Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

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The next wave of social media marketing: explosive growth in photo sharing

In today’s always-on, hyper-connected media and marketing world, the pressure (and the opportunity) is on to engage prospects in as sustained a manner as possible. This, and the dramatic growth of major social media platforms, has placed social media squarely on the radar of marketers worldwide.

Social media was definitely in the spotlight at the recent EAIE conference in Dublin. In a special session entitled, “Social media for effective recruitment: best practice from across the globe,” conference-goers received a broad orientation to the global and regional social networks that are helping to shape the online marketing landscape today.

The EAIE session revealed that social media is becoming more nuanced with every passing year. Stalwarts such as Facebook and Twitter are joined by relative upstarts like Pinterest and national or regional networks, such as Vkontakte (133 million users, heavily concentrated in Russia and Ukraine) and Badoo (147 million users, heavily concentrated in Spain and Latin America), which are playing a prominent role.

This is also an environment where, fuelled by mobile technology, photo sharing is an increasingly popular and important activity. The EAIE presenters tapped one photo sharing service in particular – Instagram, with 27 million registered users – as a platform to watch going forward.

Instagram is a mobile app that allows people to snap pictures and then share them instantly (or concurrently if desired) to Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr – as well as on the Instagram website itself. It is perhaps the most established of the photo-sharing services out there, which is likely why education institutions are starting to use it more widely in their marketing efforts. Below we highlight the various reasons why Instagram is taking off with student recruitment professionals.

The sheer communicative power of photography

In a recent article on, which lists ten colleges that are active on Instagram, Texan Christian University’s new media specialist Amy Peterson notes, “photos are one of the best ways to sell anything.” It’s helpful to balance out sheer text with visuals; words work on some people and in some ways, and photos work on others and on another level.

The instantaneous nature of the transaction

Imagine a student at a UK college takes a picture of himself beaming happily upon graduation, and with one tap of a finger, prospective students in 23 other markets are looking at it and (hopefully) getting interested and excited about going to that college. That’s sharing power you can’t ignore.

The affordability of the service

Instagram is a free app, and a university (and its students and alumni) can snap and share as many pictures as their phone’s battery and memory will allow. Compare that to the cost of a professional photo shoot!

The right-now reporting capacity

Say there’s an incredible football game going on right now at your institution, and the fans are going wild! Snap, share, boom: an amazing shot of football fever at your school just travelled across the world to everyone who follows your school on Facebook and Twitter.

The up-close-and-personal potential

Only a fraction of prospective international students can physically check out the schools they’re interested in. Therefore, we are starting to see institutions using technology to overcome this barrier, as ICEF Monitor highlighted in our article “The power of virtual tours in student recruitment.”

Now with Instagram, students can be brought all over the campus via photos, and even behind the scenes (e.g., of a rock concert about to start at a campus bar, on the bus of a volleyball team about to play the state finals, or even students preparing for upcoming exams). It’s a great way of making them feel school pride – and a sense of belonging – even before they’ve sent in their application documents!

The Facebook and Twitter expansionary effect

Let’s face it, institutions are always looking for ways to attract and engage prospective students without it seeming like too much of a “push.” Photos can be a nice, light – yet powerful – draw on these social platforms as a respite from other types of marketing messaging, and they can prompt both new followers and more interaction.

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