Social Media Strategy,

Use Facebook Data to Shape Your International Student Recruitment Strategy

Alec Campbell

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Universities lacking the international brand recognition of top tier institutions can build global
awareness through Facebook

For many universities, international student recruiting is a high priority and the competition for international students has never been more intense. Thankfully, there are so many international students interested in pursuing studies abroad, that every university no matter the size, reputation or ranking can bring international diversity to their campus.

For the next incoming class starting in 2018, it is estimated that over 1 million new higher education students will move abroad for their studies. The total number of international students, at all stages of their studies, will likely surpass 5 million.

Global student mobility has never been greater, but how do universities compete for the international students they want on their campus? Only a select few universities have no need for outreach campaigns. Every prospective student has heard of Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT and Stanford. These universities get to cherry pick the best candidates or compete for the very best students. Such is the power of a strong global brand.

For universities that lack the global brand appeal of the top tier institutions, marketing might be viewed as a necessary evil. But it shouldn’t be viewed this way. The advances in digital marketing can enable any university, no matter the brand recognition, to compete effectively for new international students, and begin to establish their own brand presence.

Using Facebook for Student Recruiting

Facebook’s greatest asset is not the sheer size. Yes, 2 billion users is a very impressive statistics but it’s the incredible amount of information that Facebook collects on each individual that make it such a powerful marketing medium.

For universities recruiting international students, this information should be influencing your planning as well as your campaigns. You can mine Facebook data without paying a penny. This is data that costs thousands to acquire from a research company.

Here’s an example. As part of our recent work for an American university in Eastern Europe, we took a look at the potential to recruit English speaking students aged 17 to 19 from every country in the world. Obviously, in countries with low Facebook penetration (e.g. China), the numbers are very low. But I’m sure some of the figures would greatly surprise you.

Facebook Quick Facts

  • There are 3 times as many English-speaking Facebook users between the ages of 17 and 19 in India as there are in the United States. The number in India is 30 million!
  • The Philippines has as many English speakers in the 17 to 19 age demographic using Facebook as the United States (10 million)
  • Bangladesh and Pakistan are both huge markets for recruiting international students with 7 million English speakers in the 17 to 19 age bracket on Facebook.
  • Nigeria has the largest population of young English speakers in Africa with 2.3 million of them using Facebook
  • Myanmar is a country undergoing a massive transformation. The newly found openness has led to an explosive growth in English language learning and social media access. There are 3.9 million young, English-speaking, Myanmarese subscribed to Facebook.
  • Turkey is going through a period of political uncertainty and instability. This should be enticing even more of
    it’s young population to seek an education abroad. There are over 500,000 young Turks using Facebook in English.

These are highly actionable statistics and ones that you should be using to at least shape your international recruiting strategy if not build your entire international student recruiting campaign around.

If diversification is one of your recruiting goals, then why not target some of the less popular countries with low cost Facebook advertising?

If you rely primarily on agents and recruiting fairs for international student recruiting, why not boost your university’s brand recognition with a Facebook ad campaign? This will have undoubtably improve your success rates through both of these recruiting channels.

Facebook is Mobile

One very important statistic not to overlook is that 90% of Facebook’s daily activity is conducted via a mobile device – mostly smartphones. This is true the world over and especially for the younger generation. If you plan to reach prospective international students via Facebook Ads, you should also have a mobile-first strategy for international student recruitment.

Facebook is Dead?

I’ve seen a few comments in the higher education circle supporting a bizarre argument that Facebook is dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trust me when I say that you have yet to come close to unlocking the potential benefits Facebook has to offer.

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