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All I Want for Christmas Is More International Students!

Edinburgh, Scotland, is a beautiful city full of history, dark mysteries, mythical tales, great food (haggis is delicious), culture, and of course, Scottish whiskey! This was my second time attending the CIS (Counsel of International Schools) Forum in Edinburgh, and it did not disappoint in location or content. In fact, 2017 marked the largest CIS Forum ever, with 447 university representatives, 373 school counselors, and over 78 countries represented! As always, the session topics were informative, and the university and school fairs were extremely well attended and organized. Great job to the CIS team for putting together another outstanding event!

Carnegie has a long-standing partnership with CIS, and although I was there as an attendee, I also had the pleasure of presenting with a few of my peers. Our session topic was “Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Using Mobile and Social Media to Recruit International Students.” We also covered some of the newly released data from the 2017 Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education.  You can view the executive summary of the report here.

The Open Doors report provides amazing insight into the impact of international students on US communities and in higher education. In 2016, international students brought $39 billion to the US economy alone. However, one of the most important pieces of information that came out of the Open Doors report is although the number of total international students in the US is up by 3.4% (due to students staying longer to do Optional Practical Training in their chosen field after completing their degree), for the first time in 12 years, the number of new international students coming to the US is down by 3%. The report explains this decline can be attributed to a mix of things, including global and economic climates, increasing availability of higher education opportunities, declining populations, and the completion of government-sponsored scholarships in a few different counties.

My friends, this means that as a US college or university that relies on international students to comprise your student body, you cannot take your foot off the gas when it comes to marketing your institution…in fact, now is the time for speed! It is more important than ever to not only reach those international students with information about your institution but to have a constant presence in their day-to-day lives. As we discussed in our presentation, this presence can be achieved through digital marketing. Although not all cool digital marketing tactics are available overseas, there are plenty of tried-and-true strategies that will get you that visibility with not only students but parents as well.

  • Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and LinkedIn are a marketer’s dream come true with so many targeting parameters to choose from. However, aside from traditional behavioral targeting through these platforms, we can now target lists of international students as well as create a look-alike audience based on these lists to expand your target market. Also, plug in location-based targeting to enhance mobile strategies and Facebook Retargeting to stay in front of them!
  • Mobile Location Targeting: Using lists of secondary schools, testing centers, or IB schools, you can draw a virtual fence around each location to capture audience data when they access their mobile devices. After they leave the location, you can continue to serve ads to them on those devices.
  • Traditional Online Display and Retargeting: Don’t discredit this strategy just because it’s not the “shiny new toy” on the block! There is honestly no better way to maintain a constant presence with international students and parents and drive traffic to your site while increasing your brand name search. Display Outreach will put your brand in front of new faces, while Retargeting will keep you in front of those people who have taken the time to visit your admission page.
  • Paid Search and SEO: Being at the top of the search results page is the coveted place where we should all strive to reach. This starts with good SEO and a thoughtful paid search campaign. It’s important to work with a company that is familiar with the nuances of the Web outside the US and how the differences can impact your search visibility.

Branding, branding, and more branding! The emergence of digital marketing is awesome, and it’s hard to remember what we did before it was available. However, sometimes we find we are all about the ROI and the instant gratification we get from all the available data.  But there is something to be said for traditional branding methods and grassroots efforts, the work they do, and how it is much harder to prove the value. Services such as Carnegie’s AC&U Platform include electronic outreach and a print publication that serves as a guidebook for international families as they explore colleges and universities. This combined with traditional counselor school visits, college fairs, and leave-behind materials are also going to drive those families to your website for more information…isn’t that where you would go? Then of course you can stay in front of them with Retargeting. (See what I did there?)

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