Targeted advertising 101: Social media marketing for education companies

June 19, 2019

Katie Reynolds

Whether you’re in the business of selling shoes, psychology degrees, or 6-week coding courses, social media has revolutionized marketing. And while catalog shopping feels completely obsolete, many education providers still rely on an old-fashioned prospectus to sell their courses, with some adopting social media marketing for education as a strategy.

For forward-thinking institutions, social media offers incredible potential to stand out with effective, targeted advertising. But when it comes to social media marketing for education companies, each platform has its strengths and key audiences. To make sure you’re spending your marketing budget where it can generate the best ROI, you need to understand the differences between the platforms available to you.

Platforms at a glance

Let’s have a look at five key platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok to see how you can optimize your social media marketing.


One of the original social networks, Facebook still reigns supreme. It boasts the largest active user base out of the five, and although it’s popular with older and middle-aged adults, users aged 18 to 24 still represent nearly a quarter of Facebook’s audience.

With well over 2 billion monthly active users, the key to a successful Facebook campaign is honing in on the right users. We’ll talk more about targeting strategy later on, but with data available on things like interests, important dates, buying history, location, and education level, Facebook is an excellent platform for very personalized ads, while providing an easy entry point to higher education social media marketing.


This Facebook-owned image-sharing app has become one of the dominant platforms for connecting with prospective students. With a younger, dedicated user base and image-focused content, it’s an excellent platform for brand-building and showing off your academic community. If you’re targeting prospective students under 35, Instagram ads are a must in your marketing mix.


This fast-paced ‘micro-blogging’ platform offers the opportunity for real-time customer engagement. For education providers looking to advertise, Twitter is an ideal platform to hone your elevator pitch, with content strictly limited in terms of character count.

The platform offers clever audience targeting capabilities, allowing you to advertise to users not only based on their demographics and interests, but also on the keywords and hashtags they’ve interacted with or used in their own Tweets.


At its core, LinkedIn is a professional platform for career-focused users. Although its user base is smaller than the likes of Facebook or Instagram, its strength is in the caliber of prospects you can target here, particularly if you’re offering courses at the post-graduate level, business-focused degrees, or professional training.


One of the newest platforms for social media marketing, TikTok continues to explode in popularity. It was the most downloaded app worldwide in 2020, and with the average user between 18 and 24 years old, it’s an ideal platform to connect with prospective students. There’s untapped potential to really stand out from your competition on this platform with creative, compelling ads at the forefront of the latest trends. Some marketing options on TikTok include in-feed ads, brand takeovers, and branded hashtag challenges.

Picking the right platforms

To decide which social media platform will offer the best ROI, you need to know who your audience is and where they’re most likely to be spending their time online. If you’re promoting a study abroad programme for high school students, you’re obviously more likely to reach the right audience with ads on TikTok and Instagram than LinkedIn. And while a LinkedIn campaign might be a wise investment for an institution offering an Executive MBA, the breadth of the audiences you can reach on Facebook and Twitter make them valuable platforms for a very wide range of educational offerings.

Targeting your ideal 'customer'

Whether you’re running campaigns to raise brand awareness, generate leads or increase conversions, each platform allows you to create ads targeted according to set parameters. The more you know about your target audience, the more precisely you can tailor the content of your ads.

In terms of targeting options, along with general demographics like age, gender and location, most platforms offer the options of interest-based targeting, lookalike audiences and retargeting.

Interest-based targeting

You can help your ads reach the most relevant audience by targeting users based on their interests. Most social platforms allow you to target based on several categories, including things like hobbies, to help you reach the prospects most likely to be interested in your course or institution.

Lookalike audiences

Lookalike audiences share key commonalities with your existing students, prospects and even website visitors. This allows you to target people with similar attributes, meaning that they’re more likely to be interested in your offering too. All you need to do is provide a lookalike source in the form of pixel data or a customer list.


Retargeting allows you to target people who already know your school, by serving customised ads to users who have visited your website, social media profile or somehow engaged with your school online.

So how might your ads differ depending on your target audience? Let’s consider a retargeting ad vs. an interest-based ad. As you can see above, these two audiences are quite different—one group is already familiar with your offering, whereas the other is made up of totally new prospects. A one-size-fits-all message isn’t going to work here, as the action you want these two groups to take is different.

The CTA targeting an audience that hasn't been exposed to your brand before is likely to be ‘learn more’, while a retargeting ad would probably ask users to  ‘sign up’ or ‘apply now’. However, sometimes you might want to retarget people with a softer approach, sharing some useful content like a relevant blog article or student success story to help them make a decision.

However, sometimes you might want to retarget people with a softer approach, sharing some useful content like a relevant blog article or student success story to help them make a decision.

Cost & KPIs

When it comes to ad spend, these platforms allow you to set a budget at the outset, so you know upfront how much each campaign will cost. Each platform differs in average cost per click (CPC), with LinkedIn being among the most expensive at around $5.26 and Twitter the least costly at around $0.40. TikTok operates a different business model, with a range of advertising options from in-feed ads to brand takeovers, priced according to their reach and starting from around $10 per CPM (cost per 1000 views).

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Twitter is the best value for your offering. The best value comes from choosing the right platform for your prospects and tailoring the content of your ad to that exact target audience. When measuring campaign success in light of ad spend, the most useful metric is your ROAS—return on ad spend. It could be that the more costly clicks from LinkedIn are actually the ones that convert more prospects into fee-paying students.

If social media advertising is new territory for your school, or if you need help refining your strategy or setting a budget to maximise ROAS, the team at Pink Orange is on hand. With years of experience in digital strategy, social media marketing for education companies is one of our specialities. Book a free consultation today to see how our team can help.

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