PIE LIVE 23 – How can I market effectively to international students?

During the PIE LIVE 23 Australia conference, UMS Founder Jessica Miao appeared on a panel to share her views on how to market effectively to international students. Helen Packer, senior reporter at The PIE News moderated the panel discussion.

Helen: What does your research show about how students are finding information about institutions and who is influencing them today? How important is kind of traditional influences like family bias vs online influences?

Jessica: “Speaking from my own experience, I was an international student in New Zealand 20 years ago. Before I moved to New Zealand there were no platforms that supported international students well, particularly for Chinese. I was in China, learning English so that I could find out all the information on Western English websites, and I was looking out for good, interactive content, but it was difficult to find the right information.

Now that the younger generation is basically living in the digital space online constantly, there is a great opportunity to get the right information in front of them by using these platforms to deliver the right content, and the number of platforms is increasing every day because the population is so large.

However, the students are seeking information from different platforms for different purposes.  If they are looking for information about lifestyle and culture and food and study life, these will be on social media platforms that are specifically tailored to lifestyle like Little Red Book, but if they are searching for academic information and course materials and application timelines, that information will be on other platforms like the WeChat official account, and on the official website.

The student goes through a process of exploring and evaluating locations and options on social media and then get more serious about seeking the right information and head to the official content. We see them gathering information from different sources for different reasons.

And we see this being important because parents are key decision makers, to be funding and investing in this education journey for the student. The student is gathering key information not only for their own reference but to show back to parents so they can consider and discuss as a family.”

Helen: What are the biggest mistakes you say institutions, make when trying to reach an audience what are your recommendations in terms of messaging and focus?

Jessica: “A key issue we see now is that international marketing teams are still very understaffed. Universities have not been able to go back up to the level of multi-language staff they had before the pandemic, so the idea of adding an extra workload onto them for China is hard because it’s a completely independent market and doesn’t have a lot of the tactics and content that you can reuse easily from Western social media campaigns.

Our aim is to collaborate and support Australian education to recover, and we do this through a lot of insights content for our blog, and with our China education whitepaper. Hopefully, this will save time and provide more confidence about how to approach the market – we are happy to chat with anyone about the strategy that can help them to recover student numbers.

When we started UMS, our intention was to have a strong cross-cultural organisation, and 90% of our staff have received international education and overseas life experience, so this sets us up well to work with education organisations.

The other challenge we see for education marketing is that because of the lack of staff when an organisation is running a campaign on social media and in China, it is difficult to respond to the audience quickly. And this is a problem because, when Chinese comment on a question under a post or send a direct message on WeChat, the students and parents expect an immediate response, no matter the time of day.

So we know this is why organisations can be reluctant to begin a campaign, because it comes with an ongoing responsibility to be responsive to inquiries and begin to manage that community on Chinese social media, on top of what they are already managing for Western and other Asian audiences. But we have set up systems to deal with this and better manage the questions and responses on their behalf, to help free up the University to focus on evaluating the applications that are coming through.

Helen: Do you get the impression that many institutions do you have a specific China marketing strategy before they come to you?

Jessica: “We find that they have a general strategy, but it’s not specific enough. It’s important to keep updating it because China is changing constantly. Every province and city has different cultures and dialects and different social media plot platforms are more popular in specific areas as well. It’s difficult to keep up with all of that as an organisation, but it’s what we are doing every day.

Part of the strategy is regarding the concerns of parents vs students. The student’s desire for experience and culture are important to them individually, but this is more subjective, but the parents are more objective and are very outcomes-focused, so ranking and employment prospects are key topics for them. These themes can be included in the strategy and the content, so it engages both the students and parents.

The other part of the strategy that is often missing is video. Video is the most engaging content for the younger audience, but many organisations struggle with this capacity in-house and only get videos produced occasionally. We know that user-generated content is the most engaging and looking at ways to crowd-source this from existing students on campus, and former alumni, can provide the momentum to grow awareness with content for students, by students.

UGC comes with its own set of challenges to manage and execute, but it’s something we work on for various other categories including travel and consumer products, where the opinions of peer consumers are really highly valued in China. And we know that it works in the education sector for the promotion of campus locations and the appeal of a study region, so we are keen to work with more people to help communicate this to the Chinese audience.”

Our team enjoyed connecting with professionals across international education in Australia and New Zealand at PIE LIVE 23, and it was great to meet the team from The PIE in the UK. If you have more questions, feel free to reach out to Jessica on LinkedIn, or email us at: sales@umssocial.com