Looking to attract more international students? Step 1: Understand how they spend their time online.
One of my favorite parts of studying in Japan was the food. But a girl can only eat so much (try as she might).
During one of my first dinners with my host family in Japan, I ran into such a situation — so much food, so little eating stamina. Without giving it much thought, I stuck my chopsticks in my unfinished rice and pushed it forward to show I was done.
Little did I know that this was actually a Japanese funeral rite. Goes without saying that many at the table were appalled at my gesture.
It’s easy for people from different cultures to have a breakdown in communication. That goes double if you’re not even using the same language or, in the case of social media apps, the same platform.
Attract International Students via Social Media
By 2025, experts expect up to 7 million students to attend university outside of their own nation, according to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC). U.S. universities have a huge opportunity to attract more international students than ever before — but first, you need to know how to effectively communicate with those students online.
International social media use can vary greatly across countries and cultures. Different apps and platforms suit different countries and cultural norms better, and in order to attract more international students, the first step is understanding how they spend their time online.
We’ve compiled a list of social media apps and platforms that your students are using. Some are good for connecting with these students. Others are good for marketing and branding yourself. And some are simply good to be aware of in order to better understand and attract international students.
Here are 16 of the most common social apps you will find your international students using on a daily basis:
The Classics: What You Know and Love
What is it? The reigning champ in social media (though Gen Z is trying to change that). Developed originally as a method of connecting college students, users create profiles with as much personal information as they want to display. Allows photos, status updates, and “check ins” for letting friends know where you are. It’s basically the new generation’s address book rather than a constantly used social media source.
Where is it used? Almost everywhere, but trending mostly in the Philippines, Mexico, South America, and Southeast Asia.
Who uses it, and why? Declining use by young adults, but still remains the Top Dog social media app with over 1.5 billion users. This is most likely due to the need to stay connected when friends and family are far from you. It’s used mainly by mobile users.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Definitely! Students do much of their university networking on Facebook, so your school should definitely have as many connections as possible: pages, groups, and hashtags galore.
What is it? It’s a “microblogging” social media platform which allows its users to communicate their thoughts within 140 characters or less.
Where is it used? It has the most monthly active users in the U.S., followed by Japan and Indonesia.
Who uses it, and why? Unsurprisingly, the majority of Twitter users are young adults, ages 18 through 34. What might be a bit of a shock, though, is how many older generations are also involved in the app. Apparently being young with a short attention span isn’t the only reason people love this app. It’s part of what makes the Internet’s culture so poignant: messages are short, sweet, and to the point. It’s taught users to be concise and get to the punchline quick.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes. This is a good app for broadcasting events, deadlines, etc.
What is it? Basically the briefcase for many Gen Z and Millennials. It’s a website where users upload their resumes, fill out other skill-related fields, and more-or-less shop for jobs and recruiters. You can share articles and connect with friends, but this app is where you can go to find the most professional-looking version of even the messiest of friends.
Who uses it, and why? Since it is an app for professionals and job seekers, its popularity is founded amongst everyone from college graduates to Baby Boomer professionals. It’s also one of the more male-dominated websites.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes! Students will be able to research your school, its credentials and staff the same way recruiters research candidates. Using rankings like Top 7 International Student Advisors, LinkedIn helps international students navigate a myriad of American colleges.
What is it? Global video-sharing platform; has quickly become the video-sharing platform and the perfect place for Internet users of all ages to binge watch different videos from silly Buzzfeed clips to rants about their least favorite restaurant.
Where is it used? Everywhere. Aside from the U.S., the most video-binge victims are coming from the U.K., India, Germany (most of Western Europe), Canada, and APAC countries like South Korea and Japan.
Who uses it, and why? Younger Internet users continue to dominate yet another social media platform’s traffic, with 18- to 34-year-olds in the lead. WIth the most popular videos being around 1-2 minutes, and rarely 4-5 minutes (if a video is any longer, it is a lot less likely to succeed in views), this site is particularly attractive across the board for quick and easy free entertainment.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes. Go beyond simple YouTube advertisements and give prospective students funny, informational, and entertaining videos that will leave them thinking about your university all day. Here are 5 colleges that use Snapchat effectively.
