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Digital Student Recruitment Tips

This week I attended a guest lecture on digital student recruitment by Christian Bremicker, Head of Social Media and Online Marketing at Benedict Education Group in Switzerland - specifically its internationally renowned Business & Hotel Management School (BHMS).

I'm currently teaching a New Media Marketing module to MSc Students of RGU's International Marketing Management, where digital marketing including social media feature prominently.  To give my students a real-life case study of using digital media in student recruitment, I took them along to Christian's talk as part of their afternoon lab session.

Digital student recruitment class

While I can't and won't reveal specific business data or any other secrets from his excellent and persuasive talk, here are some tips and ideas to consider if you're keen on using digital channels, especially in international student recruitment (one of BHMS' key target markets).

Effective student marketing in the digital age

digital marketing funnel
CC image courtesy of Eric delcroix on Flickr

Christian is an experienced marketer working in a commercial environment - BHMS is a private Business School. He treats digital not as an 'add on' but, like any good marketer should, as a key and cost-effective tool in an integrated marketing strategy.  Specifically, he uses digital channels to fill the top of the marketing funnel thus generating leads into the sales pipeline.

BHMS' target audience are international Generation Y, and it goes without saying that student recruitment strategies for this segment must be digital (and mobile) first!

In a nutshell, Christian's digital marketing strategy aims to drive quality traffic (= his international target audience) to the BHMS website, where these leads are captured and nurtured via an online chat (with REAL people, not robots!), on the road to conversion (applying to / studying @ the Business School).

I love it because it's simple and effective, and it focuses on the bottom line. Christian also shared some recent success metrics, which I'm not going to publish here but let's say it's impressive.

Digital student recruitment

digital student recruitment - quote
CC image courtesy of Ken Whytock on Flickr

While the underlying approach (1. get people to site; 2. capture leads through live chat) looks simple, digital student recruitment is in fact hugely complex due to the characteristics, behaviour and most importantly customer needs of a global digital audience in their 20s.

I have previously talked about how to earn the attention of this audience in a post on teaching Generation Y. It follows that student recruitment strategies in the digital age MUST consider the following Gen Y audience characteristics:

  • Short attention span: your website has 3-5 seconds to make an impression
  • Mobile first: mobile features prominently in the customer purchase journey (often first touch point)
  • Audience fragmentation:  'segment of one' marketing

BHMS has tackled these key challenges in a number of ways, including:

Short attention span:

  • Easy, fast user journey (website UX);
  • Multi-touchpoint (e.g. social ads, PPC, organic social);
  • Personalisation (e.g. using data from user website browsing data to inform live chat)

Mobile first:

  • Responsive website;
  • Key conversion tool (live chat) is both mobile and desktop

Audience fragmentation:

  • Hyper-targeted paid advertising;
  • Global - local integration (e.g. leads generated through digital handed to local experts in territory to close)
  • Personalistation (using both digital data and cultural insight to tailor application experience to individual's behavioural, psychological and cultural needs)

There was plenty more meat in his presentation, especially in regard to international student recruitment and the challenge of China - a country that is a key target market for Western and in particular English-language Universities. However, as Christian eloquently pointed out (and which I've explored in a recent talk myself), traditional or even progressive Western digital strategies (both channels and approach) won't work there (e.g. Facebook isn't even allowed across there. One of my past students from China told me that people who get caught using Facebook may get a 'phone call' from an official).

Social media for international student recruitment

Finally, let's look at the role of social media in Christian's digital marketing strategy. It's important here to differentiate between organic and non-organic (i.e. paid) social media marketing.

BHMS have a global Facebook page and use both organic and paid social media for student recruitment.

Social advertising (on Facebook) is unsurprisingly Christian's best-performing (most efficient and effective) acquisition channel. This stuff works! I'm not going to go into detail here but paid Facebook advertising when used right is a low cost channel to generate traffic that also convert into leads due to the extremely targeted advertising options. It's a fantastic option for recruiting international students since he can reach most of them here; thus focusing his budget very effectively and efficiently.

In terms of organic social media, Christian uses it mainly for brand building and to help keep BHMS top of mind (he tracks engagement metrics and monitors real-time data and comments from social to continually improve social content and the overall social customer experience of his prospects).

BHMS facebook

Theirs is a global brand page i.e. one vanity URL but different local pages served up and managed in territory (this is only open to brands on application, takes a little while for Facebook to do, and tends to be open to brands with significant and regular paid advertising spend, naturally...).

Key success factors of BHMS' use of social media for student recruitment:


  • Global / local branding - the image of the bell above is the same on all Facebook pages, with the text localised to each language (Welcome / Willkommen / etc.)

Organic channel optimisation

  • Use of Facebook cover photo as marketing real estate (branding, link to site)
  • Integration with website (e.g. live chat app tab)

Acquisition marketing

  • Paid advertising (both to existing global FB community and new prospects i.e. non-likes)
  • Efficient and effective use of Facebook advertising platform to drive target traffic to website at low CPA

Conclusions: Student recruitment in the digital age

international student recruitment
CC image courtesy of Saint Louis University on Flickr

All in all, Christian's talk provided an excellent case study for how to effectively market to digital international students. BHMS' approach to online student recruitment is one that I would fully endorse, and recommend to other Universities keen to reduce their student acquisition cost through the use of digital channels.

This really isn't just about acquisition either, but also about brand-building and engagement. BHMS' focus on customer needs at each stage of the purchase funnel, to make the experience of applying and enrolling as easy and enjoyable as possible.

In conclusion, BHMS have truly taken a modern marketing approach - one that is customer-first and guided by their prospective students' needs at each stage of the decision-making process.

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