Traditional Marketing VS Social Media: Where to Put Your Marketing Spend


That’s how many U.S. adults get their news from print newspapers (as of early 2016).

And, twice as many adults (four-in-ten) get their news online. Most use social media.

As customer habits are changing, so is advertising. From SMEs to multinationals and NGOs or public institutions, more and more organizations are investing in digital marketing.

Are social media networking sites an effective marketing channel for an educational institution like yours?

Which one should you choose to get the best bang for your buck?

To answer those questions, let’s compare the traditional forms of advertising with the emerging platforms, such as Facebook.

By the end of this article, you should have a clear view of what advertising channel is going to help you skyrocket student enrollment.

What’s Causing the Shift and Why Does It Matter

Not long ago, the primary news source for most people was newspapers. Then came radio, television, and finally, the Internet.

Each offered more than its “predecessor”. One after the other, they influenced the way we consume media. And as they grew, so did advertising.

We went from paper to large screens to small screens.

Add social media to the mix, and you have a perfect medium. One that provides consumers with on-demand entertainment, news, and anything else they might need.
Advertisers jumped on it right away.

If the content can be personal, so can the marketing.

Surely, such unlimited access to content has created a lot of noise.

Who hasn’t seen those annoying ads completely unrelated to what we like?

Inexperienced advertisers without a plan or strategy tend to decrease the effectiveness of online marketing.

We see this type of noise in niches as competitive as education, where the buyer’s journey is a long one before making a decision. And, where the payback of an inquiry is high (eg. private school tuition) compared to the low cost of online advertising.

Since education is a long game, you need to cut through the noise with a complex online marketing strategy.

No parent picks a school for their child after one ad (whether in a newspaper, on the radio, or on social media). You need to ensure prospective parents are consistently but politely nudged towards the right institution – yours.

What makes it even harder?

The habits of decision-makers are changing fast. Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat? Images, articles, or videos? Change forces school owners to continually re-evaluate their marketing plans.

But does that mean you should stick to traditional ways of advertising which are easier to use? Or, quite the opposite, that you should hop on the social media train and invest your marketing dollars in Facebook ads?

Let’s dig deeper.

Print, Billboards, Radio and Direct Mail – Why Their Effectiveness Is Diminishing

When it comes to advertising in newspapers and magazines, circulation is everything. If you don’t pick the right paper, one that reaches your audience, you won’t enroll a single student.

I’ve heard many stories of enrollment managers putting their entire budget for a quarter in a single, well-designed newspaper ad and then...crickets.

It’s not just about reaching parents. As we move into middle school and high school, it’s about reaching students as well. Try getting a family to change schools if the teenager doesn’t feel like it!

Both parents and students’ interests are becoming more diverse. It’s not that easy to target all these diverging interests.

But are traditional ads targeting local audiences effective? Let’s be real. People reading the local paper have heard about your brand and your competition already.

How much can you explain in a newspaper ad sitting next to your competitor’s?

How do you stand out? How do you create an emotional connection?

Why should they choose you over the competition?

Not all parents send their kids to your school for the same reason. And, it’s hard to personalize your print advertising.

Unless you have a huge budget and can run ads over and over. But that’s rarely the case.

Of course, there are benefits to advertising in print. One of the biggest is that you can make many impressions on the same reader.

But that’s theory.

In practice:

  • The majority of people are not interested in your offer.
  • A single ad won’t persuade if you haven’t built a relationship.
  • You can’t target all relevant needs in a single ad.

Add to that the need to advertise in many newspapers and magazines to reach your audience and your spending goes through the roof.

So, is print an effective choice? Look at the table below:


  • Good for building brand awareness
  • Pass-along readership gives you free impressions of your ads
  • Many parents and grandparents (decision makers and people who can influence them) read newspapers on a daily basis.


  • Readership & circulation keep falling
  • Very hard to target the right people
  • Requires paying for many expensive ads over a long period of time to be effective
  • Very hard to build a relationship using newspaper ads.

Print is still good for building awareness – if you want to target senior decision-makers who prefer paper over the Internet.

Billboards have a similar dynamic with print. You can build brand awareness and get a lot of impressions when purchasing a high-traffic location. But, you have no targeting options, they are expensive, and you can’t build a relationship.

When it comes to radio, its share of media consumption is also declining. People prefer to stream their favorite music online.

Radio is no less cluttered than any other channel. Just like newspapers, it requires frequency, which is costly and hard to achieve – especially for smaller academic institutions.

And, you can’t be sure you will reach the right people or that you will persuade them. That doesn’t mean radio is a bad choice for building brand awareness.

Many people listen to the radio even if they don’t intend to – at work or the mall. Making them hear your ads over and over could help you achieve exactly that.

