Article by Angela Brown, Niche
Independent schools understand the importance of having a strong digital presence — according to the Niche 2021 State of Enrollment and Marketing Survey, 57% of independent schools increased their spending in the last year. However, staying on top of the ever-changing digital marketing landscape is a daunting task, even for the most sophisticated school marcom professionals. And as consumers become increasingly concerned about privacy, recent updates announced by Apple and Google are going to have a significant impact on how schools engage with prospective families. Here we’ll discuss three major privacy updates that will have implications across the advancement function and ways your marcom office can adapt.
Released in April 2021, iOS 14.5 was an update to the iOS operating system in which Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency (ATT), a privacy tool that requires iOS users to actively opt in to allowing apps to track their data across applications and websites for advertising. According to Statista, as of September 2021, the opt-in rate for mobile iOS users was 21%, which means that only 21% of users are choosing to allow app tracking. While this is better than the extremely low rates that were seen early on with iOS 14.5, it’s still a very small number of iOS users that marketers are able to track.
In 2021, 64% of independent schools used paid social advertising last year and 59% used digital display advertising.
How It Works
All iOS users have an Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), which advertisers use for attribution, personalizing ads and tracking performance. Apps are now required to show a push notification to make users aware of what data and personal information will be tracked before installation and ask for permission to track their data upon installation. Users can also manually choose which apps they do and don’t want to track them in their device Settings. Users who opt out of tracking won’t share their IDFA with apps and they also have the ability to opt out of precise location tracking.
This update impacts two platforms that school marketers and admissions professionals rely on fairly heavily: ads on the Facebook advertising platform (including both Facebook and Instagram) and Google Ads. According to the Niche Survey, 64% of independent schools used paid social advertising last year and 59% used digital display advertising. By allowing users to opt out of tracking through ATT, what’s happening with Facebook is that iOS 14.5 devices have limited Facebook Ad functions and tracking for app and web conversions, which has an impact on personalization and reporting.
In addition, pixel-based actions like form submissions or click to download will have fewer numbers reported because of people opting out of being tracked, and with less pixel tracking activity, there will be less data to work from for optimizing ads. iOS 14.5 users who opt out of tracking also can’t be included in retargeting or lookalike audiences.
If your marcom office hasn’t seen it already, they should be prepared for fluctuations in delivery and performance for ad campaigns that run on iOS. This is because if a user rejects tracking, conversion events won’t be properly attributed to campaigns.
With respect to Google Ads, there is some good news — the impact is similar to Facebook, but on a smaller scale. If your marcom office hasn’t seen it already, they should be prepared for fluctuations in delivery and performance for ad campaigns that run on iOS. This is because if a user rejects tracking, conversion events won’t be properly attributed to campaigns. A campaign might appear to be ineffective when in reality, conversions are not being reported. Another challenge to expect is a reduction in the number of people that can be targeted for a campaign and in the insights, you can gather about your school’s advertising audience.
What Your Marcom Office Can Do
When all else fails, continue to focus on properties your school owns, with your website being the first. If it’s set up properly with analytics in place, your website has tracking capabilities and analytics tools that can help you understand enough about who your visitors are and where they’re coming from so you can create your own audience segments.
Speaking of owned channels, don’t forget about email and SMS. Email, addresses and phone numbers for prospective families are worth their weight in gold, as schools deal with ongoing privacy changes or outages like the one Facebook had earlier this fall. But the marcom and admissions offices will need to do their part to keep those records clean.
Finally, don’t give up on organic content. Content marketing is still very effective, and even though there’s been a lot of discussion about the death of organic reach, it isn’t dead; it’s just a little harder.
Here are three ways to breathe some new life into organic social content:
- Focus on quality content that’s brand-centric. If there are stories that reinforce your school’s brand pillars, core offerings or mission, that can help you bring more focus to what you post and tell a more cohesive story.
- Optimize your content for the algorithms. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram are more recency-based while TikTok, for example, is more interest-based. We won’t get into the nuances of each algorithm here, but it’s important to understand and stay on top of how the algorithms for the platforms you use work so you can plan your content accordingly.
- Finally, schools must get back on board with video. While a few years ago video was king among schools, many have pulled back on this medium. It’s a powerful one that yields a lot of engagement. Videos don’t all have to be high production either — people connect more with more informal content that showcases your school’s unique personality and opens a window into what it’s really like to be part of your community.
iOS 15, Apple Mail Privacy Protection and Hide My Email
The fall 2021 release of iOS 15 included two key features that impact just about everyone in a school that sends emails: Mail Privacy Protection and Hide My Email. Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about a user, and as a result, Apple Mail users can hide whether or not they open emails and when. Hide My Email allows users to share unique, random email addresses that forward emails to their personal inboxes anytime they want to keep their email addresses private.
