Six tactical top tips when recruiting international students

With the growth of globalisation and social media, it’s easy to think students are pretty similar around the world. But while the international undergraduate pool may have many things in common, when it comes to trying to capture their attention and interest and nurture them to enrolment, it’s important to cater to their individual needs and requirements. 

We’ve been helping institutions all over the world recruit internationally for over a decade, and so here are six tactical top tips that will help you resonate with an audience not quite on your doorstep and improve your international enrolment rates and ROI. 

1. Localised targeting

A simple, but important tip for point number one - think global, but go local. You need to identify who and where your ideal customer profile is - that won’t be anywhere or everywhere around the world. What cultural or geopolitical aspects of your target countries work well with your offering and what type of education/qualification do you have the infrastructure to consider?

Not all international regions will be right for your institution so identify which locations have the greatest volume of potential prospective students and optimise your recruitment efforts to this audience for better ROI.

2. Test the language

Just because your international students may be enrolling in your English-taught course, doesn’t mean your campaigns should be in English too. 

Test what gets more engagement, English or the native language and learn from it. And take on board that this test extends beyond the advert. Think about the entire user journey; culture, keywords, ads, landing pages, workflows, so on and so forth. 

What better way to show that your institution welcomes students from all around the world than their first interaction with you being in their native language? 

3. React to country-specific trends

It’s important to not just take what you’re doing at home and duplicate it overseas. Is there something happening within other markets that means user-behaviour has changed? It could be a national event (lockdown) or a religious festival. Think of the civil unrest that happened in Hong Kong towards the latter half of 2019, leading to social blackouts and severely affecting any advertising in-market. Do your homework, or you could risk your adverts coming off as ill-timed, inappropriate, or worse, actively offensive. 

4. Your needs aren’t necessarily their needs

Different international markets have different priorities. This can affect the message you promote, but also which courses/programmes you choose to advertise to your audience. Identify which driving factors play the largest role in each market you're wanting to target. Even within a continent, this can differ vastly. It can even differ between cities or regions. 

If you’re unsure, carry out some preliminary research, or A/B test the messaging. That’s exactly what our friends at Net Natives did with British Council when looking to uncover how European students felt about studying in the UK post-Brexit, tailoring their campaigns to the different audiences as a result.

5. Likewise when it comes to platforms

Audiences around the world will use platforms in different ways, at different times of day. During lockdown, for example, we've seen a sharp rise in the use of Messenger as prospective students turn to it as a source of connection and communication. Advertising on this platform over the past few months has enabled universities to be emotive with and connected to its students. 

But again, this has been a trend across some international markets, but not all. So make sure you truly understand the new market you’re trying to connect with. 

6. Be prepared to invest in local platforms

And from that audience understanding, sometimes you’ll find that the likes of Google and Facebook won't even reach your audience. So be sure to explore local platforms that can offer greater penetration. An example is Naver.com in South Korea, or Bilibili in Hong Kong. (To find out more about Chinese platforms or other innovative solutions, read our Think Innovation report here.)  

Our team of advertising experts are savvy at making smart decisions with budget, audiences and targeting in mind, so do get in touch if you would like to find out more about how we can help with your international recruitment targets.