As Chairman of Firo Communications, Elizabeth Gage dedicates her time to the promotion of entrepreneurism while developing her three companies: PCM Interactive, Sonic Mobile and Vortic Technologies. A respected pioneer in the area of multi-channel digital marketing solutions Elizabeth is passionate about IT in Marketing and in finding integrated solutions that benefit a customer. She holds an Honors Degree in English from Queen’s University and is a graduate of Business Entrepreneurship from MIT Sloan School of Management.
As part of our series on online marketing in the education sector we wanted to point out an interesting article in the New York Times1 a couple of weeks ago about foreign students and how important it is to them (and their families) that they further their education in North America. As quoted by one source, Li Manhong, a homemaker from Beijing, in reference to investing in her son’s education and future, “Whatever it takes to reach his maximum potential. It’s worth it.”
According to the article, “with China sending more students to American colleges than any other country, the competition for spots at the top schools has soared. During the 2009-10 academic year, 39,947 Chinese undergraduates were studying in the United States, a 52 percent increase from the year before and about five times as many as five years earlier, according to the Institute of International Education, a U.S. organization.”
And while the benefits of studying in our education facilities are numerous – providing core academic values such as intellectual freedom, collaboration, diversity and gender quality – it can’t be denied that the advantages run both ways.
The presence of foreign students on our campuses benefits society as a whole with the opportunity for domestic students to develop friendships from all over the world, while learning about their cultures. In turn, everyone is more prepared to excel within a global society.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada states on their website that, “the presence of international students enriches the learning environment for Canadian students by bringing a greater diversity of languages, cultures, and perspectives to the classroom, thus providing more international knowledge and intercultural experiences to Canadian students who do not have the opportunity to study abroad. The presence of international students on campus helps universities meet their obligation to prepare students for a global world. Moreover, recruiting the best and brightest international graduate students to Canadian campuses improves the quality and capacity of Canadian university research in a range of disciplines, adding new ideas and approaches to help advance our understanding of key issues.”
Educational facilities wanting to target their marketing efforts to foreign students vying to enroll in North American schools have a powerful and cost-efficient tool at their fingertips: online marketing.
Although similar to the endeavour of marketing to attract domestic students, following are a few tips for targeting foreign students.
Showcase the cultural diversity of your campus – Although foreign students put prevalence on attending our facilities, it’s still a matter of leaving their families and moving to another country and cultural environment. By including the audience that you are targeting, you’re projecting a friendly and approachable facility while incorporating a sense of familiarity.
Engage in social media – An international Facebook fan page and international Twitter account with links to your school’s home page will help to maximize exposure and ensure that you’re where your target audience is.
Dedicate a webpage on your site to international students – This is a great opportunity to showcase the diversity of your campus as well as your international student population.
Keeping in mind that many international students will not have the opportunity to visit your campus prior to enrolment, having a wide array of pictures online – website, Facebook, etc. – will help foreign students and their families get a good sense of your academic offering. In turn, helping them feel more comfortable in their move abroad as they seek to reach their full potential while at the same time enriching the learning environment for domestic students.
According to Jeff Berg, Social Media Strategist, 87% of students trust their friends’ recommendations over critics and are three times more likely to trust peer recommendations over advertising.
This puts prevalence on online community marketing as a powerful tool for student recruiting. And according to Adam Singer at TopRankBlog.com, “community is what makes sites worth visiting.”
To understand the concept of an online community, it is defined as a group of people with similar goals and interests who connect and exchange information on the web.
If this sounds similar to a community in the traditional sense – in the real world – that’s because the online community is simply a natural extension of it. Forrester reports that to be effective, your online community needs members; strength in numbers is another parallel concept between the online and real worlds.
But with so many online communities out there, what makes some thrive and others turn into a virtual ghost town?
While content is always an important aspect of any website, when it comes to the online community, “control is in the hands of the members”, as stated by Forrester.
The Hyper-Social Summit sponsored by the Human 1.0 Network focused on the need to look at the human issues in online communities, stating that, “reciprocity is one key issue and a basic human reflex. If you act without reciprocity it can hurt the community so humans have developed a sense of fairness. There has been a lot of research to support this. Fairness is even more important than transparency.”
Building a vibrant online community should also mimic the positive interactions traditionally formed within the student body and faculty departments.
According to Katy Keim, CMO of California-based Lithium, there are three factors for gauging the future success of your online community: liveliness, responsiveness and interaction.
What it comes down to is that people like to go where the action is and maintaining momentum of your online community’s growth depends on interesting content and ensuring that your members have an easy way to participate.
It is important that the members of your online community feel involved as this is an important contributor to the success of a online community marketing program. So while social media has changed the way that we communicate, the foundation of “how” we communicate remains the same: listen, engage, build trust.
As your online community thrives with ongoing conversations between students and faculty, recruitment becomes an authentic result.
With young people spending an increasing amount of time online (8 hrs a day according to the Kaiser Family Report), its no wonder that the future of student recruitment marketing depends on effective SEO (search engine optimization) and the use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Linked In.
According to Azorus Inc, a blog on thoughts for higher education: “We live in an age dominated by technology. Social Media and digital platforms have become increasingly popular and – quite frankly – essential for universities who want to have the best student recruitment campaign possible”.
Although it may seem a whole new ball game, when it comes to student recruitment the marketing fundamentals have not changed. Those relationships a University or College has developed over the years through “referrers” are simply further enhanced through the extension of digital. Integrated marketing is the name of the game and to be truly effective at this means some experimentation as there really is no ‘secret sauce’. However, here are a few basic pointers:
1. Be visible on Google
When we seek information we go to search engines and in Canada over 90% of searchers prefer Google. This puts the emphasis on ensuring that a educational facility’s website is optimized for the relevant keyword searches.
2. Promote through multimedia
Video viewing online is growing exponentially. No longer are media like You Tube and Flickr study distractions. It would be wise to recognize the usage trends as an opportunity. “You Tube EDU” transforms mediocre presentations into a state-of-the-art standard that today’s student population expects.
3. Engage your prospects through the effective use of social media tools. Facebook cannot be ignored as 80% of students referenced checking out Facebook when they were researching an educational institution. Inputting a simple keyword into Twitter in a few seconds gives you the opportunity to participate in a real-time conversation. Additionally Linked In groups act as an effective way to engage conversation.
Student recruitment marketing today depends on an effective online strategy and today Universities and Colleges have a myriad of exciting tools to choose from. Delivering relevant content at the precise moment and in the appropriate manner is key to reaching, engaging and converting prospective students. Fast load websites that are mobile enabled and technically proficient (ie: flash does not work on an iPad) can be a decision breaker to a generation where patience is a virtue of a previous generation.