What is it? Now a part of Microsoft, Skype is an instant messaging, video chatting, and audio calling platform for users around the world. Many use Skype to keep up with friends and family members who are too far away to call or text.
Where is it used? Mostly used in North America, Western Europe, and Australia.
Who uses it, and why? According to a Microsoft report, more than half are young adults (18-35) and many are affluent and educated users. They are using it for cross-cultural and cross-borders communication, more than often to communicate with friends and family members who have gone far away.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes! Conduct interviews with international students over Skype, record videos for admissions students, and even congratulate admitted students for getting into your school.
What is it? A social network through Google; includes links to other social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Allows users to create social “circles” with friends and coworkers in order to organize their contacts.
Where is it used? According to an infographic from Data Dial, the biggest users live in the U.S., India, Brazil, Canada, and the U.K.
Who uses it, and why? The vast majority across these five countries is young, high-school-age to college-age adults. Even so, it’s a dying social platform that mostly Google employees use if anything.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes! Again, this is a good way for prospective students to understand the culture of the campus, events happening, staff members, etc.
Trending: What to Keep Your Eyes On
7. Facebook Messenger
What is it? Once a part of the main Facebook app, the company decided to expand and create a separate app. This way, users don’t need a Facebook account to use the app. This made it way more accessible worldwide and now it’s trending as the one of the top messaging apps in overall global usage.
Where is it used? Top users include the Philippines, India, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Used frequently by the United Kingdom (UK), Germany, and
Who uses it, and why? With over 900 million users, with and without Facebook accounts, almost everyone and their grandma (literally) uses Facebook Messenger.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes. Make sure you are promptly responding to messages to your Facebook page. Not only will you earn a better reputation on how quickly you get back to messages on your page, but you will be more helpful for your prospective students as well.
What is it? Pay attention: this has been dubbed “the most important app” of the new generation. It’s a photo-messaging and multimedia app where users’ direct messages disappear within seconds and their community messages only linger for 24 hours.
Where is it used? It’s popular mainly in North America and Europe, with Irish teens being the largest single user group. It’s not as popular in APAC countries, but it’s gaining popularity in India and Singapore.
Who uses it, and why? Mainly teens and young adults. The majority of users range from 13 years old to 24 years old. These younger users love the rarity their pictures possess in Snapchat and it becomes an easier platform on which to communicate.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes, yes, and more yes! This app is crucial for schools to attract and convert more American and international students. It can even be used by study abroad students for posting their experiences with others and furthering your global community.
What is it? Free instant messaging app made in Canada that also features video messages, photo sharing, virtual stickers, multimedia sharing, and games. Usernames are not linked with phone numbers, so it’s easier to block people or be (somewhat) anonymous online.
Who uses it, and why? Teens as young as 13 and young adults up to 34-year-olds. After that, the numbers drop significantly. Since you don’t have to give a phone number, like you do with WhatsApp and Viber, its popularity blew up.
Should schools use it to connect with students? No. It’s just a messaging app for students which is mostly anonymous. However, understanding that your International students appreciate the anonymity is helpful when figuring out how to appeal to them online. Perhaps you can mimic this platform through online, anonymous forums.
What is it? A video-sharing app that only allows for six-second clips: It’s like Twitter but for videos. Each video loops and users have been crafting clever clips in order to fully utilize this platform to their advantage.
Where is it used? Overwhelmingly popular in the U.S. and Canada, but gaining a little headway in the U.A.E. and U.K.
Who uses it, and why? Mostly teenagers, almost as many as those who use Snapchat, probably for similar reasons. The videos are short and innovative. Users have to be massively creative to make a successful video in six short seconds.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes! Similar to how admissions might use Snapchat, utilizing the video platform of Vine is a great way to show the campus off to prospective students in a short amount of time.
