Technology is changing the way we live, learn and connect, and the world of student recruitment is no different. Our Head of Education, Nick Willmer, recently sat on a panel of international education experts at the PIE Live - TNE & Tech Online event to discuss the impact of the pandemic, the potential of technology, the move to a data-driven ROI approach, and the future of this evolving landscape. Here are the key takeaways:

The Covid-exacerbated shift to digital-everything

First things first; the last 18 months have accelerated institutions' drive and motivation to move towards online delivery of education, either fully, or at the very least, in a hybrid sense. International fairs, events and touchpoints have had to transform into digital counterparts, and simultaneously, out of all this disruption, students have become more cautious and more digitally savvy than ever before. They’re more in control over their own learning journey and destination, and institutions have had to run to catch up to provide a quality digital, personalised customer experience from first contact through the entire student lifetime.

Tracking and understanding ROI

The rise of digital marketing has allowed student marketers to track the real effectiveness and return from their campaigns. By using technology such as Akero, institutions now have the ability to track each stage of the student journey from initial contact through to engagement, enquiry and application.  

The future of virtual fairs and student brochures

And this fuller visibility in a digital-first recruitment drive has had many benefits. The panellists reflected on their newfound ability to track the impact of their virtual fairs and events and learn how they affected their conversion rates. This was never as simple when prospective students could just turn up at your stand.

By taking your events online, responsibility no longer lies solely with the international team, allowing institutions to invite vice-chancellors and senior academics to talk directly to prospective students and partners, something that has not been done before.

But although virtual fairs have been proven to work, that doesn’t mean these events should remain homebound once lockdowns are lifted. There is still a huge value in having in-country recruitment hubs with knowledgeable staff that understand the culture and speak the language of students and their families. Similarly, there is much debate around the future of brochures and prospectuses, and whether digital PDFs can replace that sentiment of having something for students to take home in their native language and reflect back on, after meeting with a provider or education agent.

The big question: what platform? 

Facebook, Instagram and YouTube lead the world in popularity, however we have seen growth among Gen Z on the newer platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat. Clubhouse is also climbing through the ranks, and even though it doesn’t currently carry any advertising, education providers are still able to use the audio-only platform to host events (if they can get an invite). It pays to be brave. 

In terms of the social landscape, social media use is up 13.9% last year with a 1.8% increase in mobile use and a 7.3% increase in internet usage overall. It’s not surprising that online activity is on the up, but interestingly, Latin America and Asia Pacific have seen the sharpest uptick year-on-year.

Which raises the point that each country has its own media landscape: Naver is Korea’s Google, VK is Russia’s Facebook and China has its own world of social media platforms behind the great firewall. Therefore an individual approach needs to be taken market by market; only once you understand your target audience’s activities and behaviours, can you choose the best marketing channels to engage with them.

Tried and tested content

But even though platform selection is important, content is still king. Not being able to communicate with students face-to-face means that quality digital content is becoming increasingly vital for the student customer experience and building connections. Your platform selection is only as strong as your content. 

So, how can you create content that isn’t bland and over produced? By testing it. 

Testing also applies to new platforms, new markets and new strategies. By committing 80% of your budget to tactics you know work and 20% towards testing new ideas, channels and technology you will be able to continue learning and developing your student recruitment marketing mix. That’s exactly what we do here at Net Natives and the results speak for themselves

So what now? 

As we enter a post-Covid world, these new students now better understand what they want, they expect an excellent level of personalised customer service, and they are fully immersed in the digital world. So, in order to meet their needs, education providers need to be brave, invest in innovative new approaches and ensure that everyone in their organisation is on board. 

Covid aside, we are also living in the time of Brexit, which has severely impacted EU student recruitment to the UK, while the new Biden administration has opened up the US as an international student market once again. China is still the largest exporter of international students but institutions can struggle to reach its students directly, and we can see the rapid rise of India coming up quickly behind. Institutions need to take the time to understand these key markets and the students within them in order to keep growing and stay relevant.

Ultimately this whole ‘digital thing’ isn’t going away. We are living in an ever-growing ecosystem of digital marketing channels, B2B networks and student recruitment platforms. Keeping students at the centre of everything you do, trying new approaches and using insight to inform your strategy will keep you ahead of the coming challenges. And if you want to speak to us about your student recruitment strategy post-Covid, get in touch with our experts today.

Article by

Nick Willmer

Head of Education