Many college enrollment leaders are concerned that Apple’s privacy updates to the iOS platform would hurt marketing campaigns in the field or constrain their future ability to engage students and families, judging from the volume of questions our digital advertising experts have gotten across the past few weeks.
Major change in digital advertising
For those who have missed the news, Apple made an update to its mobile operating system last month that requires users to opt in to having apps track them across the Internet and across devices. In the past, tracking was enabled by default within Apple iOS.
Early data suggests that Apple users are opting into letting themselves be tracked at rates even lower than expected—at latest count, only 6% of U.S. users are enabling the option to be tracked, according to a Verizon subsidiary that reports on mobile device trends.
Apple’s privacy changes drew complaints and criticisms from advertisers and social media platforms, most notably Facebook, which waged a PR offensive against the Apple changes even in advance of the rollout and subsequently adjusted aspects of their services to conform to the changes.
Minimal impact on undergraduate recruitment
So, should enrollment leaders who want to reach prospective students and families be worried?
Not really—most especially not enrollment leaders who are focused on undergraduate recruitment.
1. The journey to college isn’t just about one immediate action
For some digital advertisers, like shoe retailers, who are hoping to entice shoe shoppers to complete their sneaker purchases by having their incomplete shopping cart follow them everywhere, the Apple changes are bad news. Online retailers rely on hyper-targeted advertising to drive purchases, and Apple’s updates could make that level of personalization more difficult in some cases.
But savvy enrollment marketing practitioners are playing the long game—using multiple channels to expose prospective students and families to college options and building affinity over time through many different interactions. Even with Apple’s privacy updates, it’s still completely possible to reach the right student and family audiences with the right content at the right time.
2. Enrollment marketers are (mostly) working with known audiences
While “stealth shoppers” for college have become more important, most colleges are trying to reach high school students and families who aren’t that hard to identify, thanks to opt-in testing-based list sources such as College Board or ACT/NCRRUA, college search sites such as Cappex, or counseling tools such as Naviance. With the information from those sources, colleges can still reach prospective students and families across many different channels, including social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram.
3. Social media platforms still offer plenty of audience targeting options
While Apple’s decision may have thrown a wrench in the works for Facebook and other social media companies, those platforms still offer extensive targeting options based on interests and affinities as well as identities. Moreover, because Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even LinkedIn are at their heart advertising-based businesses, they have strong incentives to continue to build out their audience identification capabilities.
4. Hand-raisers abound (if you look in the right places)
The implicit data derived from using mobile apps to follow students around the Internet without their explicit permission might be one way to figure out what students are interested in, if perhaps not the most savory one.
But even the most effective enrollment marketing doesn’t require the “surveillance economy” to function. Students and families have many out-in-the-open opportunities to explore colleges and express interest: virtual tours, interactive communities, reply forms, and student search inquiries, just to name a few. At EAB, we are working with our partners to take those genuine expressions of interest and channel them into the right next step for prospective students and families, without needing to snoop behind the scenes.
Some technical adjustments may be required
That’s not to minimize the impact on website managers or digital marketers, who may have to do some reconfiguration of their websites and Facebook accounts to negotiate these changes by Apple and Facebook.
In particular, Facebook is advising website owners who are Facebook advertisers to “verify their domains” through their Facebook Business Manager, and also prioritize the “conversion events” on their Facebook Pixel, since Facebook is now limiting websites to only eight conversion events per site.
Our EAB social media advertising team is anticipating some new limitations as a result of Facebook’s adjustments. Certain analyses and tests we perform for our partners could be constrained, especially those that require correlating social media interactions with enrollment funnel behavior. But as always, our Enrollment team will continue to identify the best new ways to find right-fit students and negotiate these changes on a partner by partner basis to ensure that we continue to meet their needs.
Learn more about students' digital preferences
Students are willing to share their info—if schools can customize their digital experience. See more insights from our survey of college-bound students.