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International student recruitment and online communications in the age of COVID

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  • A round up of strategies and tips for adapting student communications for recruitment marketing during the pandemic

Thoughtful and strategic online marketing has never been more important to educators’ and agents’ ability to connect with both current and prospective students. To be successful in their digital outreach efforts, recruiters will need to consider how student perspectives have changed due to the pandemic – and how that should in turn can inform communications and recruitment messaging.

Higher Education Marketing makes a great point by contrasting an illustrative example of how a university could evolve its student persona marketing as a result of COVID. As you can see, there is a need to consider a deeper and more complex set of factors at play for students.

A sample student persona prepared by Higher Education Marketing.

The Higher Education Marketing persona reflects that today’s students will respond well to an approach that accomplishes the following key points.

Address all their practical questions

The last thing students need now is a sense of frustration about not knowing enough about visas, admission requirements, or COVID protocols. A dedicated landing page of FAQs, as well as a chat/phone/email button they can use to submit questions easily is a must. So too are incredibly rapid responses to all student queries. Video explanations can also be a great idea for communicating essential information; below is a good explanatory video from Canada’s University of Ottawa.

Excite them about the prospect of studying at your institution

Many prospective students naturally feel more uncertain about their decisions during COVID, and ensuring they know that current students are still having a fulfilling experience at your institution is crucial. If you have a beautiful campus or city, this is the time to maximise that competitive strength. Below is the University of British Columbia doing just that. Students are yearning to travel after COVID and tapping into that emotion is a good way of keeping your school top of mind for them.

An Instagram post from the University of British Columbia.

Relate to the fact that distance learning is sometimes the only option right now

Remote, online learning is a necessity for millions of students today, and acknowledging this and encouraging students to take pride in their distance learning setups can help students know you are thinking of them even when they are not on campus. Encourage students to share their experiences and photos, then thank them by featuring them on your social media channels. Below is a Twitter post by the American School of Paris that is also an example of smart hashtag marketing.

Respond to their lives and particular needs during COVID

What do we all need to do during COVID? Well, exercise for one thing. Some universities are posting quick workout videos to inspire students to take healthy breaks from their studying. Here’s a screen shot of University of Boston’s Dance Director, Micki Taylor-Pinney, offering students a Zoom workout break in her kitchen – complete with Boston University’s music suggestions for the workout. You can see the actual video here.

Let them know they’re not alone and encourage them to get mental health help if needed

The following video by sport clothing brand Jansport is a great example of a brand pivoting to respond to the current needs of its target market.

Instead of creating a relatively superficial back-to-school marketing campaign, the brand created a video the hashtag #LightenTheLoad with real teens and young adults talking about their mental health struggles. The video shows that Jansport is in touch with its young audience during COVID and more interested in their wellness than in their dollars right now – a long-term rather than short-term branding strategy.

Respond to their need for affordability

A great example of a university both meeting students where they’re at and staying focused on its business goals is US-based Regent University. The university launched a “Social Distancing Scholarship” that was only available for a limited time (a couple of weeks in April – right when students are applying for the fall intake.)

Along the same theme of affordability, Purdue University Global began a Facebook ads campaign offering three-week trials of its IT and health care programmes, in addition to offering a free, and very timely, contact-tracing course. Like Regent University, Purdue ran its ads in the key month of April. In the screenshot below, notice also the prominently place “Chat” button in the second screen cap below.

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