The latter will likely be less of an issue for your current families and employees because they have a trusted relationship with your school and likely have no problem using their real personal email addresses with you (or are required to). However, things could become a little trickier with prospective families or constituents like grandparents or “friends of the school” who may have a less intimate connection to your institution.
However, things could become a little trickier with prospective families or constituents like grandparents or “friends of the school” who may have a less intimate connection to your institution.
How They Work
Similar to the iOS 14.5 app tracking update, Apply Mail Privacy Protection is something that users must opt into. When a user opens the Mail app, they will see a message asking them to either “Protect Mail activity” or “Don't protect Mail activity.” If they choose “Protect Mail activity,” Apple will route emails through a server to pre-load email content before it’s distributed to readers, even if they don’t open the messages. Apple Mail Privacy Protection impacts emails opened using the Apple Mail app, even if someone is using another email service like Gmail or Outlook. However, it does not impact emails that are opened through third-party email applications that are installed on iOS devices such as the Gmail app or Outlook app.
For Hide my Email, only the app or website a user creates an account with can use the random email address to communicate with them. With an iCloud+ subscription, users can generate unique, random addresses from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with iOS 15 or iPadOS 15 or later in any email field in Safari. They can also generate email addresses on-demand in the Settings app or on iCloud.com.
In terms of impact, the headline here is that if your marcom, admissions and/or development offices have been using email open rates as a key metric for email performance, it’s time to move on. Because Apple Mail Privacy essentially allows Apple to open emails on behalf of users, open rates are being inflated for marketers that have a subscriber base with a lot of Apple Mail users. With Hide My Email, multiple contact records could be associated with opening the same email because users can create fake email addresses to protect their real personal email addresses.
Open rates also have an impact on list segmentation, A/B testing, optimizing send times and automated comm flows. For example, A/B testing for subject lines, from names, and pre-header text all rely on open rates to choose a “winner” between two versions of an email. Without reliable open rate data, A/B test results for these variables won’t hold much weight.
What Your Marcom Office Can Do
First, marketers, fundraisers and admissions professionals will want to rethink the KPIs they use to measure the effectiveness of their email campaigns. KPIs to start tracking now if your advancement office doesn’t already include:
- Click-through rate (CTR) – the percentage of email recipients (based on successful deliveries, not opens) who click on one or more links in an email
- Subscriber growth rate – how fast your audience is growing compared to the number of unsubscribe requests
- Conversion rate – the percentage of recipients who take a specific action like scheduling a meeting with an admission officer or registering for an event. If you aren’t using them already, UTM codes can help you with this. A UTM code is text (known as a query string) added onto the end of a URL that includes parameters for tracking specific pieces of information about a campaign: the campaign name, medium, source and content. If you have goals set up in Google Analytics like requesting a tour or clicking on an application link, you can see how individual emails influence those actions. Some email campaign management tools allow users to create UTM codes for email links automatically, but if yours doesn’t, Google’s Campaign URL Builder is a free, simple, tool for creating UTM codes on the fly.
- Website sessions/referral traffic from email marketing – the number of visits and referrals to your website generated from email campaigns.
You can read a deeper dive into Mail Privacy Protection with additional tips here.
The “Death” of Third-Party Cookies
Businesses have used third-party cookies to track website visitors, improve user experience, and gather data to help them target ads to specific audiences for some time. Google announced plans to phase out third-party cookies in the Chrome browser by 2023 — a timeline that has already been pushed back twice. However, it’s still notable due to Chrome’s share of the browser market (56% in 2019) and the fact that Firefox and Safari are already blocking third-party cookies, hence the headlines about the “death” of third-party cookies.
What This Means
It isn’t necessary to abandon current digital advertising strategies entirely, but school marketers have an opportunity to consider alternatives and change things up in their tactics for building awareness and supporting family recruitment.
The loss of Chrome browser support for third-party cookies will likely result in a few things marketers should prepare for. First, retargeting, a digital marketing tactic that allows you to connect with people who have previously interacted with your website, will become less effective. Another no longer available will be audience extension, which allows you to show an ad to an audience across different websites other than your own and view-through attribution, which is attribution for website visitors who see an ad, don’t click on it, but then return to take an action.
What Your Marcom Office Can Do
Because the timeline for this change is a moving target, one of the simplest things school marketers can do is continue to stay current on ongoing privacy changes by reading blogs just like this one. It also isn’t necessary to abandon current digital advertising strategies entirely, but school marketers have an opportunity to consider alternatives and change things up in their tactics for building awareness and supporting family recruitment. First-party data like email lists can still be used for retargeting and of course, email marketing. Schools can also use contextual targeting, which allows you to market based on the context of a site a user is visiting.
Consumer privacy is all the rage in the digital world at the moment — consumers are demanding it and technology companies and regulatory agencies worldwide are responding. This isn’t going away any time soon, and marketers will continue to be challenged by new updates and changes that will be out of their control. However, what they can control is their understanding of these ongoing changes and the way they adapt to them.