Historically, international students have relied on referrals from agents and academic counselors when selecting a language school. And while these referrals are still important, more and more students are taking matters into their own hands, seeking out and applying to language schools by themselves online.
In response, ESL pathways and programs are seeing an opportunity to minimize reliance on agents by increasing their online visibility. With the right digital tactics, they can attract and recruit prospects directly, from all corners of the globe – and gain an edge over competitors who have yet to adapt to the changing marketplace.
This is where social media comes into play, as an essential element of your school’s online recruitment strategy.
Your social communities provide a welcoming space in which newcomers can discover your school, get questions answered, interact with current students and staff, and begin to build trust in your brand. Community membership fosters trust, which paves the way toward those crucial “conversion” steps like filling out an online form for more information, or submitting an application for enrollment.
But merely setting up accounts isn’t enough. How can language schools ensure their social media presence has what it takes to effectively attract and convert new prospective students?
Follow these 6 steps to get serious about building your brand and boosting inquiries from students on social.
1. Be Very Specific About Your Language School’s Audience
When setting up, publishing, or sharing content on your school’s social media accounts, the very first question on your mind should always be:
Exactly WHO am I trying to engage with? Which influencers and decision-makers am I hoping to attract to my school’s social media communities?
Talk with your team about which audiences matter most in terms of enrollment. You might be targeting recent high school graduates from China, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. Or, you’re hoping to engage with high school counsellors who may recommend your language school to seniors. If you’re an intensive language summer camp for kids, you’ll need to target parents.
Each institution will have its own particular niche audience – local, abroad, or perhaps both. Understanding their motivations, concerns, and decision-making behaviors is crucial for creating social media communities that attract and convert.
2. Articulate Your School’s Social Media Goals
It’s easy to get lost in the ever-expanding sea of social media options out there. Each month brings new tools, channels, and means of audience engagement.
You can’t be everywhere at once, and definitely don’t need to be! Zero-in on the channels and tactics that matter most to your school by clearly defining your social media goals.
What is it you hope to achieve on social media? Consider which outcomes matter most.
You’ll need to refine the goals you articulate by adding specific targets and time frames, taking care to ensure these are realistic and attainable. For example, you could state:
I aim to increase my school’s Facebook fan base by 15% each month, over the next three months.
Clear goals will help guide every aspect of your social media strategy, including selecting the right tactics and effectively measuring your results. You’ll refer to these objectives each time you contemplate publishing a new piece of content, creating a new account, or evaluating the success of a new campaign.
3. Select the Right Channels for Your Language School Audience
You don’t need to be everywhere on social media. In fact, spreading yourself too thin will only serve to dilute the quality of your community engagement, and confuse prospective students about what your school really stands for.
Channel selection rests entirely on the personas (or target audiences) you’ve defined in step one, and the goals you’ve articulated in step two.
The age, gender, location, and interests of your audience dictates where they are likely to be on social media.
Hoping to engage with prospective Bachelor’s students who need to improve their English before applying to a degree program? You’ll want to be active on LinkedIn where millennials look to compare institutions, connect with alumni, and plan their next educational steps.
Want to reach the mothers of prospective ESL summer camp students? You’ll want to be active on Facebook, where the growing majority of users are female, between the ages of 18-49.
Hoping to reach teens to promote your youth-oriented ESL program? Consider adding Snapchat to your social media mix, where more than 60% of users are in the 18-to-24 age group, as compared to 28% of Instagram-ers.
Want to target young audiences in China? You’ll need to be active on Instagram, which is not blocked in China, and is very popular across Asia. Advanced social media coordinators may even decide to use Weibo – the Chinese equivalent of Twitter – to reach out to prospective students in their mother tongue.
Take the time to research where you target audiences are most likely to spend their time on social media. Select 2-3 platforms to start, and focus your efforts on building relationships with your most valuable personas – which leads to our next essential ingredient for student recruitment on social media.
4. Align Your Content with Your Audience & Your Goals
Setting up social media accounts is easy. Attracting and engaging users with relevant, frequently updated content is a bit more work! But there are simple approaches language schools can use to ensure their content is fresh, audience-specific, and goal-oriented.
