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    Scrolling to success

    Social media is now one of the first points of contact for international students when researching different higher education providers. According to the 2023 QS International Student Survey, more than half (56 percent) of prospective international students are using Instagram to research study abroad opportunities. Students are also frequently researching potential options on Facebook, LinkedIn, X and even TikTok .

    But unlike traditional student-focused content, social media is constantly changing and evolving, with trends moving quickly and content creators expected to keep up daily. This, in turn, makes it difficult for business schools to stay updated and adapt fast enough to keep their content relevant and engaging.

    The TikTok dilemma

    University recruitment teams now face an additional challenge with the recent concerns surrounding TikTok’s data security and the company’s links to the government in Beijing. The new legislation signed by US President Joe Biden will make the platform illegal in the US unless TikTok’s Chinese parent company, Bytedance, agrees to sell it to a non-Chinese company.

    If access to TikTok is restricted, universities that heavily rely on on the short-form video sharing app as their main communication channel may lose a crucial platform for reaching and engaging prospective students, states Sunmin Lee, Community Marketeer at Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands. She says the ban would particularly impact the younger demographic who favour TikTok.

    Interestingly, Nyenrode Business University does not use TikTok in their marketing. “We are concerned that using TikTok might seem less professional for an academic institution,” says Lee.

    Like many smaller institutions, Nyenrode does not have a dedicated social media team to effectively leverage platforms and trends. “TikTok demands time, creativity and budget to establish a strong presence, and setting up a way to measure the ROI,” explains Lee. “Also, some colleagues are concerned about privacy and security issues, as well as regulatory uncertainty.”

    Virtual tours, open houses, and webinars have become popular communication channels for Nyenrode to connect with potential students. These digital interactive channels offer inclusive access for international and distant students and have increased in popularity since the pandemic.

    When it comes to social media marketing, striking the right balance between professional branding and authentic, relatable content is not easy, but essential, explains Lee. Overly polished or promotional content can be off-putting to prospective students.

    This is why the business school encourages User Generated Content (UGC) and asks current student and alumni to serve as student ambassadors, asking these individuals to share their experiences, campus life, and academic journeys.

    “Younger generations today value trustworthy and authentic content due to the vast amount of information available online,” says Lee.

    Organic content over paid

    There has been a noticeable shift to these types of authentic and UGC posts. When it comes to social media in student recruitment, the trend is moving away from paid, sponsored posts, and towards organic content, explains Alexander Damev, Senior Learning & Education Consultant at WU Executive Academy: “It’s more word of mouth.”

    The Austrian-based institution tailors its content for each social media channel, with each one serving a different purpose. Offering executive programmes in business and law, the institution finds that LinkedIn is its strongest platform where its target audience is the most active, while it uses Instagram and Facebook to share entertaining content and YouTube for longer-form videos such as webinars.

    “We encourage students to tag us in their posts so we can reshare their content. We invite our students and alumni to share their promotions and career moves with us, which we feature in our career moves section,” says Damey.

    “In the past, we also selected specific students to take over our Instagram account for 24 hours, providing real-life content from classes, international immersions, and more.”

    Hult International Business School in the US is another institution jumping on this trend. Faculty frequently collaborate with student ambassadors who create relatable content for TikTok and Instagram.

    “The landscape of student recruitment is changing due to rising costs of paid search and social channels, prompting us to invest in a robust strategy to boost organic growth,” explains Ku Chung, Chief Marketing Officer at Hult, which has campuses around the world.

    “Although platforms like TikTok have not yet significantly impacted our recruitment strategies, we are seeing a steady growth as well as strong results in our paid efforts. We recognise TikTok’s potential and are planning to enhance our presence through a targeted content strategy and investing more in our video production,” he adds.

    Growing demand for video

    Since 2020, there has also been a shift towards short-form videos, as seen with the popularity of TikTok posts, Instagram reels and Youtube Shorts. Three-quarters of people in the US watch short-form video content on their phone, according to a new report by Inside Intelligence.

    Belgium’s Vlerick Business School has noticed this growing demand for short-form videos amongst potential Master’s students.

    “It is evident that the attention span of viewers has changed,” reports Darya Naipak, Marketer and Student Advisor for Master’s programmes at Vlerick Business School. “Despite not posting on TikTok ourselves, we do take into consideration the trend of short video demand for other platforms.”

    When it comes to these videos, Naipak says, students expect authentic, high quality but less polished and sterile videos.

    To create this type of content, UGC is the way forward. Vlerick works with appointed student brand ambassadors. While these individuals run their own account, the school’s official social media channels frequently reshare and interact with the posts.

    Read the full article on QS Insights Magazine.