Special Report: 4 Marketing Strategies to Reach International Students

Marketing to international students was a hot topic at the NMHC Student Housing Conference and Exposition.

By Mallory Bulman, Associate Editor

During the 2013-14 school year, 886,052 international students were enrolled at a U.S. college or university, and that number is quickly increasing. The U.S. has long been a destination for education for students from all over the world, and they make up a sizable part of the student housing market. However, property managers often find that their marketing ploys get lost in translation when it comes to capturing the attention of this valuable sector.

At the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Student Housing Conference and Exposition, marketing to international students was a hot topic during a panel with Kim Cory, president of Kim Cory Consulting, Luke Nolan, CEO of Overseas Student Living and Danny Soule, property management specialist at PayLease. The experts all shared their individual techniques and strategies, but agreed that marketing to international students requires extra attention if you want to make your property their overseas home away from home.

Use different social media platforms

Just like each country has its own particular traditions and culture in real life, different countries have different online cultures. “There’s not just four or five [social media platforms], there are hundreds, and every country is different. Not only that, but it’s moving very fast…Something that you might not have heard of two months ago might suddenly be used by millions of people,” said Nolan.

In China, for example, where a majority of international students in the United States come from, many of the major Western social media sites are inaccessible. “What we know as domestic students; what we think of as social media are the traditional: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google…but internationally, many of these outlets are banned,” said Cory. However, other platforms like messaging app WeChat and instant messaging and social software QQ are insanely popular in China. “Demographically speaking, we’re very far removed from the students who we’re trying to convince to move into our properties, so we have to keep in mind that the marketing channels and strategies that would attract our attention, to some degree, are absolutely invisible to the students themselves,” added Soule.

Host internationally friendly events

Many property managers already host events for residents, their friends and prospective renters. In order to include international students, try hosting an event for an international holiday that doesn’t get much recognition in your area. For example, Nolan notes that the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day is in July rather than February, so Chinese students are more likely to respond to a Valentine’s Day celebration in July than the typical Independence Day cookout. Many international students on various campuses are members of international groups or clubs, so offering your property’s clubhouse or leasing office as a venue for club meetings or functions is another good way to establish a relationship with the international student body.

Translate your information

“The things we think about that are just common sense are not typically the same common sense in different cultures,” said Cory. Offering translated guides in the native languages of the most prominent international demographics full of information about your property will make it more accessible to limited or non-English speaking students, and help with confusion about policies and requirements. “If you build a community, the community will build your brand,” advised Cory, and putting in some extra effort to accommodate international student renters will make them feel more comfortable.

Employ a student ambassador

Student ambassadors can be a great resource for property managers looking to connect with international students. Street teams can add their friends on Snapchat or WeChat and communicate seamlessly about giveaways, events and leasing opportunities. “There are students who can become your international ambassador, who can be the language, to be like…your corporate presence,” said Cory. She suggested creating a video or virtual tour hosted by a student ambassador, in which they narrate and point out community features and amenities. “If you can find a student that you can leverage this power with, and they can help you and coach you through this, tap into it,” she advised.

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