Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

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Too many social channels to manage? Maybe your students can help

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Your full-time marketing staff members might not have time, budget, or training to be able to manage multiple social media channels
  • Connecting with international students on TikTok and Instagram is increasingly important
  • Educators are hiring international students to drive engagement on those channels in an affordable, effective way
  • A valuable peer-to-peer spirit infuses the posts of student social media ambassadors

How much digital outreach are you doing on channels other than Facebook and Twitter? If your institution or agency doesn’t have full-time staff who are comfortable enough with marketing on Gen Z’s favourite channels – TikTok and Instagram – consider hiring an international student for a few hours a week!

Most of your international students will be on Instagram and TikTok, and/or many other social platforms besides. They may know a lot about how to make catchy videos and posts that could go viral in your target markets, and they may be looking for a fun, on-campus job for the number of hours permitted by their study visa.

Different uses for TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook

TikTok (in China, Douyin) and Instagram tend to evolve more quickly than Facebook or Twitter in terms of what kinds of posts resonate and – ideally – go viral. This is because image and video-based environments are truly the realm of teens and 20-somethings, digital natives who are always looking for the latest social trend.

The demographics of these channels make them no-brainers for educators and agents. Almost half (44%) of TikTok’s global user base is between the ages of 18–24, while for Instagram, it’s 30%. By contrast, Facebook is losing share of the 18–24 age bracket at the same time as it gains share among users aged 65+.

This isn’t to say, however, that there is a diminishing need for institutions to promote themselves on Facebook. College-age students still go to Facebook to research study abroad options and will interact with other students, alumni, and institutional staff who post there. Facebook is also crucial for reaching another key audience: parents, who are often more comfortable there than on Instagram (or especially TikTok).

Managing multiple channels can be a stretch

Some institutions and agencies will be able to drive results through an integrated strategy for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok – but many will not. There are all too many cases of educational brands that are expertly managed on Facebook but left to flounder on other channels. For example:

• Instagram posts that are overly corporate and formal
• TikTok videos that aren’t fun or funny
• TikTok videos that have no music or special effects
• Any type of post that does not invite participation
• Any type of post lacking strategic hashtags

If any of this sounds familiar, hiring international students to be social media ambassadors could be a great solution.

Students know what other students want to see

When you hire a student to help with social media, bring them into meetings with your marketing team and let them feel like part of the overall recruiting strategy. Their work (posts and videos) could well be a crucial way to reach your audiences and they should feel like valued contributors to the mission. They should also feel like stars! Celebrate them on all your channels and on the institutional website.

Following are a few examples of institutions that are clearly tapping into the power of students as social media ambassadors.

Social media ambassadors are a key part of the budget

Last year the University of Victoria (UVic, in Canada) hired students as social media ambassadors (SMAs) for a few hours a week to represent them on Instagram and TikTok. Students applying for the position were required to have a social media presence and/or digital marketing experience and be “keen to share UVic-related stories, attend UVic events and/or share about UVic on their own personal channels.”

Jes Scott, manager of digital media strategies, told the Martlet (UVic’s university newsletter) that the SMA function was included as part of the CDN$14,600,000 budgeted for external engagement in 2021. SMAs’ work cost the university around CDN$10,920 per semester. Overall, UVic spends over CDN$100,000 on social media platforms annually.

Ms Scott noted that “the posts by SMAs and other students do not garner close to the same amount of attention on YouTube as they do on Instagram and TikTok.” Accordingly, the latter two channels are priorities for UVic’s social media ambassadors.

Karl Hare, a University of Victoria social media ambassador, compiled a video about studying in Victoria in April – this is a screenshot of the video. See UVic’s Instagram for more.

Social media ambassadors from emerging markets

George Brown College (also in Canada) introduces its social media ambassadors on the institutional website, explaining that these ambassadors star in its TikTok videos and also analyse social media data to measure the impact of their work. The website’s profiles of each ambassador also serve to promote George Brown’s programmes. In the 2022 winter semester, five of the six ambassadors were international students. In total, they represented Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Barbados, and Belarus.

Ms Gretty was one of six student social media ambassadors for the 2022 Winter semester at George Brown College. Source: George Brown College

Apply by video

Coastline College (US) clearly defines what it is looking for in a social media ambassador – and requires candidates to submit a video to show what they are capable of.

Coastline College asks social media ambassador candidates to submit a 30-second audition video.

University of Cincinnati: Hitting all the bases

The University of Cincinnati (US) has an active social media ambassador programme designed to respond to all the elements that go into prospective students’ decision-making process. This ambassador’s TikTok posts explore how to choose programmes, accommodation, what to pack, what to do the first day in the city, and what it’s like to walk through campus – all overlaid on trending songs on the platform.

These University of Cincinnati posts from a student ambassador garnered hundreds of views. Source: University of Cincinnati

Agencies can leverage social media ambassadors, too

Education agents have great potential for achieving success by hiring students they have referred to universities. Happy students could make videos about any of the following experiences, for example:

• Receiving an admissions confirmation letter;
• Arriving exhausted and excited at their destination;
• Setting eyes on their campus for the first time;
• Decorating their residence/apartment room;
• Attending an amazing orientation or other campus event;
• Participating in a moving graduation ceremony;
• Achieving success in a job related to programme to which the agent helped them to gain acceptance.

There are endless opportunities for agencies and institutions to work with student social media ambassadors. The screen shot below, from Higher Education Marketing, shows just how timely the idea is as the 2022/23 academic calendar starts to kick into high gear.

For additional background, please see:


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