Without question, technology is a double-edged sword. New tools can improve our daily lives but can equally deepen our frustrations as we try to keep up. As international educators, the most significant shift in how offices have changed over the last quarter century has been the rise of various tech-based service providers as partners for institutions. In many ways, whether in online lead-generation, virtual platforms enabling on-going conversations, or video tours of campus, the companies delivering these services have become essential elements of international admissions strategies.
Nonetheless, a few universal truths remain in international admissions: reading season is a grind, travel is rarely glamorous, and current students are the best recruiters. One of the first things I learned as a young admissions counselor in 1993, even as an alum of the university I represented, was our students (whether tour guides, tele-counselors, or student workers) gave prospective students the best opportunity to see what it might be like to be a student on our campus. While our job as international admissions reps are to be artists, creating a picture for future students as to what their lives could be, the materials and media we use to convey that image are what will define our success.
As we kicked off this series on Content Marketing in International Student Recruitment, telling our institution’s story and doing so in a personal, unique, differentiating way is the biggest challenge. What, then, is more unique and personal than an institution’s most important resource, current students?
Student life / testimonial videos
Starting with a call for help is always a good start. At the University of Illinois at Springfield, a recent article did just that: “UIS Needs Student Participation to Recruit Internationals.” When Anna Bradford, a new admissions counselor, prepared for her first recruitment trip for UIS, she knew prospective students needed to “have the idea of how the campus looks … and the idea of different students and countries that are here, and to get someone’s personal experiences.”
Shooting video that can be re-purposed for a virtual tour of campus makes sense, particularly keeping in mind the physical access issues international students have to our campuses. How and where that video gets used is often the difference maker. Using a video on a laptop or iPad while recruiting overseas is a good start but can have limited impact at a noisy fair. What makes student video content resonate is brevity (no more than three minutes) and personal impact (does it have a compelling message). If a video meets these criteria, reuse it wherever possible! Whether in communication flow messaging, institutional website, and/or social media channels, student-focused, day-in-the-life/testimonial video should be front and center in institution’s international content marketing strategy.
The #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign, which we’ll feature in next month’s blog post, has resulted in some outstanding examples of getting current students involved in promoting a positive message for incoming international students. West Chester University in Philadelphia has re-purposed the video they shot for that campaign across their social media channels, their institutional website, and their profiles on the web.
Meanwhile at Marshall University, an outstanding video featuring current international students takes center stage on their profiles and website, giving future students great insight into what life is like as part of the Thundering Herd.
Articles, blogs, online profiles
While videos certainly provide an institution the best visibility for promoting current international students to prospective audiences, other online tools via articles, communication flow messaging, student blogs, photo galleries, and online profiles can be equally effective.
At EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s network of advising centers in over 170 countries, they also heavily rely on current international students to tell their stories to prospective students and their parents.
Features on current international students as part of an institution’s campus news are a great way to highlight success stories for institutions. At the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, they have done this well, showcasing a current MBA student’s journey from India in a recent article. Interestingly, on St. Thomas’ international admissions site they also feature short profiles from five current international students in their native languages, as well as a team of six students who serve as international orientation leaders. What better way to help paint that picture for incoming students!
Final thoughts on student content
In planning how best to utilize your most important resource on campus, selecting the right students is key. Ideally, international admissions offices have a plan for where in the world they would like to grow their global footprint. Getting current students from those target countries that can then plant the seed in prospective students’ minds would be the goal. Whenever possible, this core group should be leveraged across an institution’s digital footprint. Moreover, keeping these student representatives involved throughout the recruitment cycle is important, as prospective students will have very different questions in their initial searches than they will once they have been admitted and are laser-focused on their transition to campus. Plan accordingly with your student resources.
One important student content marketing tool that can help distinguish an institution from its peers is native language content. If an institution has an Intensive English Program (IEP), information for parents, or plans to stand out from the competition, international admissions staff should encourage current students to write pieces for the web and/or record video in their native language. Something as simple as a compilation video of different students saying welcome to (insert institution) in their own languages can generate interest. Additionally, most institutions these days have profiles on at least one lead generation site. See what SUNY – Buffalo does with a locally-hosted, Arabic language version of their profile along with a great set of photos of international students interacting on campus. That’s added value.
We’ll cover the importance of having translated information available in depth in the third installment of this Content Marketing series. Next up, the example of the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign.