leaning toward either an online approach or a hybrid option, offering some online courses and some in-person learning. And while the format of classes for the fall semester continues to be worked out, many students and (even more parents) are discovering how tuition will be affected. Harvard has come under harsh criticism after recently announcing it will still be charging full tuition as classes go online amid the coronavirus outbreak. Harvard, Smith, Tufts, Duke University, and others did say they will refund students for unused room and board on a prorated basis.

Assessing Costs

However, room and board costs, while still a considerable investment, are far less than tuition expenses; many parents may find themselves questioning the value of paying for a “top-tier” school education if classes are 100 percent online. Without a doubt, the college experience will be vastly different when learning is online versus on campus. Parents and students may instead opt for classes at a community college if they are within their first two years of their college degree. The financial savings are substantial, and with the lack of a traditional on-campus college experience, there certainly is a case to be made for saving money. Additionally, students will have more options available for online courses —and where they take them — as more and more schools expand their offerings.

So, what does all this mean for higher education from a marketing perspective? Two things: more opportunity, and more competition.

Opportunity

This is an opportunity for schools to promote their online offerings, whether they are new to the online learning format or a veteran in this department. Colleges who have traditionally featured online offerings may find themselves attracting a whole new demographic of students — students who might not have considered online learning before COVID-19. These students might think, “If I have to study online right now, I’m going to go where they’ve been doing it a while.”

But colleges just embarking on an online learning program may also appeal to a new demographic: students who, for reasons such as geography, might not have even considered a particular school before. With online learning, schools may suddenly become “in reach.”

Competition

Competition for online degrees is stronger than ever before, as more and more traditional on-campus programs are now entering the online space. In Google Ads, we have seen steep increases in keyword cost per click, primarily due to increased competition. To maintain an acceptable cost per lead, it is becoming even more important to leverage as many targeting options as possible within the Google Ads platform. Those options include audiences, device, location, age, income, and more. It is also essential to evaluate performance based on day of week and time of day in order to find the most efficient time to invest your advertising dollars.

While the increase in keyword CPCs might make it more difficult for smaller schools with smaller budgets to compete in paid search auctions, we’ve also seen a significant investment in Google Display Ads and social platforms as schools attempt to expand their reach. That’s because Google Display Ads and platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have much lower cost per click (or cost/impression) than traditional paid search in Google. So, for colleges with smaller marketing budgets, Google Display Ads, Facebook, and Instagram can be an effective method of reaching potential students.

Contact True Interactive

In short, great opportunity exists for higher education in the online market, but the competition is fierce. Now, more than ever, you need to have a comprehensive marketing plan in place. At True Interactive, we are well versed in the higher education vertical and are ready to help you navigate this ever-changing market. Contact us. We can help.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

6 Reasons Why Facebook Continues to Succeed

6 Reasons Why Facebook Continues to Succeed

Facebook

Is Facebook the most resilient brand in the world? It sure seems that way. Here is a business that has weathered one public relations storm after another in recent years, and yet the global business is getting stronger than ever. In the past couple of years alone, we’ve seen Facebook experience some serious threats, such as:

  • Widespread criticism that the platform tolerates hate groups.
  • Accusations that Facebook has been used as a tool for malicious parties to interfere with the election of public officials in the United States and internationally.
  • Anger over Facebook’s failure to contain egregious breaches of user privacy.
  • Speculation that Facebook’s internal culture is imploding.
  • Anxiety that Facebook exerts an unfair advantage over its competition and needs to be broken up.

What have I missed?

These, and many other concerns, have resulted in some concrete actions that normally would cause some serious problems for a business, such as:

  • An advertising boycott by a number of powerful brands in July.
  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg being hauled into public hearings to face a public grilling by Congress, most recently the week of July 27 over Facebook’s competitive practices.

And yet, in Facebook’s most recent quarterly earnings report, the world’s largest social media network reported:

  • $18.7 billion in revenue, up from $16.9 billion a year earlier and above analysts’ expectations of $17.34 billion.
  • Profit for the second quarter nearly doubling to $5.18 billion, or $1.80 a share, exceeding Wall Street estimates.
  • An increase in monthly active users to 2.7 billion, from 2.6 billion in the first quarter. More than three billion people now use at least one of Facebook’s products on a monthly basis.

Now look at Facebook’s stock price, rising year after year:

Facebook’s resilience has prompted many to ask, Why? Well, I can think of a number of reasons:

  1. Clearly, the negative PR does not speak for everyone.
  1. Facebook continues to enjoy an advantage of being the first major social media network to break through globally. When you gain a foothold on a market, it’s awfully hard for anyone to dislodge you.
  1. Facebook has stayed true to a fundamental brand promise of connecting people. If you want to stay connected with Aunt Mary in Topeka or your old college buddy Jim in Montana, Facebook delivers.
  1. It’s not the only social media network fraught with controversy over free speech versus fringe activities. Every major platform – TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and others – faces the same fundamental challenge Facebook does, and no one has anywhere near a perfect solution. Investors and advertisers understand this reality, and so long as social media platforms appeal to them, Facebook does, too.
  1. Facebook continues to make smart moves to expand its global reach, a recent example being its investment into Jio Platforms of India.
  1. The company is delivering on its 10-year growth plan unveiled in 2016, including continued investments in virtual reality.

