In today's world of international education we spend much of our time with a very important demographic, millennials. From program promotion to onboarding, preparation, and on ground support, there are "old school" and "new school" technology solutions that will resonate, or not, with the students that we work with. Let's take a look at some of the best platforms for reaching students in the manner in which they're accustomed.
First, let's define the term "millennial"
For many people, generalizations and stereotypes are the first things that come to mind when thinking about millennials. Depending on your study, those born between the years of 1979 and 2003 are categorized as the millennial generation, putting anyone between the ages of 16 and 33 in that category. Simply put, millennials account for 95 percent of our students and an increasing percentage of our offices. By 2025, millennials will account for roughly 75 percent of the U.S. workforce! They are the present in the university system and they are the future of the workforce, and as such, finding effective means of communication is incredibly important. Let's run through some of the most effective mediums through which you can communicate with millennials as it relates to international programming.
When students begin exploring their options to go abroad many will consult their study abroad office, but many will look elsewhere first. Google has become the way we find almost everything, and study abroad programs are no exception. When doing research online both millennials and the general population look for a thing called "social proof." Social proof is the idea that "other people are doing it so it must be worth my time," and provides validation to choices being made. If a student finds a barren and outdated study abroad Facebook page, they will be less inclined to follow up. If there is a Twitter account or website that appears to have lots of "buzz" and interaction, it tells students that this is an exciting thing that is worth their time.
So when students are doing their research on international programs, where do you need to be and what platforms are most effective for communicating information? Let's run down the list.
- Your Website – nothing beats your own website regarding the ability to set the tone you want, emphasize the things you want, and direct students toward a call to action, whether it is filling out a form or visiting your office.
- Facebook – Having a public Facebook page is expected, and the number of people that like your page is an important component of social proof. Facebook is another place to show that you exist, but it is now a nearly impossible platform from which to communicate and has become a "pay to play" model. On average, Facebook will only show your posts to 6-7 percent of your followers. The only way to ensure your posts get seen is to pay Facebook, and it can quickly become an expensive endeavor. Facebook has some better uses when it comes to programming itself, which we'll get into later. In 2015 Facebook is still the most popular social media site for millennials (86 percent use it), but it is trending downwards as incoming freshmen increasingly prefer to use other social media platforms.
- Twitter – Unlike Facebook, 100 percent of your posts on Twitter can be seen by your followers. As such, many organizations are spending more time and attention on Twitter to engage with their potential customers and students. Promoting study abroad fairs and specific programs is a much easier prospect, and using hashtags (#) is a way to group together tweets under a common theme and connect one-on-one with students or others accordingly. Over the last few years Twitter has continued to grow, and roughly 30 percent of millennials are now on the platform.
- Your Blog – Your blog can be a fantastic tool to answer the questions of your prospective students. What are the questions you hear from students on a regular basis? Write blogs that tackle those questions! The more helpful your blog is, the more students will frequent it and look to you as a source of information. If your blog is outdated or not applicable, social proof takes a huge hit and students will assume that your programs are out of touch.
For program promotion, universities have the advantage of in-person information sessions, study abroad fairs, and in-person orientations. While technology will aid in a student's decisionmaking process, they still ultimately turn to their study abroad or academic advisor to confirm their decision.
Before students depart for their international program there is often a lot of information, documentation, and orientation that needs to be administered. Oftentimes, the more that can be delivered effectively predeparture, the fewer headaches will be had on the ground. Below are a few mediums that can be leveraged during predeparture.
- CRM Software – Symplicity, Studio Abroad, Salesforce, Sakai, and Terradotta are all good platforms to manage student information. Making sure that students submit the right information and documentation for their programs, visas, or other important components is an essential part from the administrative standpoint.
- Program Specific Web Portal – Do your students have a central place to go that contains all relevant program information? Do they have a one-stop-shop for arrival information, details on how to manage their money abroad, cultural expectations, and more? If there are different places to go to obtain information, students are going to be less inclined to pay attention and follow instructions. Having a central place, whether through your website or in conjunction with third party software, will increase the likelihood that your students will absorb information.
- Videos – Speaking of absorbing information, the labeled "YouTube Generation" pays attention to videos over all other mediums. You can write an article about how to pack, but making a two minute video will be infinitely more effective. Having short video modules to show students will increase the absorption rate of important information.
- Pinterest – Another way to help students visualize what a new environment will be like is to literally show them, and Pinterest can be a great way to pass along information. Again, you can write an article about internship attire, but it's quicker and more effective to show them by pinning a few looks to a Pinterest page. What does the housing typically look like in Florence? Pin some pictures of an authentic Italian flat.
