Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
Shape the future of international education at the ICEF Monitor Summit September 23rd 2024, InterContinental London - The O2
1st May 2024

The art of the short: Viral video for international student recruitment

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Viral video is hugely popular among high school and college-aged cohorts, and is a powerful medium for reaching prospective students
  • The key to creating short-form videos that resonate with students is to be funny or especially intriguing
  • This feature presents five practical tips for viral video success

The following feature is adapted from the 2024 edition of ICEF Insights magazine. The digital edition of the magazine is freely available to download.

TikTok's massive popularity shows no signs of abating despite growing concern that its parent company, ByteDance, could share users’ data with the Chinese government. The app is banned from government-issued phones in dozens of countries and is prohibited entirely in Pakistan and India. In the US, the possibility of a nationwide ban looms.

But young people in more than 160­ countries continue to flock to TikTok, unable to tear themselves away from watching, sharing, and creating addictive short-form videos on the platform.

Even if TikTok ceased to exist, short-form videos would remain a powerful marketing opportunity for international student recruiters. Video is by far Gen Z’s preferred type of social media content – students are also happy to indulge in Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts. In fact, savvy marketers already use apps that optimise videos across TikTok, Reels, and Shorts to extend their audience reach and ensure their video strategy can withstand shifts in platform access or popularity.

The key to creating short-form videos that resonate with students is to be funny or brilliantly intriguing. TikTok requires a radically di‹fferent tone than Facebook or X (formerly Twitter). Students will quickly dismiss boring, corporate, or overly promotional branded videos. They will, in contrast, engage with and share videos from brands that create entertaining and trending content.

Long-term ROI

A major benefit of short videos is that they can gain new viewers at any point, so their value can increase over time. For example, a video might be picked back up by TikTok’s For You Page (FYP) months after it was originally published. Ad campaigns can be adjusted so that a video can reach new audiences, increasing the potential for it to go viral.

For international student recruiters, short-form videos are an efficient way of reaching multiple markets even across language barriers: the videos are so short and visual that it doesn’t take an Einstein to get the gist, even if a viewer doesn’t understand every word. Ideally, your institution can make videos in prospective students’ first languages, but if not, any awesome video can make an impact because it’s visual and effects-based first and foremost.

5 tips for reaching prospective students with short-form videos

1. Do your research

  • First, check out what your competitors are doing. What’s their approach and tone? How frequently are they posting? Is it working? The answers can inform your own strategy.
  • Second, find out what’s trending. Hit “Discover” when you open TikTok, Reels Trends in Instagram, and Trending on YouTube to see popular effects, hashtags, sounds, music, and topics.
  • Third, consider the type of content your target students already watch. Top categories for Gen Z include fashion and skincare; fitness and motivation; music and pop culture; study abroad, travel, and budget-friendly tips; food and cooking; and humour. The great thing about marketing to students is that they’re interested in so many things!
University student Haylie Jorden models the outfits she wears on typical university days and uses hashtags and music to boost her videos’ chances of going viral.

2. Tap into what’s trending in target markets

A global TikTok strategy can be challenging to execute given that TikTok’s algorithm prioritises local content. In-country representatives, agents, and alumni who have returned home can be very helpful here because they can share your videos in target countries. Other tips:

  • Create captions and on-video text in prospective students’ languages;
  • Interview current international students in their first language and have them share the videos with friends and influencers back home;
  • Take part in TikTok challenges that are trending in target countries;
  • Follow and engage with influencers in your top markets.
Sometimes a trend is so global you don’t need to worry too much about customisation (hello, Barbie!). Julienne Ipapo is a Manila-based creator with over 100 million TikTok views, 17m likes, and 670k followers. This video still shows how she combined Barbie hashtags with learning and women’s empowerment hashtags to reach both Filipino and global followers

3. Don’t lecture

Build your credibility and personality through videos that are as fun as they are informational. Create a friendship-like relationship with your fans rather than speaking “at” them. Check in with your current international students to see if anyone is already making great short-form videos, and ask if they will apply their talent for the benefit of their school, too.

“What I’m packing” videos are popular, and student influencers are natural stars for these.

4. Give it a hook

Gen Z’s attention span is down to eight seconds, so you have very little time to convince students to check out your video. Here are some ideas for hooks to use in your video description:

  • Ask a question viewers really want the answer to;
  • Begin with a problem and hint that you have the solution;
  • Be a bit shocking or surprising;
  • Share a secret (like an early-bird discount);
  • Present a bold fact (e.g., “92% get a job within 6 months of graduation”).
Study International often uses this student star in their funny TikTok videos. Prospective medical students know their field of study is tough and that students cry sometimes from the pressure. They will feel included ahead of time by being “in” on the dark humour.
Influencer Margot Lee used the classic “ask a question” hook and made sure to respond to comments to help her video go viral.

5. Comment and encourage comments

TikTok’s algorithm rewards frequent user engagement, and it looks for meaningful interaction. Take the time to respond thoughtfully to comments – TikTok ranks comments by how many “likes” they get, so boring responses won’t get you anywhere. Comment on others’ videos, too – it’s another way of increasing your visibility and presence on the platform.

For additional background, please see:

Most Recent

  • Australia: Study visa grants down nearly a third through April 2024 Read More
  • Study maps employment pathways for international graduates in US; calls for expanded career services Read More
  • Home Office data confirms downturn in UK visa issuances through Q1 2024 Read More

Most Popular

  • Comparing student visa proof of funds requirements across 20 study destinations Read More
  • Canada: More provincial cap numbers announced; IRCC moves up end date for post-graduate work for partnership programmes Read More
  • Lessons from Denmark: The downside of limiting international student flows Read More

Because you found this article interesting

Prospect survey points to key factors in study abroad planning for 2024 A global survey of nearly 27,500 prospective international students provides some helpful insights on key decision points in...
Read more
Building better landing pages for international student recruitment The following feature is adapted from the 2024 edition of ICEF Insights magazine. The digital edition of the...
Read more
US gains greater share of international student interest amid policy changes in competitor destinations For the first time in IDP Education’s Emerging Futures research, the US has emerged as the top-choice destination...
Read more
How international students are deciding on graduate business schools QS has conducted an extensive survey exploring the motivations and preferences of international students interested in advanced business...
Read more
ChatGPT for international education marketing: What is “Prompt Engineering?” Many international education marketers are now using ChatGPT, whether it’s the free version (GPT-3) or the paid version...
Read more
New analysis projects outbound student mobility across 30 student markets A new study suggests there is a strong link between global GDP growth and outbound student mobility levels,...
Read more
Market snapshot: A guide to international student recruitment in Vietnam FAST FACTS Capital: Hanoi Population: 99,200 million (2024) Youth population: 17% of the population is aged 17–25 Median...
Read more
Demand for study abroad rising in China but students considering more destinations in 2024 The shape of Chinese outbound student mobility has been changing for years and is different again in 2024....
Read more
What are you looking for?
Quick Links