institution: grand canyon university - institution size: over 70,000 online students - services utilized: performance social media

Background & Opportunity

The online higher education vertical is a highly crowded, competitive landscape. Institutions aggressively compete for share-of-voice and prospective student leads by leveraging various digital channels, primarily placing emphasis on organic rankings and paid search initiatives. Making matters more challenging, institutions frequently have critical program-specific enrollment goals. To augment internal enrollment efforts, institutions often engage affiliate marketing agencies.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) is a highly reputable, regionally accredited Christian University, with a robust online student population. In early 2018, GCU was interested in expanding organic demand generation initiatives for its online program offerings. Cygnus proposed an alternative approach to organic, paid search and affiliate marketing: Performance Social Media, its flagship strategy.


The Challenge

Many institutions recognize the importance of social media and the need to include social demand generation tactics in their digital marketing mix. For the most part however, institutions have fallen short of achieving performance metrics that are comparable to those realized through organic and paid search efforts.

GCU was looking for a partner that could deliver consistent lead generation at scale across a number of specific, key programs – both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Although initially skeptical of Performance Social Media, Cygnus’ first-party party exclusive lead model convinced GCU to run a preliminary test.

The Solution

Through a proprietary first-party social media audience targeting program, deep understanding and synchronization with GCU’s enrollment processes, and integrated down-funnel data analysis, Cygnus was able to identify, target, and deliver prospects that were highly likely to engage with Grand Canyon’s online higher education offerings.

The highly targeted, multi-faceted approach delivered highly qualified, high-intent prospective student leads that were:

  • Highly contactable
  • Engaged with the University’s brand
  • Actively considering education options
  • NOT co-registered job or scholarship leads
  • 100% exclusive


Within 6 months of deploying an initial test campaign, Cygnus delivered some of the most competitive conversion and cost metrics currently being realized by GCU. As a result, Cygnus became one of the fastest partners to become a Tier 1 vendor to GCU, a designation that came with a growing commitment from the University to scale Performance Social Media efforts managed by Cygnus. To-date, Cygnus has successfully scaled this campaign by nearly 3,000%.



Our experienced team is ready to help your institution achieve its enrollment goals.