Here are a few ideas:
1. Contests & Quizzes
Let’s say you’re looking to generate engagement with young ESL students. You might try a series of simple, language-related quizzes like this example from CultureWorks (an ESL training pathway for students seeking admission to Canadian universities):
You could up the ante by offering a small prize to the community member who provides the first right answer. And notice the strategic use of hashtags to open this quiz up to a larger community of Facebook users, and attract new members to the community.
CultureWorks promotes a friendly, non-threatening learning environment in which university-bound students feel inspired to learn, grow, and succeed. This simple, low-pressure quiz reflects this identity, while encouraging participation from existing and new fans.
2. Student Testimonials
Decision-makers will visit your language school’s social media accounts in search of evidence. They want proof that your school culture is welcoming, your students go on to do great things, your teachers are highly trained experts, and that your programs will help them achieve their dreams. No one is better situated to provide that evidence than your current students and alumni.
Feature their stories on your social media channels, like ONCAMPUS does here, on their Facebook page:
Notice the link back to the ONCAMPUS website, “meet our students” page. This is an ideal way to encourage – and track – referrals to your website from social media. Meanwhile, the power of the testimonial (social proof) will help convince visitors that your programs are worthy of exploration and inquiry.
3. Audience-targeted News
Many students will use your social media accounts to keep up to date with campus and community events. But it’s important to be strategic about what news you share. Filter your updates according to the interests and motivations of your target audience.
Here’s an excellent example from English Studies Institute (ESI), a school that promises students both exemplary English language instruction and opportunities to immerse themselves in the exciting San Francisco and Greater Bay Area.
ESI knows that its target audience is particularly interested in exploring local attractions, events, and social opportunities. So, the school tailors its Twitter feed to serve those objectives:
In addition to the usual academic reminders, curate news and offer updates that align with the unique interests of your current and prospective students. You’ll keep them coming back for more.
Here’s another example from Destination Canada, an ESL summer camp whose primary decision-maker is a parent. These tweets link to relevant, informational blog posts located on the school’s website.
The links can be tracked and the posts are genuinely useful to prospective parents – an ideal content strategy for fostering trust and measuring website referrals from social media.
5. Prioritize Visuals to Tell Your Language School’s Brand Story
Visuals reign supreme in social media, but are particularly important for English language schools who want to recruit international audiences with varying degrees of English proficiency.
Relying too heavily on text could easily confuse your social community members and newcomers – prompting them to seek opportunities elsewhere.
In addition to using images and video on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., YouTube is an ideal social media platform for language school story telling. Here are a few reasons why:
1. YouTube has over a billion users — almost one-third of all people on the Internet.
2. YouTube reaches more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.
3. 80% of YouTube’s views are from outside of the U.S.
4. YouTube has launched local versions in more than 70 countries.
Given these stats, it’s safe to say that YouTube should definitely be part of your language school’s social media strategy!
Here’s a great example from inlingua, an intensive ESL program with locations all over the world, including Malta. With only minimal use of very simple English, inlingua Malta effectively reaches its target audience (international teens) with dynamic visuals that align its program with fun, adventure, and play:
6. Take the Plunge into Social Media Advertising!
Language schools looking to increase direct inquiries from prospects should make advertising a central component of their social media student recruitment strategy.
Strategically boosting a Facebook post, promoting a particular tweet, or running ads around key recruitment times and events is an ideal – and cost effective – way to reach more prospects on social.
Plus, with incredible targeting options like those provided by Facebook, language schools can ensure that their ads are seen by the right audiences. You can target by country, city, gender, age, interests, and even A/B test your ads to refine their content for maximized ROI.
There is so much more to say about how language schools can leverage social media to recruit more students online – such as using multi-language content, involving student ambassadors, and configuring analytics to track, measure, and improve results.
But we’ll have to save those for another post!
In the meantime, let us know which unique challenges you feel language schools face while recruiting on social media. We’d love to hear your comments or questions.