Other than that, there aren’t many advantages to promoting your school on the radio:


  • Good for building brand awareness
  • You can reach even people who don’t usually listen to the radio


  • Its share of media consumption keeps decreasing
  • It’s very cluttered – too many ads, decreasing the chance that yours will be the one that gets remembered
  • Few targeting options
  • Expensive
  • Hard to scale

Some of the drawbacks are also shared by direct mail, which, if written by a professional sales copywriter, can sometimes be effective with an older demographic. But it’s expensive, intrusive, and doesn’t build a relationship.

This doesn’t make it a good choice for selling educational services, which are never an impulse purchase.

Your letter won’t be the only one in their mailbox. And, you don’t want people to associate your brand with unwanted flyers or junk mail.

You could try sending them a few letters over an extended period of time, guiding them through the sales funnel. That way, you could build a relationship, but there are drawbacks.


  • Can be very effective if written by a good copywriter
  • Theoretically, you could guide the buyers through different stages of awareness before making a sale


  • They work much better with impulse purchases.
  • There’s too much junk mail sent by tens of companies on a daily basis. You don’t want your audience to think of you as just another spammer.
  • Expensive and time-consuming (targeting, writing, printing, postage)
  • Hard to scale into thousands (unless you outsource the technical stuff and have a big budget)

Considering the cost of targeting the right homes and all the paper and postage, there’s a much more effective choice.

One that’s on the rise and gives you more power over your advertising than any channel before, which is social media, of course.

Let’s see if advertising on social media can be used in marketing educational institutions.

Social Media – Enrollment Funnels That Don’t Feel like Advertising at All

Keeping in mind that the educational niche has a long, complex and emotional “sales cycle,” let’s try to answer the following question:

How do you actually sell a registration at a school or college?

Well, you don’t.

The key is to get new students without selling. The decision-makers, regardless of their age, have seen it all and are resistant to traditional ads.

That’s why, instead of trying to persuade them using in-your-face sales tactics, you must slowly introduce them to your school.

Build a relationship and make them want to learn more.

With social media, your audience is in charge and can choose whether they want to stay in touch with you or not.

The goal is to convince parents to enroll their kids. And convince kids they will have fun learning.

But how do you know who to target?

It wasn’t easy to do using print, radio or direct mail, was it?

Social media networks have designed robust targeting options to make advertisers happy.

On platforms such as Facebook, you can target people by interests, income level, age, and location.

That way, you only pay for marketing to families most likely to enroll in your school.

No waste.

But, how do you learn about the needs of your audience?

No other channel provides such convenient and fast two-way communication.

By listening to your audience, you can do more than just market to them. You can interact and learn about their needs and expectations.

And, this knowledge is priceless.

You can build a relationship based on trust. Imagine knowing that half the parents in your audience want to learn about innovative academic programs such as Project-Based Learning or S.T.E.A.M. And a third of your audience wants to learn about college preparedness…or English readiness…or character education.

How to appeal to them?

Show them the content that answers their needs.

Not all your communication will strike a chord the first time. You need to test. On social media, taking a sample of your audience and sending them alternative creatives is easy and affordable.

Naturally, it sounds great.

But, are there drawbacks to marketing on social media?

Sadly, no advertising channel is perfect.

Part of your audience may not use social media at all. Nothing you can do about that. To capture them, you still need to invest in traditional forms of marketing.

The choices can be overwhelming. Facebook alone offers many types of ads. Mastering them all can be time-consuming.

And, because it’s self-serve and instant advertising, it’s easy to lose money if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Boosting a post on Facebook…that won’t get you much impact. You need a comprehensive strategy.

But, that doesn’t mean you should ditch everything and spend weeks learning social media advertising.

Making the Shift Without Losing Money

There’s a better way.

Start small and delegate.

Instead of trying to do everything yourself, write down your options and prioritize their expected impact.

Before making any decisions, ask for help from a parent or student well-versed in social media. Every school has someone.

Stop here for a second and read these questions:

  • Would you like to know where your marketing dollars are going?
  • Would you like to know where your marketing dollars are going?
  • Do you think targeting with social media could lower your marketing costs and help you promote your school?
  • Do testing and optimizing sound like good ways to increase your conversion and enrollments?
  • Do you want a long-term relationship with your audience?

Don’t answer yet.

Think of all four marketing channels you’ve read about. Which one is best for your business?

If you answered “yes” to at least one of the above questions, there’s no doubt social media is the right choice for you.

Of course, you can stick to traditional ways of advertising and forget about social media altogether.

But, if you are serious about competing with other schools and want to see new students coming in, you should act now.