From Newsfeed to GDPR: Navigating Disruptions in Digital Marketing for Higher Education

From Newsfeed to GDPR: Navigating Disruptions in Digital Marketing for Higher Education

2018 has been a disruptive year for digital marketing. A year that started with some of the biggest changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithm will soon see the implementation of sweeping regulation changes in the European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulations (GDPR), which become law on May 25th. Although the GDPR only becomes law in the European Union, it applies to all goods or services offered to an EU resident (many of which are considering or currently attending institutions in the United States), and any institution that has students from the EU will need to follow GDPR when processing their data. Even outside of direct relationships with the EU, GDPR could very well serve as the standard model for data regulations worldwide and should be closely watched and understood.

What brought about GDPR?

In the past few years, there have been more and more discussions on privacy and how older data protection laws don’t quite cut it in today’s world. GDPR is meant to protect the consumer and provide an opportunity to consent (or not consent) to how your data is used, and it was created as a response to make sure current laws are keeping consumers and their data as safe as possible from security breaches and cyber-attacks. This gives the consumer more choice in how their data is used and consent to how it can or cannot be used.

What does GDPR mean for higher education marketers?

Most importantly, it means that you will need to consider your current reliance on audience data, where it comes from and how it is collected. The new GDPR policy provides more protection and privacy with respect to personal information and data. Here are some specific areas to consider:

IP Tracking

  • It is still up in the air whether or not individual IP addresses will be considered personal data under GDPR. If it is decided that IP tracking is personal data, this could greatly impact targeted delivery that is based on an individual’s previously visited websites.

Personal Data

  • GDPR makes sure that data is considered as what it really is, which is a “natural person.” There is also a broader definition of personal data, which means you must consider if the information you have could be considered a “natural person.”

Data Processing

  • Data processing expands to include almost all business activities that use personal data. Data processors will also now share accountability for protecting that data and be liable if the data is compromised.


  • Overall, GDPR promises more transparency in data and how it is collected, used or processed. This means it will be easier for the layperson to understand what is happening with their information and how to opt out of giving it up if they choose to do so.

Like the Facebook update, this is an opportunity to think about your customer, your target audience and provide them with information, advertisements and content that are relevant and aligned with what they want. Adopting a strategy of gaming a system, and being lucky enough to figure out a way to actually do so, may provide a momentary uptick in results, but it’s not sustainable. A marketing strategy that provides value for your prospective student in their moments of need (i.e. inquiry, consideration, application) will likely serve you better in the long run. 

How do we stay in front of things like GDPR?

One major way that we are anticipating and preparing for situations like this is by creating an ad server that leverages first-party data. This enhances targeting, performance and attribution while taking away significant reliance on third-party data (the same third-party data that will likely be severely weakened by GDPR). This gives our partners more transparency with primary data and allows more insight into optimizing costs through the first-party data in the ad server.

With constant changes happening, it’s more important than ever for brands to have solid content strategies that provide benefits for their customers, and to have their advertising and messages aligned to support each other. This is also an opportunity to make better use of first-party and/or retargeting data to truly engage prospects and gain a better understanding of their decision-making journey, which in turn allows your brand to be present in the customer’s moment of need.

The Impact of GDPR for EDU Brands

Will there be noticeable differences in marketing results once all these changes go into effect? Yes. But it’s how brands respond to these changes and engage with their customers that will determine how large that difference will be – and in what direction. If a brand is relying solely on third-party data to enable their marketing campaigns, they will likely feel more of an impact and should take this opportunity to re-evaluate their strategy to determine how to provide more value for their customers.

GDPR is an opportunity to establish more trust between consumers seeing your ads or interacting with your brand online. There is some trepidation regarding ads, adtech and online behavior right now, and regulations like this protect privacy and help quell the general public’s concerns. This type of regulation is good for the end consumer, which is good for you.

Christian Larsen
Christian Larsen
May 17, 2018