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Is Your Institution Underusing the Social Reach for International Student Recruitment? An Ode to Instagram

May 7, 2018
3 months, 1 week ago

At Carnegie Global, we love Instagram. Why? Because no other platform combines such a strong presence of younger demographics, in-app analytics, and high engagement levels as Instagram does.

  • 53% of people aged 18-29 use Instagram (Pew Research Centre).
  • 63% of 13–17-year-olds use Instagram daily, compared to 54% for Snapchat (eMarketer).
  • Users under 25 years old spend more than 32 minutes a day on the platform (Instagram).
  • Instagram has a 2.2% per-follower interaction rate: this dwarfs the other networks, including Facebook with its 0.22% rate (2016 Forrester report).

Instagram is a visual platform: more often than not, you won’t need words to convey a message. You won’t even need translations. The language barrier with your prospective international students virtually disappears. With Instagram, you have the opportunity to be personal and transparent, and use the emotional power of images to attract, retain, and engage with both your current and prospective international students.

So—*checks imaginary list*—you’ve got Facebook to reach the parents. You’ve got Instagram to reach the students. But, are you using Instagram’s full potential to leverage your international student recruitment? Here are some facts you need to consider.

Your students are already there.

Fifty-nine percent of 18–29-year-olds use Instagram (SproutSocial), and 90% of Instagram users are younger than 35 (Brandwatch). Imagine setting up a stall on a fair knowing that 90% of the visitors are likely to have an interest in your product. Or better: think of it as selling sunscreen at the entrance of a beach.

Okay, enough with the get the idea. Stop thinking about Instagram as another social platform where your department’s intern posts announcements once in a while, and start taking advantage of its full potential.

It’s not you, it’s them.

Instagram photos that feature faces get 38% more likes than those without (SproutSocial).

Prospective students definitely want to see your beautiful campus throughout the seasons, your lush-green gardens, and all the events you’re organising. They do! But do you know what they really want to see? Other students! Celebrate the individual stories of all those people who have chosen you to transform their futures. Gen Z have their own brand, they are not defined by another: they use social media to find communities where they belong.

When it comes to international students, seeing other international students portrayed on your feed not only serves as a trust factor, but it also displays a feeling of security: it shows you care about them. When you are travelling from the other side of the world, you need all the reasurances possible.

Follow your students, engage with them, and ask them permission to use their photos: did you know that user-generated content has a 4.5% higher conversion rate on Instagram (SproutSocial)? You’ve got an immeasurable source of raw, honest, and trustworthy content in your students’ feeds: make use of it! They are willing to be your ambassadors, so make them feel like the main characters of your story. If done correctly, this partnership can be your best (and free!) marketing tool. This will lead to loyalty, affinity, and, ultimately, advocacy.

Student-produced photos are great content for a couple of reasons:

  1. Because they don’t look “staged.” Millenials and Gen Z’s can see right through you when you post overly promotional material or anything that doesn’t look or feel genuine. They might have been born yesterday, but they were born with an iPhone in their hands.
  2. Because of the power of the so-called “influencers.” According to Gartner research, 84% of Millennials are likely to be influenced to make a purchase based on user-generated content created by strangers. The good ol’ word of mouth still works, now incorporated into the digital world.

Turn your institution’s account into a business profile.

Eighty percent of users follow a business on Instagram (SproutSocial). You haven’t done it yet? What are you waiting for?

  • Only business profiles can get access to Insights, which are Instagram’s own analytics. As with any of your marketing efforts, you need to test, analyse results, and then…you guessed it! Keep testing your content until you see that your campaigns are driving optimal results. As with your SEO efforts, your social strategy can’t be set in stone; it needs to adapt to the changing circumstances of the market (and to the algorithm updates *shudders*). But, as it happens with SEO, you need to know the stats in order to analyse your performance. You need numbers. And only a business account will provide access to Insights.
  • A business profile will tell you how many profile visits and new followers that post has generated, how many unique accounts have seen your post (Reach), and the times your post has been seen (Impressions). Set a goal that aligns with your general marketing strategy, keep an eye on the numbers, and adjust accordingly.
  • Only business profiles can add a link to their website, as well as call/email/directions buttons on their “bio.” Did you know that over 120 million Instagram users have visited a website, received directions, called a business, emailed, or direct messaged a business (SproutSocial)? Don’t you want prospective students to contact you? (Should I stop asking questions?) Then start thinking of Instagram as a great marketing tool from which you can leverage your recruitment efforts. Again, for free.

“Should I create a special Instagram profile for my international students?”

You’re not going to like this answer, but here it goes anyway: it depends.

Let’s take two examples of excellent social media use by higher education institutions that have approached this subject in a different way:

  • Bond University in Australia only has one account, @bonduniversity, but has created a special hashtag for its exchange students, #best4monthsbond, and encourages them to use it and share their experiences with the University’s account.

It really depends on a number of variables: the size of your institution, your international student figures, your department resources…

Having a separate account for international recruitment can definitely help with audience segmentation. You will be able to track the specific engagement of your international recruitment efforts as well as the traffic to your website. In case you opt for this strategy, make sure you add your international recruitment landing page, and not your homepage, on your Instagram bio.

That being said, having a separate account for your international students will require double dedication and double resources. It’s been said a million times, but it won’t hurt if you hear it again: don’t open an Instagram account, post a couple of photos, and forget about it. You need to have a strong, constant, and consistent presence in all your profiles. If you don’t have the resources to do that, you shouldn’t do it at all.

On the other hand, having only one account will undeniably help with your account authority. Students won’t get overwhelmed with a plethora of accounts, and you will show a more cohesive picture of your institution. Just a quick word of advice: if you opt for a dedicated hashtag like Bond University has, first make sure it’s not been used before and that it is branded in a way that there’s no possible confusion with other universities (or even businesses) with the same acronym.

Location, location, location.

Posts with geolocation have 79% more engagement than those without (SproutSocial).

There will be prospective international students looking for a university within a specific location, say, southern Britain. Geotagging your posts will help them know where you are located: they only have to click on the geotag and will be directed not only to other posts within the same geolocation, but also to a map at the top of the page, where your location will be shown. It literally puts you on the map.   

Other students will want to know where your campuses are located within the city, if they are close to each other, or close to the beach or to the subway/tube/underground. Use geolocation to “show’em where’s at”!

Going back to the perks of having a business profile: only with a business account can you insert your address to your bio, and it will be added as a link that can be opened in your mobile’s Maps app.

Here concludes our ode to Instagram, the place where you can showcase your brand values, make an emotional connection, and build trust. The place that also offers an array of tools to track and analyse your marketing efforts as well as drive quality traffic to your website. Isn’t it wonderful? That’s why we love it so much.

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