A Family Decision: Why Marketing to Students Matters

Private Schools Marketing

Have you talked to a teenager recently? Today’s middle and high schoolers are smart, opinionated, and great at research (though they’re likely searching on TikTok more than Google). It’s no surprise that private schools and independent schools are seeing them as active participants in – and sometimes even drivers of – decisions around where they will go to school. Simply put, it may no longer be enough to target potential parents and ignore the influence of their children.

Marketers know that identifying and developing target audiences is key to the success of any campaign (so you know who you’re talking to, where to reach them, and the messages they’ll respond to). In this post, we’ll make a case for including future middle and high school students as a secondary audience in your marketing campaign strategy – and we’ll talk about how you can do it effectively. 

Teens are driving decisions

If your school includes middle or high school students, you should be communicating directly with them as part of your marketing mix. Their involvement often begins at the beginning of the journey (awareness and familiarity), when the family is cultivating a list of schools to explore as an option. Even though they may share some priorities with their parents (like a great athletics program, a strong academic record or proximity to home), teens do their own research – in their own way – using different search terms and platforms than their parents. To put it bluntly, if your social media presence still only exists on Facebook, it’s time to update your strategy.

Social media is the key

Our Metric and NAIS 2021 State of Independent School Marketing Survey reports that 63% of secondary schools and 51% of elementary-secondary schools believe social media is the most effective digital marketing channel for driving new leads. These platforms are especially important when appealing to adolescents and teens.

According to the Pew Research Centre report “Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022,” YouTube is by far the place to market to teens, with 95% of 13 to 17 year-old survey respondents reporting that they use the platform and almost 19% saying they “almost constantly” visit it. 

The same research reports that:

  • 67% of 13 to 17 year olds use TikTok

  • 62% use Instagram

  • 59% use Snapchat

  • 32% use Facebook – down from 71% in 2014-15(!)

Finding the right mix of social media, organic content and paid advertising to reach your ideal students is key – though we understand it can also be daunting. Social media preferences and trends are constantly changing. Before you dive all-in across platforms, read Social Media for Schools: Choosing the Right Mix and Should Our School Be on TikTok?.

Dive Into YouTube

Teens are especially active on YouTube, using the site to gain information and opinions instead of turning to a search engine like Google. Surprisingly, only 17% of private and independent schools in our 2021 survey reported using YouTube paid advertising. If you’re not yet running ads on YouTube, it could be an opportunity worth exploring!

But aren’t there age restrictions on targeted advertising?

The short answer? Yes. Most digital platforms restrict marketers from focusing on younger audiences (and for good reason). Specifically, YouTube and Google Ads no longer allow advertising to be targeted to anyone under 18. So how can you reach potential students there?

Target your audience by location and place ads based on the content of channels and creators, not user age. The most popular channels feature movies, music, gaming, beauty, pranks, and expensive stunts (think: MrBeast, PewDiePie, 5-Minute Crafts… if you don’t know, ask a teen). However, if your school is known for a specialized program like its equestrian team, STEM/STEAM, athletics program or art offerings, advertising to channels that feature those topics could yield great performance.

Have fun with organic content and novel ideas

If you don’t already have the budget for it, paid social advertising may seem unrealistic. However, there are ways to get around this and still make a large digital impact (start by saving this post about Turning Your Head of School Into a Digital Marketing Champion in your back pocket to help create room in your budget for it next year).

Make sure there is content for teens wherever they are likely to interact with your school or see your content online – especially organic content posted on your social platforms or website. While it’s important to be agile and relevant on social media, know when a trend is right for your school, your brand, your objectives and your audience. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean you have to (or even should) do it. When it truly makes strategic sense for you to jump in, your efforts will be far more impactful and your investment will be worth it.

TIP: Consider initiating a student social media ambassador program and task students to generate content for you! There’s no one more well versed in content that will stick than the individuals who are the same age and consuming the same content as your target prospective students. This will not only save you time on creating the content yourself, but will allow prospective students to see themselves reflected in your community. It’s also great real-world marketing experience for your current students.

You can also lean in and have some fun with it! Offering downloadable content like letters or Powerpoint and Google Slides decks on your site is a great way to help teens pitch their parents on your school. Want to know more? Read our post about Marketing to Gen Z.

At Metric Marketing, we develop measurable and practical strategies to help private and independent schools like yours to make the most of your marketing efforts. We'd love to discuss your private school's marketing requirements with you. Contact us today to speak with our marketing professionals or sign up to receive more marketing tips in your inbox.


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