Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
22nd Nov 2012

Beyond Facebook: Engaging with regional and local social networks

At this point, it is hard to imagine an international education institution not making use of social platforms to reach out to prospective students. Facebook is often preferred for fostering a personal connection with students (e.g., photos, “informal” conversation), while Twitter is the choice for delivering shorter, more official information (and Twitter has done an excellent job at mobile optimisation). Facebook and Twitter - with respectively, 966+ million and 500+ million active global users - are among the top ten most visited websites in the world. Facebook’s biggest countries in terms of penetration are the US, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Mexico, while Twitter’s are the US, Brazil, Japan, UK, and Indonesia. But at the EAIE’s “Social media for effective recruitment” seminar at the 2012 Dublin conference it became clear that engaging students on Facebook and Twitter may not be enough of a social media strategy for many universities and colleges. There are also local and/or regionally popular networks to consider, particularly for recruiters targeting markets where global social platforms are either not widely used (or available at all) or where there are significant local competitors. A recent Times Higher Education article “Hashtag recruitment and the social network’s global reach” underscores the point that institutions will increasingly need to consider a balance of global and local or regional social channels.

“US social media do not penetrate all nations equally, however. Although 88% of Indian social media users log on to US-based platforms such as Facebook and Twitter daily or weekly, only 22% of Chinese users do the same, opting instead for local alternatives.”


Take, for example, the sole fact that Facebook has been blocked in China since 2008 (it happened just weeks after the service launched in the country). This alone is enough to consider a presence on Renren (translated as “Everyone’s Website”), the Chinese equivalent of Facebook which has a huge following among college-aged students and which boasts 31 million users. Of Renren, Wikipedia notes:

“At present, 32,000 universities and colleges, 56,000 high schools and 85,000 companies in China and 1,500 universities in 29 other countries are available on Renren’s confirmation system. The social networks for each of these specified colleges, schools and companies have been established.”


Meanwhile, in Russia and Ukraine (and to a lesser extent Kazakhstan, Moldova, Belarus, and Israel), there’s Vkontakte, aka VK, which has an impressive 290 million users. Like Facebook, VK allows users to create groups, message contacts publicly or privately, access public pages and events, and share and tag images, audio, and video. VK is massively more popular than Facebook in Russia; Facebook has only 3.6% penetration among Russians and those who are on it spend an average of only 13 minutes compared to 30 minutes with VK. MVF Global notes:

“It has been reported that one of the main possible reasons why Russians prefer Vkontakte to Facebook is the ability to easily upload and download films, video and audio files using the VK tracker application.”


In the key markets of Brazil and India, Google-founded Orkut competes gamely with Facebook for users, and is especially attractive to males (68% of its user base). Unique to Orkut is that users can rate profiles based on “hotness” and “sexiness” (ahem, we are sure this has nothing to do with its popularity among male users). It has 66 million users, and is most popular in:

  • Brazil (60.6% of users)
  • India (17.3% of users)
  • Japan (11% of users)

It also has a presence in the US, Russia, Pakistan, Portugal, the UK, Spain, and Italy. While the “hotness” and “sexiness” features are obviously areas institutions will want to steer far, far clear of, one distinct Orkut feature that is very interesting to institutional marketers is the ‘promote’ tool that allows content to spread.

"When a person makes a promotion live, it will go to all the friends listed. Once these friends click on the ‘promote it’ button, then all of their friends will be able to see the promotion. This continues, allowing the promotion to spread throughout Orkut. Businesses can take advantage of this new feature to spread special promotions or even just spread the word of typical offers.”

The “hotness” features on Orkut illustrate an interesting aspect of any social media platform: it is always important for marketers to understand the nuances of user interaction and the context for that interaction before determining whether or how to engage.


This is further illustrated by the case of Badoo, a social network with 152 million users, a spread of 180 countries, and impressive penetration in the important markets of Italy, Spain, France, and parts of Latin America. Badoo offers the tempting prospect of a sizable and relevant audience. However, the platform has also been likened to “a chat room, dating site and picture rating site disguised as a social network” and has a bad reputation on the spam front. Blogger Daniel Stuckey comments:

"With its shiny presentation, sexualised premise and slick startup ploys, Badoo feels like a bizarre super-collider of radical honesty and spammy fakery ….. Within the first hour of becoming a new member, my spam box received an average of six new marketing e-mails per hour.”

Social media and recruitment

As international recruiters become more sophisticated and experienced in their use of social media, many will find their way to the optimal mix of social channels. Emerging best practice in the field provides a few basic touchstones for all recruiters:

  • Be alert to opportunities to incorporate appropriate local or regional networks into your global strategy for social media.
  • Activate the distinctive characteristics of social media - interaction, authenticity, sharing, recognition - in an effort to truly engage students via your social media marketing.
  • Take time to learn how users engage with, communicate on, or otherwise interact with individual social platforms or tools, and reflect the lessons learned in your own approach.

For additional background on social networks and how to use them, you may want to review these recent ICEF Monitor articles:

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