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Higher Ed Experts Faculty Voice by Karine Joly

Higher ed marketers and Russian operatives, same tactics??!

Yep, you’ve read correctly. This tweet was posted yesterday on the verified Twitter account from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

If you believe what you can read in this premium article from the Chronicle, an investigative report by Michael Vasquez, “colleges are engaged in “the same practices that these Russian operatives used” to influence the election.”

See the quotes in the tweet?

They are important as Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, is the one who spoke those words to the reporter as you can see in this screenshot of the Chronicle’s article (a screenshot that should qualified as “fair use” since I’m commenting on this very small excerpt from a piece of copyrighted material that is behind the Chronicle’s pay-wall).

Excerpt from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Is the Chronicle engaged in the same practices as fake news sites? ;0)

After the 60 minutes segment on how Facebook ads were used during the presidential campaign aired on October 6 and the EdSurge piece on how much is spent by institutions in Google ads written by the ex-Chronicle journalist, Jeffrey Young, and published on September 6, the ex-journo in me can understand why it was so tempting to go for the sensational angle – especially when Jeff Chester offered a quote like this!

The article is also a fantastic feel-good piece to please a big segment of readership for the Chronicle, some members of academia often very critical of any money that isn’t directly spent on the classroom.

When you are busy teaching, doing research and writing to be published, it is easy to forget that “if you teach it, they will come” only exists in an alternate reality. Students often come to learn in a given classroom also thanks to all the work done by admissions offices, communicators and marketers making sure the institution, its faculty stars and their research findings stay top of mind for prospective students, parents, donors and lawmakers.

In the EdSurge and the Chronicle pieces, big numbers (millions of dollars) have been shared, thus triggering outrage from readers.

As any social media marketer working in higher education – or any good editor of a publication available online – will tell you, outrage is a very powerful emotion. It will push readers to act, share, comment – and even write blog posts (this one, Dr Liz’, Jackie Vetrano’s and Gil Rogers’ are good examples) :-).

That’s the type of tactics the pieces of fake news rumored to be used by Russian operatives during the presidential campaigns relied on.

See, what I just did in the previous sentence?

This is very easy to imply guilt by association.

I could use a snappy tweet mentioning fake news, the Chronicle of Higher Education and EdSurge in 140 characters (well, 280 now).

And, I’m sure I will get lots of clicks, comments and probably many RTs from a good number of social media professionals working in higher education (they tend to have big following, since they do this all day, so I’m sure the social media algorithms will be quite pleased).

Yet, it’s not because I can that I should, right? Or, did I just do this in my headline?

Are higher education marketers guilty (by association)?

So, why should colleges and universities be guilty by association, because they chose to target ads to the people who would be interested in seeing their ads – and who can opt out from Facebook whenever they want?

Data confirms it makes sense for colleges and universities to do this as the 2017 E-Expectations Study I analyzed this past summer shows.

Not only do prospective students notice the online ads, 47% of seniors, 55% of juniors and 61% of sophomores have also CLICKED on a search, display or social media ad for a college.

Students who clicked on an online ad

When it comes to this “ad clicking” activity, Google search ads get the lion’s share (about three quarters) followed by Facebook ads (44% for seniors, a bit less for juniors and sophomores) and YouTube ads (about a third).

Types of ads students clicked on

When they click on an ad, the majority of prospective students are looking for more information about schools they already know.

Reasons for clicking on an ad for students

So, why do prospective studentts click on Facebook ads?

Not because the ads are compulsively attractive or deceptive, but because they want to learn more.

Don’t discard good marketing tactics because they “badly” work, but learn to use them for good!

I’ve been teaching social media marketing for higher ed to marketers and communicators working in universities and colleges since 2011. It’s an 8-week online course where we go through all the pieces of a successful social media strategy.

One week in this course focuses on how you can use social media advertising and the following one deals with email and social media.

This isn’t a coincidence that both channels are introduced in a row in the 7th and 8th weeks of my course. They are part of a well-rounded integrated marketing approach, an approach that has become critical to institutions in dire needs to break through the noise online with restricted budgets in a very competitive digital market.

In the case of prospective students or parents whose email addresses or phone numbers are collected via a request-for-more-information form or bought from 3rd-party vendors collecting this information to connect students to institutions, they are (or should) be explicitly made aware of the way their information is collected. That’s why privacy policies exist.

Compliance with this rule is part of the terms of service (TOS) you need to abide by to use Facebook custom audiences – or Twitter’s as the platform has also offered this option for quite some time.

TOS, the fine print people agreed to follow without reading when they sign up for a service online, are also part of my course syllabus – in week 2.

Not a coincidence either 🙂

Meet the Faculty: Karine Joly

Higher Ed Experts is a professional online school for digital professionals working in universities and colleges.

When you take a professional certificate course with us, you get a chance to upgrade your skills by working on your projects, interacting with classmates just like you and getting detailed personalized feedback from your instructor.

karine_joly_sep2013Karine Joly founded Higher Ed Experts in April 2007 and teaches Higher Ed Expert’s 8-week online course on Social Media Marketing for Higher Education.

She oversee the development of the professional development curriculum for the school. She shares her insights about emerging web and social media trends on collegewebeditor.com, a popular and independent blog launched in February 2005. She also authors the Internet Technologies column for University Business. Karine has presented on social media marketing, web analytics and online courses at leading higher ed conferences (CASE, American Marketing Association, EduComm, eduWeb, CUPRAP, HighEdWeb, PSEweb, UB Tech, etc.).

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