What is it? Recently bought out by Facebook and presently the most popular stand-alone messaging app on the Internet, this messaging app has allowed users to text and call each other without having to pay for mobile plans; according to its website, it allows users to “create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages.”
Who uses it, and why? Pretty much all ages and groups since it’s a cheap alternative to SMS texting.
Should schools use it to connect with students? No. It can be used by current and alumni students to keep in contact with international admits, though. It’s good to be aware of this app to understand how you can connect American students with International students, perhaps as mentors.
What is it? Photo/video sharing and social networking platform where users can “Follow” other users and keep track of their posts. They had a 46% growth in active users within the last year.
Where is it used? Mostly the United States, but also popular in Brazil, Russia, Turkey, and the U.K.
Who uses it, and why? The majority of users are young adults (18 – 29) and the second-leading group are 30-somethings. According to Forbes, “Teenagers prefer to communicate with friends without being judged by parents and older users so they are flocking to platforms like Instagram.” Those same teens who sought privacy and nonjudgmental spaces have grown into young adults and are still addicted to this app.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes! This portrays the culture and vibe of the campus for international students in a language everyone can understand: pictures. Better yet, let your current students takeover the Instagram and show your international students the campus from a student perspective.
Niche: Apps Exclusive to Only a Few Countries
What is it? Another instant messaging application; also used in place of Facebook for news, mobile games, group messaging, event planning, status-updating, etc. Includes brand and celebrity messages with coupons and event reminders (such as sales, concerts, etc.).
Where is it used? Mainly in Japan, but also Thailand and Indonesia a bit. Not as popular for other countries unless they are communicating with Japanese users.
Who uses it, and why? More young women than young men, but teens in general (ages 10 to 19) use the app the most.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes, but not for communication.Apps like LINE are great branding opportunities for universities, and it could be fun to create stickers for your particular school and attract international students to your university that way. Learn more here.
What is it? Most popular social app in South Korea. It offers free instant messaging, free calls, news, status updates, and virtual stickers (most cost money) to share with friends.
Where is it used? South Korea
Who uses it, and why? Since 93% of all South Koreans use KakaoTalk, it’s safe to say that it’s not just young people on this app. Since they provide a much cheaper alternative to phone plans, messaging apps (along with Facebook Messenger and LINE) have gained major headway in the Korean mobile market.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes! You can create accounts that international students can add and ask questions to, and create viral games they can play instead of sending them free swag.
What is it? Communication app used mainly in China where almost all other apps (mostly those owned by Facebook and Google) have been banned.
Who uses it, and why? The highest percentage of users are young professionals, aged 25 to 34, but younger adults, ages 16 to 24, are also WeChat lovers. This is not just a messaging app, but a life app, since users can chat, make phone calls, keep track of work items and clients, file taxes, manage finances, and so much more via this app. This is why it’s so successful in China.
Should schools use it to connect with students? Yes. As said before, traditional social media apps like Facebook are not allowed in China; thus utilizing the WeChat platform is probably the best way to stay in contact with your Chinese students.
What is it? Much like other free instant messaging apps, Hike gives users the abilities to chat 1:1 or in groups, chat in several different languages, attach virtual stickers to their conversations, and use the app in several different countries. It’s been gaining a lot more momentum in the last year.
Where is it used? Mostly India, but also Germany and the Middle East.
Who uses it, and why? Young professionals, especially in India since you don’t need a smartphone to download and use the app. This could be why it’s so successful in India since many do not own smartphones.
Should schools use it to connect with students? No, but students can use this app to keep in contact with international students.
Know Where to Put Your Social Media Chopsticks
To understand a nation, you need to understand its people and their customs and cultural norms. For me, it was knowing to put my eating utensils on a chopstick rest and not in my rice. For online marketers and admissions, it’s understanding the online culture of a country.
Whether you are using these apps to communicate and inform, attract potential students around the globe, or simply better understand your current international students, we hope this list has helped you pinpoint how communication and social media is different worldwide.