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Recruiting Intelligence

NAFSA 2017 Follow-Up...Your Next Steps Are Clear


To all the friends we saw at NAFSA, I hope your week was valuable on many levels. I found this year’s conference more inspiring than the past few. Perhaps because we all have a renewed sense of purpose to prove the value of our work and our worldview.

I shared this sentiment with a colleague the other day and she sent back, “Agreed!”

There is much to consider as we move forward with our international student recruiting strategies. One thing is clear: waiting for the dust to settle is NOT AN OPTION!

When we shared our 2017 survey results with a nice-sized crowd at NAFSA this year, there were a few uncomfortable moments. The data regarding student sentiment about the US and the UK is not good news. What is important here is to take steps to mitigate the negative sentiment that is out there.

No question, international students are annoyed with US and UK foreign policy statements (to say the least). We can only imagine what it must be like to be a young person with a global mindset watching the leaders and citizens of important countries say, in effect, “We don’t want you here!”

Thanks for dashing idealism and entrepreneurialism around the world!

By making visas harder to obtain. By making customs more annoying to navigate. By reducing access to jobs and training opportunities. When posting salacious international headlines on a regular basis. The fires of discord are being stoked.

So what do we do in times like these? Read on for a subset of tips we shared at the conference. Our slides will be available next week.

OK, let’s start with this: “We are a welcoming environment.” Please repeat that to yourself three times. Please do that again. Now that you have that idea firmly running through your veins, incorporate that into your marketing messaging repeatedly.

The #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign in the US and the UK version (#LondonIsOpen and #EnglandIsOpen) are important and surveys we’ve seen suggest they are making a difference. Students are feeling doubt and concern. Our job is to give them confidence that our academic programs represent real opportunity, the same way they always have.

Messaging: One of the key findings of our recent survey with FPP EDU Media (57,000+ prospective international students chiming in), was that international students want to hear about your international student services office, your international faculty, the availability of campus jobs and that you have a strong campus safety program. These ideas, these messages, build confidence in addition to your messaging about your great academic programs.

User Generated Content: Another important point we discussed, from a digital marketing maven Mary Meeker, content generated by your students and alumni will be far more engaging and shared than content generated by you. Develop a network of your fans and prompt them to share great things on social media. If those fans are other international students, alumni and faculty, you are going to build your brand. Now is the time to develop that positive network, more than ever before. Pro tip: short videos are your best content, followed by photos.

Budget Allocation: When you are considering how to allocate those scarce resources, it is important to figure out where your funds will have the greatest impact. Our research showed that for many international students around the world, your staff admissions officers are considered just as helpful as independent international recruiting agents. Yes, agents are considered very helpful. This seems to be a surprise to many US institutions, but the student response data is clear.


Agents must be chosen carefully and trained well (see our Agent Recruitment e-book here). When you do it right, many students will happily forgo a visit from your admissions staff. In fact, many are happy to meet your admissions staff or an alumni online (Skype, WhatsApp) and forgo the face-to-face. When you have this kind of powerful analysis of student sentiment, by country, you can make really great marketing budget decisions.

Where do you get that kind of powerful analysis? Why, from Intead and FPP EDU Media, of course. FPP's database that we used for our research is now 1.7M prospective international students strong. We have academic program interest, economic status, English language skills, and personal motivation information as part of the student profiles. We can analyze regions and countries and feed this information into a strategic marketing approach to build you an actionable recruitment plan with smart allocation of funds.

These are just a few of our valuable insights we shared at Nafsa. Our slides will be available on this blog next week – one deck from Kellie Faulkner and Megan Prettyman’s CRM Selection/Implementation session and one deck from Julio Ronchetti’s and my Executive Order/Brexit Know Your Neighborhood session.

Help us move the field forward. We need everyone getting the positive messages out there.

Please let us know what you think.