Social media and international student recruitment

International students studying in the US contribute more than $24bn to the economy.  

(Open Doors education report- published Nov 11 2013)

Recruiting international students is a competitive and lucrative affair with universities and colleges battling it out to stand out from the crowd and attract their share of the brightest international students. It’s puzzling why more universities and colleges aren’t doing their utmost to make the most of their social media accounts to drive international student recruitment.

An active social media presence does not guarantee success so in order to ensure your college or university is optimizing its online reach there a few other factors to consider:

  1. What timeframe should you focus on? Research undertaken by Uversity has shown that students don’t use social media in the initial search process; preferring to rely on more traditional information channels such as the university’s website. However, once they have narrowed their decision down and are interested in attending your institution then they will begin to expand their search to include social media.
  2. Set up a designated community for international students:  Students coming to your college or university from a different country have unique concerns and anxieties to domestic students such as language barriers and cultural differences.  Creating an online community where they can meet other fellow students in a similar situation will make the transition easier and alleviate any concerns they may have.3.      
  3. Focus on helping students:  Share content that is of value to international students. Share information about where they can get in touch with an official from the international student office or how can they contact other international students. 4.     
  4. Manage expectations: Before students arrive at your institution inform them of any issues they might encounter such as a shortage of housing on campus. Managing student expectations before they arrive is an effective way of ensuring a smooth transition.5.    
  5. Share other student experiences: Getting current international users to blog about their college experience is a great way of building trust and increasing brand awareness.
  6. Live where your students live: What works in one country won’t work in another. For instance, Chinese students use Renren while students from Brazil use Orkut.  Brock University in Canada began using Chinese social media sites to recruit international students and in just 18 months they secured 16 new students who will each pay roughly $15,000 per year to attend the university. ($960,000 over four years; not accounting for future alumni donations). By recognizing that social networks are regional and by using students who speak Mandarin to engage with prospective students, interest in Brock University among Chinese students has increased steadily.

Social media might not be the first port of call for international students who are considering studying abroad. However, with a little time and effort, insight and planning, social media can be a powerful resource tool when it comes to increasing international student experience and engagement a little further down the line.