Take a hard look at your predeparture steps. Do you have large packets of information? Are things as engaging as they could be? If it would be tough for you to get through your own predeparture, it's a safe assumption that it will be difficult to get your students engaged. Engaging students through the mediums that they are used to will help increase the engagement rate before they go.
Once students are on the ground, what are some of the best ways to communicate with them, and have them communicate with each other?
- Facebook Groups – Unlike public pages, private Facebook groups allow you to communicate with all members quickly and easily, and creates a platform for students to talk amongst themselves. Whether you are inviting students to social events, asking reflective questions, or running a photo scavenger hunt around their host city, groups allow for a central forum that students will look to first before their e-mail.
- Group Apps – GroupMe, Viber, and WhatsApp are all purposely built for group communication and can be used on smart phones with Wi-Fi or with a local SIM card or international phone plan. There are more robust app creation tools that allow for more robust capabilities as well. Unleesh is a company that creates custom apps and can incorporate group texting, local city information, and program-specific tools for completing assignments.
- Instagram – Instagram has been the fastest growing social media platform over the last few years. Students are able to document their travels through photos, participate in photo contests, and share experiences with each other and their faculty member using hashtags.
Having a direct line to students, while abroad, for safety purposes is critical, but many of these other apps can help facilitate communication amongst a group, and create a quick and easy way for reflection throughout a student's international experience.
When students return from their international experience, it can be "information overload." What are some of the best methods for processing and internalizing their life-changing experience, as well as helping them integrate it into their future career plans? Directed in-person discussions and alumni panels can help students reflect on their experience, but there are a number of tech tools that can help them incorporate their experience for the future.
- LinkedIn – Having an international experience can be a huge professional differentiator for many students, regardless of whether they studied, volunteered, taught English, or interned abroad. Ensuring students are able to properly communicate their experience and how it differentiates them from their peers on LinkedIn is a large part of closing the loop and helping students make the transition into the workplace. Have you considered hosting a LinkedIn tutorial webinar, or creating a LinkedIn alumni group so past program participants can stay connected and network with each other? This is also a great place to post job opportunities that come across your desk and helpful career development articles.
- Review Websites – Did the student have a good experience? How well was the program administered? A huge part of closing the loop is getting feedback from students via review websites like GoOverseas.com, GoAbroad.com, and Abroad101.com. In addition to providing valuable feedback, reviews provide an opportunity to impart further social proof for the next round of students thinking about going abroad. While students are open to hearing from your institution about how great your programs are, they would rather hear it from a peer who is not on the payroll.
Of course, while technology can help with reentry and big picture reflection, in-person is still the best way to help students readjust and internalize their life changing experience.
Putting it to Practice
So you now have a lot more information and a number of different ways to reach your students effectively. One big question remains: how do you manage all these different things with limited time and resources? The short answer is division of labor, and more technology.
Blogs and helpful content can be invaluable for your students, but exhausting and time-consuming to create. Guess who loves writing content? Millennials! Whether you have enthusiastic advisors in your office, returning alumni eager to share their stories, or interns or work study students in your office, try to tap into the enthusiasm of the people around you.
There are many free and inexpensive ways to consolidate your social media. Hootsuite is the most popular, and allows you to schedule posts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and more. Instead of constantly worrying about posts and content, these social media management tools allow you to schedule posts in advance across any platform. Taking just 30 minutes on a Monday, you'll be able to schedule your posts for the entire week.
While it will take a concerted effort to launch things like a predeparture web portal, video modules, and relevant blog posts, the collective time those things will save you, while also serving your students better, will return their investment in no time. With all the tools above working for you, you'll be able to focus more on quality programming and changing the lives of your students through international education.
Interested in learning more? Join us on Thursday, May 28 from 12:00 p.m.–12:45 p.m. for our presentation, "Technology Hacks for the Busy Office," in the Career Center located in the Expo Hall.
Melissa Vivian is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and practices a humanistic, strengths-based approach to personal and career counseling. She has advised and taught college students in both the community-college and 4-year institution settings, and has many years of experience teaching courses including Career Development and Fieldwork/Internship Seminars. Melissa has led the implementation of the Strengths program into the London program location as European Director in 2012 and 2013 and has been a lead creative influence on how to engage millennial students in self-awareness and engagement activities during their internship experience. Melissa now heads up the University engagement and development, as the Academic Internship Director for Global Experiences.
Alex leads the Global Experiences’ online marketing initiatives and manages the Program Consultant team. Alex is an alumnus of the Global Experiences Dublin program and has been sharing his passion for global internships with Global Experiences since 2009.