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Digital Leadership in International Education Marketing Management

In international education strategy, marketing, communications and recruitment in the digital economy, do management skill sets fit the 21st century?

Following are related articles on digital and leadership from commerce, public sector and international education.


From Business Spectator: ‘Australia’s lost digital tribes.  Last week in Sydney a collection of industry groups, telcos and local councils launched their 2030 Communications Visions initiative; a project intended “to shape a digital vision and set goals for Australia to achieve global digital age leadership”.

Looking for the business leadership.  With no prospect of digital leadership coming from government sectors, except perhaps for pockets of highly motivated local councils and islands of innovation with state government agencies, the onus falls on the private sector to take the leadership role.  “Digital leadership is at par with all other assumed skills in what is a fully rounded business leader.”


From Smart Company:  ‘Developing digital leadership.  Technology and talent are the biggest worries for chief executives today, however those challenges are part of a much greater shift in business, according to Gartner’s senior vice president for global research Peter Sondergaard….

…Sondergaard believes companies have at most 24 months to face the changes which academic and futurist Andrew McAfee forecasts is going to overwhelm businesses and society in the near future.

“The transformation that a lot of people are grappling with is ‘how do I translate this into action in leaders?'” Sondergaard suggests. “Organisations have leaders in financial backgrounds and people who understand people management, leadership and customer facing activities.”….. A generation change.  “The change generally happens when you switch chief executives, it’s very funny to watch right now how new chief executives that come in change the strategy completely and focus on digitalisation,” he says.’


From ICEF Monitor:  ‘Four predictions for digital marketing in 2015.  With 2015 almost upon us, it is high time that we turned our minds to predicting how digital marketing will continue to take shape in the year ahead. Digital marketing – search, social media, mobile, content marketing, and more – has certainly held our attention this year. Prospective students and potential partners are relying ever more on digital channels, and 2014 has in some respects been an interesting turning point in how many of us think about the place of digital in the overall marketing mix….

Content is (still) king.  We’ve had a lot to say about content marketing over the last year or so. And it seems clear that an increasing emphasis on search optimisation, competitive positioning, and meeting the expansive information requirements of prospective students will continue to encourage institutions and schools to invest heavily in quality, original content.

All together now.  Forbes’ second prediction is that marketing channels – digital and non-digital – will become increasing integrated in 2015. “Content creation, search optimisation and social media will be less siloed as specific departments and treated more like skills that exist across the organisation,” says Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing.

More mobile than ever.  At the start of this year, we said that, “Marketers will focus on mobile more than ever before in 2014.” And we are saying it again for 2015.

Data for breakfast.  The final Forbes prediction that we will highlight here is their expectation that marketing campaigns will be more data-driven in 2015. This means many things to many people but essentially it anticipates a renewed emphasis on measuring campaign performance and adapting or refining the marketing effort on an ongoing basis and in light of evidence-based findings….

….Increasingly, however, with the pressure building to drive to key business goals we expect that emphasis will shift to measuring the effectiveness of the marketing effort against real business outcomes. In an international student recruitment context, that means enquiries generated, applications received, students enrolled, and, ultimately, retention levels and graduation rates.


The last point has always been possible, but how is it that nobody seems to know?

The focus should not be outbound digital paid one off Google/Facebook ad campaigns, but ongoing sustainable organic inbound SEO to improve diversity in the international student body….. but how can institutions improve their marketing, communications and recruitment strategy to achieve this?

Issues with execution of ‘digital marketing’ include management or organisational culture, lacking insight and strategy, intra organisational ‘silos’, having the web or central digital team managing all promotions or advertising campaigns, budgeting external agencies with no international education experience for ‘outbound’ paid digital adverts, then focus upon headline analytics e.g. impressions (and often promote domestic courses internationally), but no meaningful feedback and analysis

Senior or corporate management must adapt away from ‘outbound’ PR and short term sales, e.g. FIFO fly in fly out, ‘marketing materials’, enrolments from core markets, face to face and events based versus effective, efficient, informative and sustainable inbound SEO search engine optimisation or course search strategies for business development and marketing.  SEO is not about paid digital adverts in English which are neither preferred over organic search results (nor well targetted if no one knows what key words to include), nor useful when cookies stalk anyone who has ever clicked through your advert.


Firstly objectives and strategy need to be clarified, e.g. how to create maximum visibility with the target or relevant audience all year round 24/7 through SEO search engine optimisation so that your institution’s (relevant) international page appears in organic search results in that target language, and who is responsible?

