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Image courtesy of Go CCCS microsite

CCCS: Zero To Impact

Stephen Biernacki

Getting impressive bottom-line results when you start with a blank slate isn’t easy. But the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), working with Educational Marketing Group (EMG) – did just that with their social media presence, beginning in early 2013.

CCCS is the largest system of higher education in Colorado, serving 163,000 students each year. With 13 campuses across the state, it exerts $3.01 billion in positive economic impact.

EMG’s work with CCCS involved developing – from scratch – an engaging online presence and content strategy for the system and promoting the new social media channels and targeted tactics through online advertising and outreach. The goal was to raise top-of-mind awareness and perceptions of quality of the 13 system colleges in order to increase prestige, targeted enrollment, partnerships, support, and fundraising.

Statewide outdoor and transit advertising launched the campaign

Outdoor and transit advertising across the state of Colorado, along with direct marketing, web communications, and media and public relations tactics combined with the online tactics to drive home CCCS’ primary brand messages. It has been a large undertaking and continues to be a fun and rewarding ride!

Here’s a bit more on how things went from the get go.

“Go CCCS” Landing Microsite
Before the campaign was launched, a landing microsite specifically designed for prospective students was created; vastly different in tone from the system’s existing website, which was a bit dated and intended for all audiences (EMG is in the process of updating the main CCCS website now).

The landing microsite messaging for prospective students was based on the brand platform developed for the System in mid-2012. Senior leaders gathered for a retreat to review in-depth data and analysis that guided how the System should be positioned. The outcome was a consensus-driven positioning platform including the brand promise, drivers (messaging points) and brand personality.

“The pathway to individual achievement and economic vitality” became the consensus-driven System brand promise, so in one way or another, everything communicated by CCCS going forward has advanced this strategic idea. Check out the microsite to see how the positioning translated into key messaging for prospective students of all ages.

Social Media Components
At EMG’s recommendation, CCCS focused on creating and maintaining a presence on Facebook and Twitter. In less than four months and in conjunction with advertising on Facebook, CCCS’ Facebook Page garnered more than 2,800 Likes. Similarly and with the help of Promoted Account and Promoted Tweets advertising, CCCS grew it’s Twitter following to more than 970 followers. Of course, campaign results are measured in more than just Likes and Follows. We also tracked audience impact, and made adjustments to content to make sure content was both relevant and engaging. One big number we tracked was overall reach. On Facebook alone, we reached over 3,279,000 users.

Content on these networks was strategically limited to sync with the brand positioning above and constant interaction with mentions and search results through Facebook and Twitter was done. A close eye was kept on posts that produced results and those that did not.

Online Advertising
Complementing CCCS’ new Facebook and Twitter accounts with online advertising geared towards growing the virtual community was a natural. One tactic was to target those who already had some relationship with an institution(s) within the System already. This was done in Facebook by targeting the institution names via “Precise Interest.”  This particular campaign accumulated a CTR of .189% (unique CTR of 6.823%), in addition to 1,460 actions and 1,307 Likes.

It was important to target these users as they served as the foundation of “who” CCCS is and were the most likely to engage and offer feedback on content. Using this same approach, we targeted users via institution keywords and “similar to followers” of those Twitter users who were following the CCCS institution Twitter accounts. More details and strategies on Twitter Ads can be found in my previous blog, “5 Steps To Thriving Twitter Ads.”

Another outcome that delighted CCCS resulted from connecting right column Facebook ads to the CCCS Facebook Page. These ads which are more challenging to see results from than those in the News Feed, maintained a .133% CTR and .901% unique CTR over the course of four months, and resulted in 1,452 Likes and 1,541 Actions.

These ads were not targeted towards those with a specific interest in CCCS, making this figure excellent for right column ads and reinforcing that those who did click on the ads truly resonated with our copy.

In addition to promoting the social accounts themselves, the campaign also directed relevant prospects to the landing microsite, which used the campaign design elements to create a seamless user experience. We did this using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google AdWords.

In addition to right column ads,  we promoted occasional posts from the CCCS Facebook Page. These ranged from simple questions that were getting good organic responses that we wanted to amplify through promotion to more straightforward branded messaging directing users to the microsite. Examples of both are below:


We used strategic Twitter targeting methods for Promoted Account and Promoted Tweets to reach the audiences with which CCCS wanted to connect. This included targeting followers (all Colorado based) of teen-resonant accounts, Colorado universities and community colleges, news organizations, sports teams, moms and dads, online education interest, high school keywords, and events across Colorado targeted by hashtag and keyword. We encouraged users to follow our account and also visit the microsite. Four examples from many Promoted Tweets we ran are below. Promoting tweets was always done with specific targeting in mind whenever possible. For instance, the online courses tweet below was only promoted to those having an online education interest.



Advertising on LinkedIn was not a focal point of the campaign because of the limited audience, but results were successful. Our single Sponsored Update received .160% CTR (19% engagement CTR) along with 46 social actions, 19 likes, and seven comments. Traditional LinkedIn ads operated at a CTR of .15% and acquired nearly 20 leads who requested follow up. Examples of both can be seen below.



For Google AdWords we used a combination of search text ads and animated display ads. Examples of each can be seen below. One of the many ways we optimized was to place display ads on websites which had shown results early on in our testing. Those acquired a higher CTR of .16%.


Through tweaking and optimization during the campaign, we saw consistent improvements in actions and CTR with Google AdWords, Facebook, and LinkedIn. It says a lot about the messaging that we were able to strengthen over that period of time.

For example, our branded text search ads finished with a CTR of .61%, which for a non-retail/product-based industry is exceptional!

All in all, total impressions across all platforms were 55,857,723. The total clicks across all platforms were an impressive 36,771. While these numbers don’t tell the whole story, they’re vital.

How the impressions broke out:

  • Google AdWords: 4,597,112
  • Facebook: 46,784,478
  • Twitter: 638,854
  • LinkedIn: 3,837,279

And the clicks:

  • Google AdWords: 8,888
  • Facebook: 22,504
  • Twitter: 4,585
  • LinkedIn: 794

This integrated campaign showed exceptional results, and truly achieved the bottom-line goal of increasing top-of-mind awareness and interest.  It was especially impressive when you consider that there was absolutely no social media presence at the launch of the campaign.

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