In many countries where you are currently recruiting, parents and families are an important part of the study abroad decision-making process. In some European and Asian countries, parents play an especially vital role in helping their children decide where to study - especially at the boarding high school and undergraduate levels. And they play a pretty influential role at the graduate level as well (though the students would have you believe otherwise).
Though it may be a bit more challenging to reach parents with your marketing, this influencing audience is so important. Facebook, live chats and online forums are great places to engage parents and bring them into the decision-making process. Of course, China needs a different approach. China always needs a different approach!
Bottom Line: We discuss segmentation a lot. By demographics, geographics, programs of interest. Academic marketers segment their student audience in many ways. Parents are another segment of your overall recruiting plan that you should be considering. They need specific messaging about safety, quality of academic programs, job prospects (outcomes) and other factors when deciding to send their child abroad. And, Pro Tip 1: they like institutions that are close to large international airports with major metropolis shopping nearby. Pro Tip 2: local language (nuf said!).
Finding online communities where parents are active is a great way to make sure your influential messaging gets to them.
Meet us in D.C.! Intead is off again to AIEA in Washington, D.C., next week from February 20-22. We’ll be participating in a presentation on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 5pm: Harnessing Language Schools as University Pathways. Niagra University and Salem State University will share their plans to take their language instruction programs to the next level and we will offer our perspective on how to align global marketing plans with language program recruiting efforts. We would love a chance to speak with you one-on-one! Let us know if you will be there.
Read on for tips on how to engage international parents online...
Engaging parents online can help bring them into the decision-making process. Here are a few ways to bring parents into the discussion:
Virtual Open House
When parents of prospective students are unable to make it to campus, why not host a virtual open house? This allows parents to see their students’ future stomping grounds without having to shell out loads of money to get there. Parents appreciate you going the extra mile for them to be a part of their students’ experiences - as long as you can offer local language translation as part of the process. They are also concerned with their child’s living space. Showing them what it looks like can help ease worried minds.
Social Media Groups and Interactive Webinars
Social media groups are the perfect way to get parents together and let them reassure and support one another. There are numerous ways you can separate parents into groups. It can be done by age, by nationality, by language, by area of interest of their son or daughter. Tailoring groups makes them more specific to parents’ needs. It will be easier for them to find the answers to their questions and ease frustrations. You can set these groups up yourself on Facebook, WeChat or LinkedIn. But similar groups already exist online. Asking parents of current international students to participate can be very influential to parents of prospective international students.
An important group we noted in a previous blog post about WeChat best practices (read it here) highlights a WeChat group hosted by GQ Education called Circle of Moms (WeChat ID: USAmamaquan). This group is made up of mostly mothers (80%) of Chinese students from tier 1 cities. Moms and other family members gather online to exchange tips and ask questions about things like test prep, education market research, U.S. school culture and safety, summer camps and more. One of the group’s founding partners, Tracy Ren, recently presented at our International Student Recruitment Bootcamp about the importance of groups like these and how to leverage them in your recruitment process. Tracy is a great resource and partners with Intead when we want to use this promotional channel for our clients.
Concerns and Best Practices
Current topics of interest/concern for parents in China and almost every other region around the world are around access to U.S. visas to study and work. Parents want to understand what is happening with opportunities to work in the U.S. (OPT, H1-B, etc.). Being available to explain what is happening here in the U.S. and what might change in the coming year (who knows, right?) will be reassuring - even when you cannot provide difinitive answers. Hearing from you will help.
Timeless issues that parents care about: academic rigor and safety. Parents prioritize their concerns differently than students do. In the case of international students, parents are not only sending their children to live far away, but in a completely new country and culture. That is a big deal! So, they’ll have a critical eye. They want to see where their children will be living and will be wary of mess and disorganization. Parents care about safety. Be prepared to upload safety information to parents’ pages on your website. You have a section for parents, right? Check out The George Wasington University's example HERE. A bit text heavy but it provides the info parents like (albeit in English only - translation is hard, we get it!).
So, about translated content, we actually do have more to say.
Why do we keep saying: translate, translate, translate? Often times, parents don’t speak English, or don’t speak English as well as their children, but that doesn’t mean they should be left out of the loop. Translation is essential. So is finding a good translator. A great suggestion from eduGuru:
“A translator may recommend wording that is stiff and formal, while a native speaker will be quick to point out ‘this is how we really say it.’ You’ll need to consider the tone you want for your university and hire a translator or native speaker (maybe a student employee) to be able to update your social media outlets online.”
To be clear, you should translate because:
- You show deference to the culture. Other cultures appreciate that. REALLY appreciate that.
- You stand out from your competitors who don't translate.
- Reading complex information (visa stuff!) in a second language is exhausting. Help them out. Make them happy, not exhausted. This is what customer service is all about: happy customers.
- Maybe most importantly: You create content that is sharable, allowing parents to show their pride in your institution. Parents sending their kids to university want to brag to their friends and family. Give them that opportunity and you expand your marketing reach exponentially.
Including parents in the online space doesn’t have to end when students hit campus. There are plenty of ways to keep parents engaged via social media throughout the whole experience (keep them sharing and bragging about the great experience their kid is having). This should include safety updates, campus events, and university news.
One idea comes from ICEF Monitor. They mention the importance of a student’s graduation, especially for international parents who may, or may not be in attendance. They suggest capturing the emotional time and sharing it on social media and allowing families to share it around to others. Free marketing for your university of a proud parent and an international student graduate of your university! Live streaming is always a hit.
As you update and build on your recruiting plans, consider including the influential role parents of international students play and how you are reaching them. Sharing translated parent guides or inviting parents to join social media groups to exchange information and answer questions is an important part of engagement in the decision-making process. How do you engage parents online during, and after the recruiting process?