Reason 6 above is especially important. Investors like to see businesses create a compelling growth plan and stick to it. Facebook has never lost sight of its own aspirations to grow globally and to use technology to connect people. As a result:

  • Facebook attracts more investors.
  • Those investors fuel the company’s expansion.
  • The company’s expansion attracts more users.
  • More users attract more advertisers. And advertisers are crucial to Facebook’s future.

My advice to advertisers:

  • If Facebook is delivering the audiences you want, continue to rely on Facebook as a crucial element of your game plan. Capitalize on new tools to reach your audience, such as Facebook’s recently unveiled ways to connect people and businesses on WhatsApp. If you work with an agency, ask them about how they’re using these tools to help you.
  • Be patient, and don’t let negative PR distract you (but if you’ve stuck with Facebook thus far, you probably know that already).
  • As with all social networks, assess your own tolerance for the risk versus reward of having a presence on Facebook. As I blogged recently, being on social media presents the possibility that your ads and organic content will appear alongside questionable content. At the same time, being on social also means benefitting from the surge in traffic on social media occurring in 2020. Bottom line: be vigilant (and your agency partner, if you have one, should be vigilant, too).
  • Keep a close watch on all the news affecting Facebook, especially Facebook’s ongoing issues with Congress. It’s important to understand the potential changes that legislation could have on Facebook. Being aware is always a good course of action.
  • Get comfortable living with the wild card in the deck: the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. The biggest impact the pandemic may have on Facebook is fluctuating advertising revenues from businesses looking for ways to reduce their ad spend as they react to uncertain economic conditions. But one thing is clear: the Facebook community itself is only getting bigger, and it probably will as people increase their usage of online platforms amid spikes in COVID-19 rates.

Contact True Interactive

At True Interactive, we help businesses capitalize Facebook’s growth to build their brands. We can help you, too. Contact us to learn more.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

 

Don’t Go Dark During the Coronavirus Crisis

Don’t Go Dark During the Coronavirus Crisis

Advertising

As businesses scramble to adjust to the spread of COVID-19, some are halting their online advertising, according to Search Engine Land. But pausing online advertising could be a big mistake. Instead, businesses should consider how they might need to change their online advertising approaches.

In fact, people are engaging online more than ever as practices such as social distancing take hold. For example, as discussed in Digiday, at least one agency reports big upticks in online engagement with Instagram content as people spend more time online. Vodafone reports internet usage surging by as much as 50 percent in some countries. And audience engagement online will only increase.

Our advice to advertisers:

  • Don’t go dark during the COVID-19 outbreak. Do adapt your content to be appropriate for the times we are living in (see our tips below). But going dark will hurt you in the long run, especially after the crisis subsides.
  • Navigating a fast-changing environment. Your customers’ lives have changed dramatically. But don’t assume that they want to ignore you as they manage that change. Depending on what kind of business you are in — online streaming, say, or online commerce — they may welcome hearing more from you as they practice social distancing. (In fact, when it comes to getting the news during COVID-19, people are more likely to trust a company over the government or media, according to Edelman.)

Considerations for Advertisers to Keep in Mind

The irony of the current coronavirus upheaval is that people, social animals at heart, are being asked to maintain distance just when they need to feel connected, even reassured, the most. Brands that continue their outreach will want to think about the following as they pursue their campaigns:

  • Look at the content you are sending and be prepared to adapt it. Are your offers in sync with what people need right now? For example, it makes sense for a restaurant to ramp up advertising about the speed and effectiveness of its delivery services.
  • Mind your tone. People don’t want to hear more gloomy reports of disruption. But an overly salesy message will flop. And any ad that seems like it is capitalizing on a health scare will backfire spectacularly. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. As Kristen Ruby, CEO of Ruby Media Group, wrote recently in Adweek, “If people are afraid, now is not the time to pretend they aren’t. Additionally, it is also not the time to market to a state of fear or panic.” But do be as re-assuring as you can. It is OK to let people know you are there for them, and it is OK to talk about steps you might be taking to help in a time of crisis. In addition, be careful about your use of visuals. By now your audience is already overwhelmed by news media stories with photos of people wearing face masks.
  • Think ahead. You don’t want to be caught flat-footed when consumers shift their behaviors again as the current disruption subsides. And subside it will; not knowing when is different from not knowing if.
  • Adapt to a new normal — for now. Every day brings changes that affect consumer behavior. As brick-and-mortar stores have elected to close their doors or reduce hours, consumer spending has declined. But as PMG reports, “Online traffic increases help pick up the slack against store closings, work from home operations, and social distancing efforts. We’ve seen upward ticks between six to 18% depending on the scenario.” Similarly, according to eMarketer, digital media consumption is expected to increase: “The spread of coronavirus is likely to boost digital media consumption across the board as people spend more time at home and communicate in person less.” Platforms such as YouTube are likely to experience a surge in use. How well are your online campaigns suited for viewing on these media platforms? How well is your brand suited to online shopping, period? (For a deeper perspective on how one business has adapted to disruptions over the years, read this Advertising Age article about how Walmart learned from disasters such as Hurricane Katrina to change the way it does business and markets itself.)

Contact True Interactive

As you wrestle with questions and the inevitable changes coronavirus brings to daily life— and the rules of engagement — don’t hesitate to reach out. We can help.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash