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What Makes a Good Social Media Ad?

Facebook has transformed from a platform where we can easily stay connected with friends and family, to a pay-to-play platform, where brands and businesses of all sizes are fighting for clicks, likes, comments and shares. And your school's social media ad isn't just in competition with other schools — it's in competition with their friends' posts, posts from brands they "like" all the time, and of course, dozens of posts with cute puppies, how-to recipes, and relatable videos.

That being said, the content you select to represent to offer in your ad is key — and it needs to be "thumb-stopping good." What I mean by "thumb-stopping good" is exactly what it sounds like: the visual content you choose to represent your school in an ad needs to be intriguing, engaging, and relevant enough to disrupt a user's scrolling experience.

So what makes a good social media ad? 

The six qualities of a — not just good, but thumb-stopping good — social media ad are:

  1. A clearly defined goal
  2. A small target audience
  3. A high-quality, relevant and eye-catching image or video
  4. A short description of the offer
  5. One call-to-action
  6. A link that goes directly to a relevant landing page

We dive deeper into these qualities — and what they mean in light of COVID-19, virtual events, and more — in Episode 2 of The School Marketing Show: Live.

1. A clearly-defined goal

Before investing any ad dollars into social media ads, you have to ask yourself what the end goal is. Do you want to build brand awareness (get more page "likes"), increase post engagement (get more engagement on a particular post), drive website traffic, or build event attendance?

The overall goal of your ad will determine your headline and body copy, image, audience, budget, duration, and call-to-action. So don't skip this step.

Facebook Ads Manager makes it easy to think goal-oriented by selecting the action and outcome that is most in-line with your overall goal:

finalsite social media ad goals

Forman School adapts their ad strategy based on their end goal — whether it be driving engagement on a single post, earning page likes, or driving website traffic. With each ad they change the image, headline text and body text to both A/B test content and ensure it is always fresh.

Here are a few examples:

Goal: Boost a Post

In this example from Forman School, the overall goal is engagement with the post — which is a video. Boosted posts offer a lot of flexibility in terms of ad targeting, making them a great solution for driving traffic to a post that's already performing well.

Targeting an ad like this to new families and current families would likely yield the best results.

Ad - Video Views

Goal: Drive Website Traffic

For schools and districts, driving website traffic is a big component of brand awareness, since social media only allows you to share so much. In this example from Forman School, the school doesn't promote a social media post, but a page on their website. The subtle "like" thumbs up in the corner also allows viewers to "like" the page, too.

Targeting an ad like this to new families would likely yield the best results.

ad - website traffic

Goal: Earn Page Likes

For schools and districts looking to earn more engagement on their Facebook page, earning page likes is a good goal. For most, targeting an ad like this at their current community would likely yield the best results.

Goal - Page Likes

2. A small target audience

Here's what we know about social media ads: they are carefully curated to appear on your timeline via a series of algorithms based on your website browsing, page likes, friends' likes, content you engage with, etc. They are intended to show you new content you may never see organically. 

But, is there ever an ad that pops up on your social media timeline that leaves you wondering, "huh?" That's likely the culprit of an audience that is too broad.

For example, simply targeting women ages 26-35 within a 30-mile radius of your zip code isn't going to yield the same results as re-targeting individuals who have visited a specific page or pages of your website.

And Facebook gives users the option to say it isn't relevant:

Hello Fresh Ad Dislike


When defining your audience, you need to first determine who you really want to target? Is it alumni, current parents, or prospective students? Or is it even a smaller segment. Once you determine the "who," you need to determine the "where." This doesn't mean "where" on social media, but rather, where they are in their consumer journey.

For example, someone who has never heard about your school (likely) isn't ready to register for an open house — but someone who has already visited your website might be.

Segmenting content by the "where" in addition to the "who" allows to create ad copy and a CTA that is most compelling to that particular group of people at a certain stage.

So how do you create these targeted lists? Facebook offers endless ways to craft audiences, but these are our three top ways:

  • Retargeting pixel: Facebook's retargeting pixel is a snippet of code you can install in the tag of your website. The tag tracks website visits, and then retargets website visitors on Facebook (and/or Instagram) with an ad relevant to their website visit. Your remarketing audience created by the Facebook pixel includes all traffic to your site, not just those coming from Facebook or social media.
  • Uploaded List: An uploaded list has its pros and cons. On the plus side, if you're uploading a list, chances are these individuals have interacted with your school at least once, meaning they may be more likely to engage with your ad. On the downside, when you upload a list, it only allows you to target individuals whose email in your list matches their Facebook account, which usually results in about a 50% loss of contacts.
  • Saved Audience: This is evidently the most complicated way to create a target audience, using interest and demographic information, but does allow you the biggest opportunity to reach new audiences. We do recommend working with a consultant when using this type of targeting to ensure you get the biggest ROI.

3. A high-quality, relevant and eye-catching image or video

Going back to the idea of "thumb-stopping good," the visual you select is going to be the primary reason why someone stops and then reads. Make sure that your visual is relevant to the ad, and if there was no text content, a user could easily guess who the ad is about.

whitfield ad example

4. A short description of the offer

Don't leave your target audience confused, and don't expect them to want to read about your offer. Facebook ads are meant to be just that — an ad. So, it might be time to think back to your print marketing days and ask "how did we get our image across in just a few words and an ad?"

In other words, don't do this:

elegant themes example

5. It has one call-to-action

A good social media ad has one clear call to action — not two, not three. When selecting your call-to-action, consider who your target audience is and what your goal is.

For example, if you want more alumni to "like" your page, your ad should invite them to "like" your page — not "like" your page and visit your website. Or, if you want to drive open house attendance, your goal should be to drive them to a registration page — meaning the CTA button would say "RSVP."

6. It links directly to a relevant landing page

While you do want to disrupt a user's scrolling experience with a great ad, you don't want to provide a disruptive experience once they click. Rather, you want it to feel seamless, natural, and relevant. Therefore, it is important to send users to the most relevant page to your ad content.

You will likely need to create new landing pages that provide both a resource for your audience and the opportunity to take the action you want. This is especially true for virtual events that are taking place of in-person events in light of COVID-19.

For example, if you are promoting your school's virtual open house, direct them to the exact page on which they can register, not just your main admissions page. It's important to keep in mind that every person who clicks your ad might not be ready to register that very second, especially when you are reaching new audiences. Include what students will do, what parents will do, who they will meet, etc.

For example, this ad:

canterbury social media ad

Links to this page:

canterbury school admissions landing page

It's essential to offer visitors information to provide clarity or to help them transition from solely being aware of the event into considering it, and ultimately taking the action we want. (This includes adding short registration form to the page, too!)

Key Takeaway

Social media ads are vital for building awareness and engagement for your school or district — but, they do require an intentional strategy to ensure the best results. Take the time to sit back and ask:

  • What is our goal?
  • Who do we need to reach in order to achieve that goal?
  • Where are they in the "funnel"?
  • What content (photos, videos, etc.) will help us reach our goal?
  • When does it make sense to run these ads?
  • How much should we spend?

If you're not sure how or where to even get started, Finalsite's consulting team can help. Our team has helped dozens of schools around the world decrease ad spend while increasing results. Learn more!

download your free copy: 2020 social media guide for schools

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