Marketing to international students: improving engagement

University of Leicester develops its international engagement through online marketing

By Sarah Brown, Relationship Manager, Meet and Engage

The University of Leicester has seen the number of international students almost double in the last ten years due to its growing global reputation. International students now make up 27% of their campus-based student population and the top three regions, in terms of recruitment, are China, Canada and Hong Kong SAR.

Traditionally, Leicester’s International Student Recruitment Team markets its courses and services by touring the globe to meet potential future students at events and fairs. They then follow up these visits with calls and emails as well as postal services. However, over the last five years, they have been actively trying to move to a more paperless system to speed up the process.

Early summer is a particularly key period in the engagement process when the university is heavily focusing on converting the thousands of offers they’ve made. The international team have found it really hard to find the right way of communicating with their prospective students as Felicity Lawrence, a Senior International Officer at the university, explains. “We traditionally did ‘call outs’ to our prospective students but the feedback we received was that this would often make them worried or nervous about why they were being called. We would also often get through to parents or agents. Similarly, when we used email we would get high bounce rates with wrong email addresses having been provided or the email would end up in their junk folders. We knew that our international audience would often be more confident in writing than talking but when emails did get through, they found this a very slow experience and they’d often not fully understand the replies or get the information they needed straight away.” 

Given these challenges, it was clear that a more immediate and technologically-advanced solution was required. Following an extensive evaluation period, the team implemented the Meet and Engage live chat platform which allowed them to schedule regular 1-2-1 live chat sessions. This ensured that the university team could coordinate live chats whilst getting on with their day-to-day activities being alerted when new questions were posted. 

“The 1-2-1 chats allow prospective students to ask us multiple questions and get the answers they want there and then. We have found that they are also more open in their questions to us,” Felicity explained.  

The most common queries we get are around scholarships and accommodation but, in fact, they are mostly about the practicalities of studying abroad and what life will be like when they get here.

The live chat sessions were held once a month during the first part of the year and are then scheduled twice a week during peak periods. “We communicate the chats via email and promote them heavily on our Facebook pages,” added Felicity. “The most common queries we get are around scholarships and accommodation but, in fact, they are mostly about the practicalities of studying abroad and what life will be like when they get here. We are able to provide them with answers to allay their concerns.”

The chats are also a way of cutting across the cultural divide and managing the subtle differences that each country’s applicants may exhibit. “Chat makes it easier to get your point across and it also gets them used to the UK culture that they’ll be exposed to when they join us,” Felicity said.

Using the live chat has also helped to broaden the team’s internal knowledge as they are often dealing with queries from students in different markets to their own remit. “It’s definitely developed our understanding of each other’s roles as it’s a really educational tool for us too,” Felicity said. “You always come away from the chats knowing a bit more than you did before as you’re having to find the answers for people who are asking a really diverse set of questions.”

Felicity also uses the information to feedback to the website team. When, for example, they found they were getting a lot of queries earlier this year around CAS they realised the pages on their website needed clearer information. “It’s helping us to inform our communications which is hugely beneficial.”

So far, the response from participants has been really positive. And, looking to the future, Felicity would like to increase the frequency of the chats by having it open all day with a direct link through from their website. “Even if we aren’t the right people to answer the query, the fact we’re able to redirect them to the right place and do so in an efficient and helpful manner means our student engagement is really positive and goes a long way to helping with conversion.’ 

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