As a veteran international educator, I’ve seen the world of overseas student recruitment change several times in the last three decades. From the rise of the internet in the 90s, post-9/11 expansion, increased global competition, the rise of the service provider economy, to our current, often Sisyphean work, how we make our case to students and parents has changed in both the message and the methods we use to convey our value. Over the next few months, we’ll examine key elements of what can drive success in international student admission strategies in these turbulent times. First up, a focus on digital marketing beyond your institution’s website.
Since the 90s, every U.S. college has developed their own site. While IT departments on campus initially drove the process, over the last decade most forward-thinking institutions have a marketing communications office if not an entire division directing form, content, and ownership of the college website. In recent years, International student recruitment efforts in this space have matured. By developing international student-friendly content on their own pages off the main institutional site, the international student admissions offices have made headway in providing relevant content to overseas audiences. Over the last few years, however, many new forms of digital marketing have evolved that have allowed institutions to extend their online presence in different, more direct ways.
Since the earliest days of Facebook in 2005-06 when this future behemoth of a social network launched across the U.S. on college campuses, social platforms have become ubiquitous not only in our daily lives, but also in how prospective students communicate. As Facebook, YouTube, Twitter developed in the United States first, many international offices saw these new media sources as strictly the realm of domestic admissions. Yet the reality is by 2008, these platforms and others were becoming truly global.
Data has consistently shown that when Facebook and these other platforms take root, the first demographic to embrace social media has been pre-college and college-age youth. When reports of Facebook’s demise domestically among 16-24 year old students arose in the last five years or so, many international markets were thriving, as they are today. India surpassed the U.S. as the country with the most Facebook users over a year ago (269 million to 183 million – as of October 2019). So, of the more than 2.4 billion people in the world now on Facebook, over 2.2 billion are not in the United States.
As social media has evolved, messaging apps like Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat have risen to prominence. This trend indicates a desire for people to have more personal conversations outside of the platforms where all their friends might see the details. International student recruiters and admissions reps have begun conversations on these and other messaging apps (particularly those active in China) with prospective students over the last few years, which help reinforce the personal relationships with potential international students we all hope will lead to enrollments.
While social media is the relational behemoth where students can find out what life is like on college campuses, international students typically begin looking for options online with broad Google searches for universities in the U.S., leading them to college search engine sites like Hotcourses and IDP.
Internationally, few colleges have the travel budget to consistently visit all the markets from which they wish to attract students. To effectively get in front of a broader audience in countries where your institution won’t be doing in-country recruitment means having additional ways to share information about your programs, costs, scholarships, and other value propositions.
By having robust profiles on key college search engines, you can ensure your message reaches a much broader audience than your website alone could attract. For example, IDP’s online sites, including Hotcourses various locally hosted native-language microsites, attracted 82 million web visits in 2019.
One of the newer digital marketing tools available to help reach and re-engage international audiences involves retargeting ads across various websites. You know what we’re talking about: you look for a product on one of the many online retailers, and within a day or so (sometimes a few minutes later) you get an ad on your Facebook feed or other sites for that same product. Universities can use these opportunities to get back in front of students who visited your website, those who found you originally on different college search sites, and more.
Last year, we explored how existing social media presence of universities can complement remarketing to those prospects overseas (and their parents). For those international audiences who have already at least explored what your institution has to offer in some digital way, you have opportunities to re-engage with them online without necessarily sending an email. Through this retargeting, you can help keep your college front and center in the minds of your intended audiences and move them further along in the admissions process.
For more information on how IDP Connect can assist your institution in improving its digital marketing efforts beyond your website, please get in touch with Elle Butler, Marketing Manager for IDP Connect USA.