At the national, state, region or city level government agencies should be doing the same without deferring to events, and using other languages/SEO to become visible in and develop other markets through creation of awareness and interest.

This requires relaxation of controls over creation of marketing materials, sharing, sourcing ‘white hat back links’* and web management, i.e. it is not a technical issue for web teams, but for regional managers, or in other words requires intra organisational cooperation (flatter structures), and external input from partners, prospectives, enrolled students, alumni and education agencies (* as opposed to web designers and webmasters whom in the past paid for ‘black hat back links’, i.e. irrelevant content, to game and increase the Google Page Rank (no longer so important), which is now punished by Google which looks for ‘white hat links’ with original fresh content, relevance and social media sharing, e.g. agent and related websites).

All regional or international managers and admissions have not just the qualitative knowledge of a market but also the education to do SEO well, i.e. social science or linguistic background, it is social science or anthropology, not the ‘dark technical arts’.

Regional and related managers could be aided by CPD continuing professional development or training in ‘inbound’ digital marketing concepts and techniques, then with technical personnel ensuring website is set-up to enable good SEO search engine optimisation (there are two free packages on SEO available including Google, and in Australia the ATDW Australian Tourism Data Warehouse eMarketing kit).

Feedback from existing candidates (and related community) regarding how they found your institution, education/learning experience, living/social experience, then using for digital marketing content (including key words), in their mother tongue, for posting on website/blogs and sharing on social media (to be indexed and found in organic web searches).

Creating unique SEO pages (to be indexed by search engines) on institutional website for each geographical region or language group managed by the regional manager to include local language using key words/expressions, destination information, student testimonials, social media links/buttons, manager contact information, (reciprocal) links to relevant agent websites (or specific page if they have) and other information sources (and having Google Analytics for page, and access to Analytics).

Cooperating with agent partners to leverage web and social media resources for target markets, whether language or geographical, e.g. encourage agents to develop a unique (SEO) landing page for your institution (in target language and link back to yours), include incidental local news and student testimonials (all free!).

Using Google Analytics (with direct access, many still do not have!), regional managers can start gaining a picture of not just a geographic region, but also in a highly mobile and globalised sector, language groups who are not in their home country, and to then inform marketing strategy.

The analytic variables or indicators to focus upon can include geographic traffic from continent down to city, or language for each page (many are not residing at home), impressions (appearances in search results), click throughs (unique/returning), demographics, traffic mix direct/organic (SEO) and referrers (e.g. agent websites/blogs, directories, social media etc.), key words or course search, device types, SEO (who links to you, key word or course search expressions).

However, any improvements in marketing are obstructed by the quality of management and include:

  • Deference to organisational management hierarchies, perceived status, silo mentality and closed external boundaries;
  • Viewing marketing as ‘one off’, ‘face to face’ PR/sales events, and digital marketing as a technical IT responsibility or budget item, with much activity neither coordinated nor analysed;
  • Candidates described in terms of numbers or as in the past, an ‘export commodity’, not as social thinking beings with rich knowledge of their own empirical field;
  • Being sold ‘events’ by fair organisers, industry groups and state agencies for international travel and events, at great expense, with no connection to the empirical field for marketing in international education i.e. online and on campus students;
  • Sub-optimal analysis of marketing outcomes except recruitment targets outsourced to agents.

Are institutions or international offices prepared if a senior international manager or director expecting a brief explanation of digital/SEO strategy, ‘marketing and recruitment’ activity and results via analytics with commencing candidate feedback, is there any correlation or link?

For more information about SEO digital marketing in international education click through.

One Response to “Digital Leadership in International Education Marketing Management”

  1. From University World News.

    Recruiting international students in a virtual world. Traditionally, universities deliver an open day with faculty heads and staff attending to deliver a wide range of content over the course of a day.

    However, in an increasingly competitive market, many British universities are facing a growing challenge to attract prospective students while minimising costs. Increasingly, institutions are choosing to embrace the virtual open day as a cost-effective way to effectively track and maintain interest during and after the event to facilitate new student recruitment.

    With engaging and relevant content, advanced analytics and the ability to reach an unlimited number of prospective students, the virtual open day is proving to be a vital component in student recruitment and in particular, the lucrative recruitment of overseas students… … Currently, universities without a virtual environment are in danger of losing out especially in the lucrative international student market. And in future, that environment will need to be more engaging and functional to really stay competitive and interesting to prospective students and their families.

    Information and Resources about Marketing Resources and Events in Europe Turkey

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